Why conservatives and liberals see the world differently


Research done by Rice University and the University of Nebraska suggests that liberals and conservatives see the world differently - literally.

The study suggests that biology could be the reason behind these differences over any predisposition towards specific political thought or facts. In other words, the brains of conservatives and liberals are "hardwired" differently.

For their study, researchers chose 340 random US college-educated adults over the age of 18 from Nebraska. Of this sample, about half were male and half were female with an average age of 45. The participants identified as politically conservative, liberal or moderate.

Researchers asked participants to look at images from a database of photos meant to evoke specific emotions. By tracking eye movement, researchers learned that those who identified as conservatives not only fixed their gazes on negative photos faster, but they also noticed that the conservatives' eyes remained on those negative images longer than liberals, almost by a full second.

A second might not seem like a long time, but the human eye moves so quickly when processing visual information that it's usually measured in milliseconds.

"These natural tendencies to perceive the physical world in different ways may in turn be responsible for striking moments of political and ideological conflict throughout history," says study co-author John Alford.

When combined with previous studies, this research carries some weight. Much of our political history, along with current political attitudes, show huge disparities between liberals and conservatives. As this study shows, one of those groups concerns itself more with threats, while the other group focuses on opportunities. Each view is drastically different from the other.

However, the study's authors don't want this research just for shedding light on these differences, but help us understand why these differences occur and aid an understanding between conservatives and liberals.

"We should not expect to be able to change their views with logical arguments, but we should realize we need to meet them halfway," writes John Hibbing, study lead author. "When dealing with people with strong predispositions that are inconsistent with ours, the key is compromise and not deliberation (though there are plenty of people without clear predispositions who are persuadable)."

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