With the presidential elections just months away, differences between how liberals and conservatives operate have become highly evident. New research from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University confirms that there are indeed differences between the two, including everyday thinking processes.

For example, both groups were able to solve roughly the same number of problems in an experiment using analytical processing, but liberals were likelier than their conservative counterparts to arrive at a solution using sudden insight.

Insight problem-solving is different from gut or instinctive reactions in that it occurs after a problem has been worked on for a while. Generally, once the feeling that you're stuck sets in comes the unexpected resolution in the form of an "Aha!" moment. With sudden insight, the problem appears in a new light and is solved, often surprising the solver.

It is also different from analytical problem-solving, which is carried out using a gradual approach that relies on known steps to come up with an answer.

According to Carola Salvi, the lead author for the study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, liberals are known to follow a more flexible way of thinking, while conservatives fall back on more structured, persistent cognitive styles.

"Our research indicates that cognitive differences in people with different political orientations also are apparent in a task that some consider to be convergent thinking: finding a single solution to a problem," she said.

Senior author Mark Beeman added that the results of their research don't point to a difference in problem-solving capacity. Rather, liberals and conservatives simply end up engaging different processes to solve the same problem.

For the study, the researchers worked with Northwestern students grouped as either liberal or conservative after answering a survey. They were then given Compound Remote Associate problems, a well-known task used in experiments involving problem-solving.

According to previous studies, different brain regions and mental processes are involved in solving a problem using insight versus analytical processing. The researchers reiterate, however, that both approaches are used and helpful in everyday life. It's just that liberals have the tendency to rely on insight, while conservatives don't prefer a certain style.

In addition to Salvi and Beeman, Jordan Grafman and Irene Cristofori also contributed to the research.

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