Apr 09

Conservatism is Easy

Keep RightFresh on the heels of a recent study from Brock University in Ontario, Canada that found that conservative beliefs and racism tend to occur in individuals with lower intelligence and cognitive ability, a research abstract released on March 16, 2012 by Scott Eidelman and his research team at the University of Arkansas found that low effort thinking leads to conservative beliefs. The British Psychological Society summarized the findings, which included among other things, that the less time or mental effort a person puts into thinking about an issue, the more likely they are to espouse a politically conservative perspective.

Across four studies, the researchers examined the effects on political attitudes of four different ways of reducing mental effort. This included: surveying drinkers at varying degrees of intoxication at a local bar; allocating some participants to a dual-task condition where they had to keep track of auditory tones at the same time as registering their political attitudes; allocating some participants to a time-pressured situation, in which they had to rate their agreement with different political statements at fast as possible; and finally, giving some participants the simple instruction to respond to political statements without thinking too hard.

The results were consistent across the studies – being more drunk, being distracted by a secondary task, answering under time pressure and answering without thinking, all led participants to agree more strongly with politically conservative beliefs, such as “A first consideration of any society is the protection of property rights” and “Production and trade should be free of government interference.” Agreement with liberal beliefs were either reduced or unaffected by the measures. The researchers checked and the effects they observed were not due to differences in the complexity of the statements used to measure political conservatism and liberalism, nor were they due to changes in mood or frustration associated with the interventions.

The finding that reduced mental effort encourages more conservative beliefs fits with prior research suggesting that attributions of personal responsibility (versus recognising the influence of situational factors), acceptance of hierarchy and preference for the status quo – all of which may be considered hallmarks of conservative belief – come naturally and automatically to most people, at least in western societies.

“Our findings suggest that conservative ways of thinking are basic, normal, and perhaps natural,” the researchers concluded. “Motivational factors are crucial determinants of ideology, aiding or correcting initial responses depending on one’s goals, beliefs, and values. Our perspective suggests that these initial and uncorrected responses lean conservative.”

Follow-up research will apparently include a study to determine the best way for Mr.Eidelman and his team to escape Arkansas safely once word of the research findings is made public.

Apr 05

The Longest Debate in History

LiesA recent study conducted by Shaul Shalvi, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, uncovered that the more time permitted to pass between an event or question and the response, the less likely a subject is to lie. The subjects were instructed to roll a die and report the outcome. The greater the number, the more money the subject would be paid.

The researchers had no way of knowing what numbers participants actually rolled, of course. But they knew, statistically, that the average roll, if people reported honestly, should have been 3.5. This gave them a baseline from which to calculate participants’ honesty. Those forced to enter their results within 20 seconds, the researchers found, reported a mean roll of 4.6. Those who were not under any time pressure reported a mean roll of 3.9. Both groups lied, then. But those who had had more time for reflection lied less.

A second experiment confirmed this result. A different bunch of volunteers were asked to roll the die just once. Again, half were put under time pressure and, since there were no additional rolls to make, the restriction was changed from 20 seconds to eight. The others were allowed to consider the matter for as long as they wished.

In this case the first half reported an average roll of 4.4. Those given no time limit reported an average of 3.4. The second lot, in other words, actually told the truth.

I could not help but query if the American view that quick decisiveness is a sign of strength to be admired ultimately leads to more societal deceit. Could our incessant desire for lightening fast feedback actually be contributing to a steady decline in overall truthfulness. Are we learning to lie more effectively as a result? I certainly welcome further experimentation comparing the United States to cultures with an alternate view.

I wonder what would come of a presidential debate, for example, wherein the candidates were forced to contemplate their response to each question for a minimum period of time. Would human psychology affect their ability to mislead us intentionally? Would their level of discomfort in telling lies be apparent? I do know it would be awfully fun to watch.