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Science Government Politics

Political Viewpoints Linked To Fear 800

Pentagram writes "Researchers writing in Science report that the political orientation of test subjects who have strong views is linked to how easy they are to startle. They found that subjects who were more fearful were more likely to have right wing views, such as being in favor of capital punishment and higher defense budgets. The researchers suggest that this psychological difference is why it is so difficult to change people's minds in political arguments."
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Political Viewpoints Linked To Fear

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  • more detail... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by crescente ( 1334029 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:07PM (#25077899)
    There was also a more indepth article about this last year in Psychology Today: []
  • So Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Naughty Bob ( 1004174 ) * on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:08PM (#25077915)
    In retrospect.... I'm in the UK, and the more right-wing the paper, the more knee-jerk to headlines.

    I guess it's also what gives the conservatives (small c) that weird advantage in polls- their always more likely to be 'in tune' with the masses, because their opinions are always more likely to have been formed off the back of the most recent scare story.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:12PM (#25077991)

    As much as I appreciate the humor, I don't think acting out of a perceived need of self preservation is how I would define cowardice.

  • NPR has the scoop (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:13PM (#25078013) Homepage Journal

    So in other words... Republicans are cowards.

    The researchers commented on this situation on NPR this morning. Yes, you could potentially see Republicans that way. But the researchers suggested that you could also see Democrats as "lacking in a basic sense of self-preservation."

    The researchers went on to say that they don't believe that either label is appropriate. Rather, they hope both sides will use this information to better understand one another.

    From my own perspective, I feel that it's also worth pointing out that both sides tend to follow their ideals. It's not like Republicans tend to avoid military service after demanding it, and it's not like Democrats seek military service due to a lack of self-preservation. The two sides merely react to certain stimulus, but the actual psychology of the drive is obviously more complex. Which leads me to my next point.

    The researchers suggest that this psychological difference is why it is so difficult to change people's minds in political arguments.

    Many of the other researchers interviewed by NPR were skeptical of these findings. Their belief was that the study failed to show that these responses were set biologically and not by environmental stimuli. So in fact, it may be that Republicans are more suspicious of attacks than Democrats due to their environmental training. Which certainly seems more likely than dividing people up into "cowards" and "idiot-savants".

  • Re:yeah right (wing) (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:13PM (#25078025)

    > Right wing in the US has, for most of its existence, been isolationist and thus favored less military rather than more.

    In whose alternate universe? Or are you talking pre ... what ... Spanish American war? The right wing in the US has a fantasy of itself that it never comes close to. Instead of small government you get GWB .... instead of freedom you got J Edgar Hoover. A weird level of denial there.

  • by Tetsujin ( 103070 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:15PM (#25078049) Homepage Journal

    "A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged" - I guess the message there is supposed to be "having been mugged and now being familiar with the true nature of the world around them, they learned that the ideals they formerly embraced were foolishly misguided" but I always read it more as "having been mugged they allowed fear to take over their lives, replacing their sense of justice with a more Machiavellian approach to the world."

  • It goes both ways (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Robotbeat ( 461248 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:15PM (#25078053) Journal

    This definitely affects Democrats, too. My father-in-law is a staunch democrat, and he's also very anxious all the time. It affects his political views because he worries greatly about things like health care and such, things which he thinks the gov't can protect us from.

    There's a well-known saying: "A Democrat is a Republican who's been arrested, and a Republican is a Democrat who's been mugged."

    I know that the saying works for me, too. My wife and I were the victims of gang violence (well, just some inner-city middle schoolers who broke our car window while we were in the car, causing my wife's face to bleed) and I definitely think it caused me to lean to the right, and more recently I was arrested (charges later dismissed) which caused me to not trust the police and lean to the left.

    Now, I don't think I'm really on either side. The police aren't going to really do too much to you as long as you don't make their lives difficult, and I think I can handle myself and my family if the whole economy implodes. Politicians usually don't actually make you safer. Good neighbors, family, and friends do.

  • by calmofthestorm ( 1344385 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:15PM (#25078061)

    It seems to me that much of the current war on * sham is based on irrational fears. It's well known that humans have difficulty understanding on a qualitative level very low and very high probabilities.

    So, for example, people might be far more concerned about being killed in a 9/11 repeat (5000 people) rather than in an automobile accident (~20,000 p/yr), despite the latter being far more of a risk to them.

    Of course there are reasons to fear the former more than the latter that are reasonable, such as placing more value on how one dies than if (I don't consider this unreasonable; I'd rather be shot by a stranger than my best friend)

  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:19PM (#25078137)

    FTA: "decided to test the idea that liberal and conservative (or "protective") social beliefs are related to individuals' sensitivity to threat."

    So really what they tested was whether people who have more protective attitudes toward others react more to fear stimulus. Well, isn't that obvious? Correlation OR causation, it seems a pretty direct link that if you are afraid of something, you'd want to protect against it, and if you are afraid of more things, you'd want to protect against more things, and if the intensity of your fear is higher, the level of protection would increase.

    So how on Earth did they translate that into "conservative" political views?

  • by Aphoxema ( 1088507 ) * on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:21PM (#25078197) Homepage Journal

    What if I think being politically motivated at all is a mental illness?

  • Related Work (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jrootham ( 170856 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:22PM (#25078211) Homepage

    This introductory survey matches up nicely with Robert Altemeyer's more substantial body of work. See []

  • Re:yeah right (wing) (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:22PM (#25078217)

    Nice try, no cigar.

    The right wing in the U.S. has always been very aggressive with respect to military use, particularly overseas. They want a BIGGER military, with MORE military spending, not smaller/less. "Isolationism" deals more with trade than with military use. An isolationist policy is one that reduces international trade and commerce. You can be an isolationist and still go nuts and invade other countries.

    If you have trouble getting your mind around this, think back to Ronald "Star Wars" Reagan, who rode out the end of the cold war by spending so astonishingly much on bizarre military projects that the Russians went bankrupt trying to keep up with us. Reagan was as right-wing as they come. He wasn't an isolationist or anything, but he WAS right-wing.

    One last point: isolationist != right wing. At best, the two groups might overlap a bit.

  • by calmofthestorm ( 1344385 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:24PM (#25078237)

    On a more rational (than my last post) note, how is it a defect to be more easily afraid? Fear is a GOOD thing when one is facing a real threat; it causes one to take actions to defend oneself (such as increasing military spending or reaching for a rock, as the case may be)

    You could just as reasonably argue that liberals irrationally shrug off threats that are dangerous to them, and that they are incorrect, or make a more fair argument that people who hold extremist beliefs fair to accurately gauge risk.

    Even if it is the liberals who are right and conservatives who are wrong here I hardly think you can call this a "disease", more a different worldview.

    I'm a lot more scared of being abducted and held without trial by my own government than dying in a tiny terrorist attack; this is no more or less rational than someone with the opposite fears, and both are less rational than someone who is afraid of cars because of the risk of death.

  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JebusIsLord ( 566856 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:35PM (#25078475)

    The type of fear they're discussing though is the primal kind, associated with avoiding physical harm.

  • by PunkOfLinux ( 870955 ) <> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:42PM (#25078599) Homepage

    Dude, not everyone who's on welfare is lazy. Besides, it's not right to punish a child for their parent being a fuckwit.

    This is a land of opportunity - without some basic assistance, some people will HAVE no opportunity. Look at my girlfriend. Her mother can't work because of a VERY serious back problem; her father won't do a damn thing to help. Without some assistance, she wouldn't be able to do a damn thing with her life.

  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:42PM (#25078605) Homepage Journal

    I always read it more as "having been mugged they allowed fear to take over their lives, replacing their sense of justice with a more Machiavellian approach to the world."

    I think that's a naive interpretation of the saying. In this case "mugged" tends to be a metaphor for "negative experience". A negative experience does sometimes teach people to be a little harsher.

    I know I tried a hands-off approach with administrating a web forum for a quite a while, and quickly found that a few disruptive members were driving away all the actual contributors to the discussions. I tried being reasonable and applying polite warnings. I mean, we were all adults, right? The only thing that happened was that these users got good at skirting the edge of the rules. They'd cross the line regularly, but tried not to do enough to warrant a perma-ban. They got especially good at pushing the buttons of other users such that otherwise contributing members became part of the problem. Then these users were able to play a game of public appeal when the mods pointed a finger at them.

    In the end, there was only one solution. I clamped down. I hated doing it, I really did. But I managed to drive those users out, keep careful controls on the direction of threads, and attract many of our lost users to return. The community came together and really helped the site(s) it supported to thrive after that. I initially got some blame for the bans, but most users ended up thankful after only a short period of time. (Which I honestly didn't expect.)

    I eventually relaxed the controls a bit, but I still found I had to keep vigilant or else someone would show up to attempt to ruin the forums again.

    What I'm getting at is that Republicans aren't always wrong in those respects. Sometimes control and structure ARE necessary. It's just difficult for them to always know when. There's a fairly good talk from a psychologist on TED TV who echos these thoughts [].

    On the flip-side, I think the recent issue over deregulation shows that Republicans do try to relax controls, sometimes with disastrous effects. Which simply reinforces their ideas of control and structure.

  • Re:Fear (Score:4, Interesting)

    by number6x ( 626555 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:45PM (#25078675)

    Since the US is the leading user of recreational drugs in the world ( the amount of money US citizens spend on illegal substances dwarfs the budgets of most countries), we should really take illegal drug use into account when we interpret most American social behavior.

    The right wingers tend to be split into two big groups: The wealthier old money types and the poorer rural types.

    The left wingers are wealthier intellectuals and poorer hipsters.

    The wealthy right wingers can afford more cocaine and the poorer use the most popular rural drug Meth. These substances make them jumpier and more paranoid.

    The left wingers tend top have the pot smokers, so they are more mellow.


    Maybe the fear or lack of it follows from the behavior?

  • by dbrutus ( 71639 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:47PM (#25078715) Homepage

    Actually not acting on fear may mean that you're infected with Toxoplasma gondii []. The actual study has no value judgments as to what level of fear is more adaptive, just that there is a difference on social conservatism.

  • by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:49PM (#25078735)

    "And my fear is being an obnoxious blabbermouth." - Willow

    From "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Episode: "Beneath You"

  • by dragonsomnolent ( 978815 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:54PM (#25078827) Homepage
    Umm, yes, I am for healthcare, but if you noticed in my previous post, I said the states should handle that one. And yes, I do think education should be affordable, and again, I don't think the Feds should be doing that, just that I wouldn't go absolutely ape shit about it should they do it. They already do much more that isn't in the constitution (consentual crimes). I merely pointed out that both sides could have what they want, if they would stop trying to enforce the "christian" morals (that are way off base anyway, but that's another subject entirely, and I really don't want to go there).
  • by binary paladin ( 684759 ) <> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:58PM (#25078875)

    I always counter by saying, "Yeah and a liberal is a conservative that's been abused by the police."

    And historically... I wonder who has a higher body count, government goons or mere muggers.

  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:04PM (#25078987)

  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HiVizDiver ( 640486 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:09PM (#25079037)
    A propos of not much, I've spoken with several people who have admitted that they are voting for McCain, and when pressed as to why (not in an interrogatory way, I assure you - mostly out of general interest), it boiled down to Obama's black AND his middle name is Hussein. One person actually said (and I quote) "He went to a Muslim school, and I don't care what anyone says about it - that stuff gets IN THERE" as she pointed to her head. I'm not sure what "stuff" she was referring to. That was there only reason for voting for McCain. While I don't feel that voting for McCain automatically makes a person a Republican, it certainly seems that their vote is being cast out of a complete sense of fear of that which they don't understand.

    I would not argue that voting against something that concerns you is a good idea; however, their fear is SO misplaced (and racist, or at least xenophobic), that it certainly paints them as uneducated and ridiculous.
  • by Louis Savain ( 65843 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:13PM (#25079083) Homepage

    A November 2007 Gallup poll [] reveals that Republicans by a wide margin across all age, gender, income, and education levels report significantly better mental health than Democrats and Independents.

    As we observe in nature, only the paranoids survive. The others are just nuts. LOL.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:19PM (#25079159) Homepage Journal

    I don't think acting out of a perceived need of self preservation is how I would define cowardice.

    Then how would you define it?

    Perhaps cowardice is when you act afraid but someone else doesn't want you to, because they'd rather you risk making a sacrifice. (And especially since they'd rather you take the risk instead of them!)

    Die for your country so I don't have to, coward. ;-)

  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:19PM (#25079165) Homepage Journal
    "As we observe in nature, only the paranoids survive."

    "Hey, when everybody is out to get you, paranoid is just.....good thinking!!"

    --Dr. Johnny Fever

  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:23PM (#25079215)

    Too bad republicans are known to give more to charity than democrats.

    That would be predominantly by bible-belt republicans who I feel are effectively duped into voting republican due to religious intolerance without real regard for the fact that their grand old party doesn't represent their ecomonic interests at all.

    Damn those pesky facts...

    Not as bad as the half-truth you tried to spread.

  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:33PM (#25079389) Homepage Journal

    Some things are more important than self preservation in the long term. The lack of understanding of this is why our civil liberties are being eroded severely by Republicans. They'd rather live in a surveillance society than risk death by terrorism.

  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skam240 ( 789197 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:35PM (#25079413)

    It's interesting but I think the author seems to be misinterpreting his data (my assumption, of course, is based exclusively on what is written in this article). I would suggest that many liberals altruistic needs are taken care of in how they vote while for conservatives, who's policies in government generally embody a "you're on your own" mentality, feel a greater need to give to charities. I mean, if conservatives were so altruistic, why wouldn't they favor universal health care so the poor no longer have to wait for medical emergencies before being seen in an emergency room and then end up ruined by debt.

  • Labels (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:46PM (#25079571) Homepage
    I used to be a Democrat and then a bunch of left-wing activists hijacked the Democratic Party and told anyone who disagreed with them to get lost. So I became a Republican, even though I have little in common with the traditional Republican constituencies.
  • by dogmatixpsych ( 786818 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:11PM (#25079843) Journal
    That begs the question that gay "marriage" is innocent. Just had to point out the fallacy in your argument, nothing personal.
  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LaskoVortex ( 1153471 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:39PM (#25080183)

    I shouldn't have hit "submit"...

    ...In fact, we are told how afraid we should be []. How fucked up is that? I was in an airport and they said "the current threat level is orange" and I couldn't believe what I was hearing. So let me reiterate that for you in capital levels so you can think about it for a second: YOU ARE TOLD HOW AFRAID TO BE. Can you wrap your mind around that? That's out of some sort of dystopian reality to be told how afraid to be. I mean, you don't even have to scare people at that point, you just tell them "be orange afraid", and then they'll get orange afraid for you. If they are frightened enough they'll do anything you want. That's why a gun to the head is so effective at extracting a wallet from someone--FEAR! And now we can get our fear without anyone doing anything really scary. They tell us a color and we get consummately afraid. Its Pavlovian at this point. By the way, my signature has been the same for months. I didn't change it recently for this thread...I'm just god damned prescient, that's all.

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <> on Friday September 19, 2008 @08:30PM (#25080679)

    That's self-perceived rather than actual mental health reported by that poll, dude. Don't you think crazy people believe they're perfectly sane, reasonable, and healthy?

    This distorted self-perception might have another name, one with a DSM tie-in: self-delusion. Maybe Republicans aren't mentally healthy at all, but rather better at chronic self-delusion? We already know the Evangelistas are right-wing Republicans....

  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @09:13PM (#25081085)

    Your question is biased in an of itself. If liberals are so charitable, why are they so willing to add an inefficient government system that will increase our taxload, giving people less money to spend on medicine, and could eventually put medical progress itself at risk?

    Not saying I espouse either value, but it's not a fair question :)

    Personally I think it's a strange urban versus rural mentality.

    Poor conservatives tend to come from a rural cultural background where you didn't have much materially, but always had both a farm to keep you fed, and a large social network of family and friends to lean on in times of crisis. Even if it no longer holds true entirely, the culture is still based around the consequences of that mentality - you don't depend on the government for things, because your core needs are handled, and while you expect to stay poor through hard work for yourself (on your own farm, or family's farm) you will never be desperate. Even with the medical situation - the whole cultural memory of a poor country doctor accepting a chicken because that's all they had to give is a strong ideal that still means something to people, even if it isn't something that's reasonable now - in a small town you know everyone well enough that sometime someone has done that sort of favor for you at some point in your life, and you've done the same.

    Someone who grew up in it can fill in the urban half of this better than I, but it seems that being in a larger city, you are much more interdependent on society as a system, as opposed to individuals. You generally don't have that level of your own farm produce and land to fall back on - if you lose your job, if you can't get a paying job, you're on the street. And there's a lot more people around in general, so instead of the homeless population of the town being named "Bob," it becomes a real social concern. You're more likely to see police in action, or their failure to act. Your experience with guns is a couple drug dealers shooting each other intead of hunting a deer to add to your dinner or your grandma's story about scaring off robbers. Government and society in general just has a lot more to do with your life - so you expect it to do something for it, look to it for answers because the problems you see aren't of a scale where the preacher at church can just take a donation to help the Jones' get through a hard couple months.

    I guess that's where I see people's base leaning of conservative versus liberal coming from. Anything beyond and more intelligent than that requires real thought and investigation, which is more than most people put into it.

  • by Ex-MislTech ( 557759 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @09:44PM (#25081273)

    This is very true, I own a 30-06.

    It is a very scary weapon in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, I hope on my life I never have to in anger or defense.

    1,000+ yards "effective" range with the right scope.

    And yes, that is over half a mile.

    The 50 cal BMG is well over a mile.

    The diff is you can buy a 30-06 at a rural Wal-mart for $250.

    But lets consider that humans are only humane when law
    enforcement stands ready to kill them on the spot.

    The didn't call it the Wild West due to the women.

    Peace is a VERY temporary state in human nature: []

    We are moving towards another World War 'right' now.

    Most ppl are too busy with their favorite diversion to notice.

    The Russian's however are ready: [] []

  • by Dragonslicer ( 991472 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @09:50PM (#25081333)

    Oh please. Left wingers are just as happy to surrender their civil rights... And who voted for the Patriot Act? Yep, both sides of the aisle.

    It's important not to confuse "left wing" or "liberal" with "Democratic Party". The current Democratic party holds to liberal ideals about as well as the current Republican party holds to conservative ideals.

  • by evil_arrival_of_good ( 786412 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @10:23PM (#25081579) Homepage
    My take is the Left is more prone to adhering to an orthodoxy than anyone. I say this and I'm an inner-city liberal.
  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skam240 ( 789197 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @10:43PM (#25081729)

    While of course broad generalizations always have flaws here and there I pretty much agree with what you describe above in terms of the sources of values for the two competeing modern ideologies today. Urban centers, even in the deep south, show this trend while rural areas, even in California, show this trend as well.

    The one thing I will ad to this, however, is that we are increasingly becoming an urban culture and have been for some time. The number of people in what would typically be called rural areas has been diminishing rapidly since WWII and at an ever increasing rate. In addition, even in rural areas today many of the social ills that used to be confined to urban areas now exist. Will the old value systems support this changing environment?

  • by RJBeery ( 956252 ) <> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @02:44AM (#25083021)
    Or they are well adjusted enough to be in touch with and acknowledge what scares them...? Why do you apparently give credibility to one study result but not the other?
  • by bug ( 8519 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:47AM (#25083563)

    In the US, we have an odd pairing of free market liberalization with social conservativeness, and on the other side a pairing of social welfare and government interventionism with social liberalness. It's an extremely odd pairing. Here you've got someone who is fearful, and therefore favors a strong national defense and government regulation of immorality. That person would naturally lean Republican. You might also assume that same person might be equally fearful of financial or health difficulties, and might therefore favor government-provided safety nets. Well, in the US you'd be dead wrong, because that person would be more likely to be a Democrat.

    To a large degree, this artificial pairing limits the options for the libertarian-minded. Either we have government interference in our bedrooms, or in our wallets, pick your poison. It also potentially limits the Republican Party's social conservative agenda. For instance, would abortions be less commonplace or even irrelevant if young women had access to more affordable health care, maternity leave, daycare, and other forms of government-provided social services?

    I'd love to see the same study performed in Europe, where the pairings of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives isn't so strong.

  • Re:NPR has the scoop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crimson30 ( 172250 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @10:25AM (#25084727) Homepage

    I only know one person voting for Obama (unemployed, self-serving neighbor).

    Of those I know voting for McCain, none are voting for him because of racism or other such nonsense. They are basically voting for McCain simply because he is less left than Obama. I don't know anyone that actually likes McCain. Everyone I know finds him fairly repugnant, just less so than Obama.

    I'm curious. Who are these idiots you know that are voting for McCain? Neighbors? Co-workers? Friends?

"I think trash is the most important manifestation of culture we have in my lifetime." - Johnny Legend