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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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  • In related news... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:03PM (#25077817)

    Easily startled people carry guns, so be careful out there!

    • by Louis Savain ( 65843 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:13PM (#25079083) Homepage

      A November 2007 Gallup poll [gallup.com] 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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cayenne8 ( 626475 )
        "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

      • by jbeach ( 852844 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:52PM (#25079627) Homepage Journal
        Ahem - they are **reporting** that they have better mental health. Doesn't mean they're actually healthier. In fact, they could just be more fearful that other people will think they're nuts.
      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:06PM (#25079785)
        This reminds me of another important piece of research [amarkos.gr] (ok, it's from The Simpsons).
      • by DeanFox ( 729620 ) * <spam.myname@ g m a il.com> on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:51PM (#25080307)

        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.

        Just to be clear. They rate their own mental health as excellent. They believe they're the ones who are sane and everybody else is crazy.

        PRINCETON, NJ -- Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls.

        It appears Democrats at least have an open mind to the possibility of being wrong.


        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by OakDragon ( 885217 )
          I have to wonder what the comments would be like if Republicans reported that they suffer from poor mental health, or slightly below average mental health.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yeah, it's easy to get depressed when you actually care about people and things other than yourself. Depression is one of the most damaging mental illnesses there is.

    • gun control (Score:5, Insightful)

      by selfdiscipline ( 317559 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:41PM (#25079525) Homepage

      That makes me wonder:

      Are fearful people more likely to be against gun control or for it? I can see fear playing a part in both sides of the issue.

      • Re:gun control (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:03PM (#25079759)

        That's exactly why I think this study is totally bogus. They're basically assuming that the current Democrat and Republican political platforms are 1) the only two possible viewpoints people could have, and 2) basically unchanging ideals. There's tons of people who don't agree with either, or agree with parts of both parties' platforms. These platforms aren't the way they are because people believe in them; they have arisen out of political expediency. For instance, why are the Republicans in favor of religious fundamentalism, foreign wars, and deregulation of business? Because these things actually go together? No. This came about because the power brokers in the Republican Party panders to religious fundamentalists in order to get votes, so they can get elected and pursue their economic agenda which benefits their wealthy friends.

        The Democrats aren't much different. They pander to poor people and people afraid of guns with promises of welfare and gun control, so they can get votes and enact laws (like the DMCA) which benefit their wealthy friends and campaign donors.

        These parties would happily change their platforms if it netted them more votes, as long as they could continue enriching themselves and their wealthy friends. These politicians are sociopaths and don't actually care about society, their country, the people they serve, or whether their laws are right or wrong. Why else do you think Republicans, who are always bashing gay people, are frequently discovered (in airport restrooms, no less) to be gay themselves?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rhakka ( 224319 )


          the study doesn't mention democratic or republican platforms at all.

          they simply note that people who claim to have strong opinions toward right wing viewpoints and left wing viewpoints also tend to sort by this startle reflex.

          To address your point, the republicans wouldn't succeed in pandering to christians if they didn't have more in common with other right wingers than the opposition did. that "mjore in common" is generally social conservativism, which is the kind of view this study is talking about

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:05PM (#25077847)

    Hate leads to Anger... Anger leads to killing George Lucas for some really bad movies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by blair1q ( 305137 )

      It's a democracy. Vote to have the three prequels expunged from the planet and done over by Joss Whedon and Rockne O'Bannon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Avast, scallywag! Ye'll take those movies, which I be enjoyin', and have Whedon (whose work I don't be enjoyin') re-do them over me cold steel. Arr!
  • by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) * <shadow...wrought@@@gmail...com> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:05PM (#25077851) Homepage Journal
    Republicans are cowards.

    Yeah this discussion is going to go well...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:11PM (#25077961)

      Strictly speaking, fear doesn't make one a coward. Acting only on that fear is what makes one a coward.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:12PM (#25077999)

        in other words, Republicans are cowards.

        • by Cow Jones ( 615566 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:51PM (#25078773)

          in other words, Republicans are cowards.

          No, they only act on other people's fears.

          But let's not put this into a political debate and get back on topic. Wait a minute...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dbrutus ( 71639 )

        Actually not acting on fear may mean that you're infected with Toxoplasma gondii [nationalgeographic.com]. 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Aaron5367 ( 1049126 )

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

        In my opinion, I see taking away liberty, and privacy cowardly. I know some Democrats want to do this as well (and already have voted for it), but I see a lot more of it on the Republican side.

      • by David Gould ( 4938 ) <david@dgould.org> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:59PM (#25078895) Homepage

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

        No, but being too quick to "perceive" such a need -- that's cowardice.

        (Over-re)acting out of all proportion to the severity of the threat -- that's cowardice.

        Letting it skew your priorities to the point that you neglect to protect yourself against other (less dramatic but equally or more important) dangers -- that's not only cowardice, it's stupid and makes you less safe.

        Allowing your rights to be violated whenever the administration says "Grant us this expanded executive power, or we'll let the terrorists kill you" -- that's cowardice.

        Does that clear anything up?

      • by Walkingshark ( 711886 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:59PM (#25078897) Homepage

        Except when you percieve innocent things, like gay marriage, as a threat to your self preservation.

        • by NotBornYesterday ( 1093817 ) * on Friday September 19, 2008 @09:08PM (#25081041) Journal
          I've never understood the big opposition to gay rights/sex/marriage/whatever. Let's call it what it is: one group imposing their religion and personal "ick" bias on another group.

          Let's break down the numbers. First, for every male gay couple out there, there are theoretically 2 more women out there looking for a guy to be with. Considering the world's population is pretty close to being 50-50 m/f, anything that tips the balance in our favor is pure goodness, especially among the /. crowd. Second, for every lesbian out there ... well, I know I can't explain why, but we all know that two women together is inexplicably hot, even if us guys have zero chance of being involved. So, yeah ... that's pure goodness too. What's not too like?
      • by nomadic ( 141991 )
        I don't think acting out of a perceived need of self preservation is how I would define cowardice.

        Actually I think that's the definition of cowardice.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sloppy ( 14984 )

        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. ;-)

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

      by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {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".

      • by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) <[ ] ['' in gap]> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:17PM (#25078091)

        Do a search on:

        "The Power of Nightmares..."

        Its six hours long, but well worth the time.

      • 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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Surt ( 22457 )

        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.

    • 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."

      • 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 [ted.com].

        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.

      • by CrashPoint ( 564165 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:44PM (#25078651)
        That saying has an important corollary: "A liberal is a conservative who has been laid off". It applies equally well as the first, and taken together they illustrate that both left wing and right allow themselves to be ruled by fear, differing only in what particular things they're afraid of.
      • by binary paladin ( 684759 ) <binarypaladin@noSPam.gmail.com> 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: (Score:3, Funny)

      OMG, Iran is coming right at us!!!

    • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:49PM (#25078745)
      I'm sure that they're confusing authoritarian with economically right, both of which describe Republicans, but two entirely separate things.

      It's entirely possible to be extremely to the economic left and still be every bit if not more authoritarian than the Republican party tends to be. Just look at the USSR under Stalin.

      It's also entirely possible to be extremely to the economic right and be very non-authoritarian. Probably the best example of this would be the American Libertarian party which has a strong free market belief as well as a very hands-off approach to government involvement in the personal lives of people.

      Check out http://www.politicalcompass.org/ [politicalcompass.org] for a better explanation and to see where different political parties from different parts of the world are at. I've found a lot of interesting things on that site. The most interesting to me is that the vast majority of European governments aren't too far off of the US Democratic party, despite what a lot of European posters on /. would argue to the contrary.
    • by adisakp ( 705706 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:14PM (#25079097) Journal

      Republicans are cowards.

      Not necessarily. However, they are willing to give up freedoms for security and social stability is more important protections of minorities.

      TED had a very good talk about psychology of left vs. right [ted.com] without necessarily putting down one or the other.

      Basically, what they found out was that Liberals have two main axes of morality: Harm and Fairness.

      Conservatives have five: Harm, Fairness, In-Group, Authority, Purity.

  • 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: http://psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20061222-000001.xml [psychologytoday.com]
  • And I'm sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:07PM (#25077913) Journal

    ...the timing of this article is a complete coincidence.

  • 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.
    • Re:So Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:36PM (#25078485) Homepage

      Yeah, I'm often doubtful about these sorts of psychology stories, but this one actually makes a certain sort of sense to me. In the traditional meaning of the word, being "conservative" means that you dislike quick and drastic changes. The idea that there would be a connection between disliking change quick changes (moving from the known to the unknown) and being generally more fearful and easily startled doesn't seem strange or surprising.

      Also, the connections between being more fearful, wanting a strong army, and wanting to be "tough on crime" seem pretty clear. You could have convinced me without research.

      On the other hand, none of this necessarily means that these opinions are wrong. Even if they're more fearful, it's not clear that it means they're "too fearful". I'm not trying to argue that they are or that they aren't, but just suggesting that we all try to avoid jumping to conclusions. (I'm also not accusing the parent post of claiming that it means they're wrong)

  • yeah right (wing) (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Arthur B. ( 806360 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:08PM (#25077917)

    I think being startled has much more to do with the ability to concentrate than with fear.

    I am the most startled person I know... If I am concentrating on something, I make a total vacuum, I block all my senses... if at that point I am distracted by someone I will jump a foot in the air and scream. I don't consider myself fearful though.

    Right wing in the US has, for most of its existence, been isolationist and thus favored less military rather than more. I don't believe there's any connection.

    All in all, this research is probably crap.

  • 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 ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      They didn't *translate* it; they *correlated* it. From the BBC news article:

      "In the study, conducted in Nebraska, 46 volunteers were first asked about their political views on issues ranging from foreign aid and the Iraq war to capital punishment and patriotism."

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7623256.stm [bbc.co.uk]

      I think your paraphrasing seems misleading. "More protective attitudes" is one thing. But "Do you support more troops in iraq" and "do you support capital punishment" are unambiguously classed as

  • People vs. Things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Friday September 19, 2008 @09:09PM (#25081047)

    When it comes to the physiological response, a more complete description might be "fight or flight", as Fear and Aggression are closely linked. In addition, I've noticed that Conservatives tend to be afraid of People, while Liberals tend to be afraid of Things.

    To clarify, I mean that Conservatives seem to focus on threats with a human face -- foreign terrorists and rogue dictators without; criminals, illegal immigrants, and gays within (gays are a particularly interesting example of "threat", due to an odd mix of cultural and psychological reasons, instead of being any threat to life/liberty/livelihood). This leads to harsher law enforcement and big military budgets.

    While Liberals seem to focus on systematic dangers, like pollution or global warming. This leads to lots of attention to things like pesticides, endocrine disruptors, and genetically modified organisms; resulting in lots of regulation and governmental intervention.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein