Rigging a study to make conservatives look stupid
September 22, 2007 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Rigging a study to make conservatives look stupid.
posted by veedubya (56 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does a study really need to be "rigged" at this juncture?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:37 AM on September 22, 2007 [12 favorites]


I'm not sure if they look stupid, but they sure sound stupid.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 7:41 AM on September 22, 2007


Actually, it's: Writing an essay to make liberals who agree with a study to make conservatives look stupid look stupid.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:42 AM on September 22, 2007


So the result of this study is that liberals are better at pushing the right buttons than conservatives are?

Clearly this study is fundamentally flawed. And you don't to be an NYU professor to see that.
posted by sour cream at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


stupid people need representation in government, too, intellectual chauvinist pigs!
posted by pyramid termite at 7:44 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks to my years of video game playing, I'm far smarter than even super-liberals like Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich.
posted by box at 7:44 AM on September 22, 2007


...our standard of "information" is a bit tougher than the blips and fads you fall for.
...cuz Jeebus said so.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:50 AM on September 22, 2007


The 'study' is just so bad I want it to be a cleverly-planted straw man. The difference in mean age between liberals and conservatives is enough alone to explain whatever differences this silliness revealed.

Someone think of a clever remark about using 'W' as one of the test symbols. I'll check back and see what everyone comes up with.
posted by Bokononist at 7:50 AM on September 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


A study to show how stupid conservatives are only needs one data point, and that data point is George W. Bush.
posted by interrobang at 7:52 AM on September 22, 2007 [6 favorites]


Previous, related.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:56 AM on September 22, 2007


Tase them! Tase them all!
posted by Artw at 7:57 AM on September 22, 2007


The study done was just a stupid publicity stunt, but it wasn't rigged at all. The guy who wrote that slate article doesn't know shit about how experiments are done in psychology or neuroscience and really needs to stop talking out of his ass.
posted by afu at 8:00 AM on September 22, 2007 [5 favorites]


Yeah you don't need a study.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:04 AM on September 22, 2007


This is a pretty shitty article. Except at the end, the author lists a feature of the study, and then says it sucks.

"Fifteen minutes is a habit? Tapping a keyboard is a way of thinking? Come on."

Two questions is a refutation? Pointing out that the study doesn't measure everything about human behavior is a cogent argument? Come on.

Look, the study doesn't prove anything, but it suggests that conservatives are more likely to persist in disproven beliefs than non-conservatives. Maybe there are flaws, and there are definitely limits, and it might eventually be totally disproven. But you can't just sneer at it and call it a day.

But then, I'm a liberal, so I base my opinion on facts.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:06 AM on September 22, 2007


Maybe the Bad Science Blog will weigh in. It seems to target the usual suspects, e.g., homeopathy, but occasionally the writer covers methodology and aspirational conclusions.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 8:08 AM on September 22, 2007


It's delicious to see a conservative attacking this kind of study since this type of measure of intelligence, stripped of all context and narrowed down to reaction time and accuracy, is largely a product of intelligence measurement funded by racist organizations in hopes it would support racial hierarchies.
posted by srboisvert at 8:17 AM on September 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


About the author of the peice (via wikipedia)
William Saletan is the chief national correspondent at Slate.com. Saletan gained notoriety in the fall of 2004 with nearly daily columns covering the ups and downs of the Presidential race. He currently writes the 'Human Nature' column. Previously, he wrote 'Frame Game' which analyzed the way current events are spun by politicians and the media and 'Ballot Box,' a column devoted to politics and policy.

A self described "liberal Republican," Saletan came out strongly against the re-election candidacy of George W. Bush. He investigated the source of his disenchantment with today's GOP in a series of dispatches from the 2004 Republican Convention. [1]

He is the author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War. [1]

Saletan, a native Texan, graduated from Swarthmore College in 1987 and currently lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Let's look at his critiques:
Fifteen minutes is a habit? Tapping a keyboard is a way of thinking? Come on. You can make a case for conservative inflexibility, but not with this study.
Saletan doesn't give any reason why the particular test was invalid, he simply dismisses it with a "Come on! That doesn't matter" And that's just not a valid scientific argument.

There are more arguments like that, where the Saletan simply throws his hands up and says "that doesn't matter!"

He also claims that the amount of information show is to small to count as "information". From an information theoretic standpoint, he's wrong. So I don't know what definition he's using, but it's definetly not the real one

The real criticism is this:
The indictment sounds scientific: CM spots errors; conservatives are less sensitive to CM; therefore, conservatives make more errors. But the original definition of CM, written six years ago by the researchers who hypothesized it, didn't presume that the habitual response was wrong, inappropriate, or objectively mismatched with current requirements. It presumed only that a stimulus had challenged the habit. According to the original definition, CM is "a system that monitors for the occurrence of conflicts in information processing."
Saletan is essentially saying if you designed the test so that what you were supposed to do was keep doing the same thing, and then flooded the user with extemporaneous information, liberals would do worse at the test. But how would show liberals were stupid?

I mean, you would essentially show that "liberals are worse at doing the same thing over and over again, regardless of whatever new information they receive." To me, that kind of a statement would still make liberals seem smarter.

Now, it may be that the study is otherwise flawed. I haven't read it and I wouldn't be qualified to critique it myself. Plenty of scientific research does turn out to be wrong.

But in this case, I think Saletan is just spouting bullshit because he doesn't like what he hears. He does buy the premise that liberals are able to think more flexibly and adapt to new information more easily, but he just doesn't believe that adapting to new information is helpful. He also doesn't think the ability to push the right button at the right time has any real-world effect.

He might be right. It would be interesting to see what kinds of tests conservatives perform better at. If there actually is a cognitive difference.
posted by delmoi at 8:17 AM on September 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


But you can't just sneer at it and call it a day.

that's only because there's so much else to be sneered at
posted by pyramid termite at 8:18 AM on September 22, 2007


Liberals push buttons like this. But conservatives push puttons like this!
posted by brain_drain at 8:19 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Isn't this basically a double?

Is there something post-worthy in this article that didn't already come out in the discussion thread from 11 days ago?
posted by washburn at 8:19 AM on September 22, 2007


I'm not curious about whether conservatives are stupider. Show me the test that demonstrates whether they are meaner and more selfish, and it will have answered a lot of my questions.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:21 AM on September 22, 2007 [7 favorites]


This experiment makes me cringe.

How anyone could extrapolate 'liberals are more open to new ideas' from stimulus-response button-pushing is beyond me.
posted by anthill at 8:22 AM on September 22, 2007


Is there something post-worthy in this article that didn't already come out in the discussion thread from 11 days ago?

you only say that because you're a liberal whose mind is biased to receive new information
posted by pyramid termite at 8:23 AM on September 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm missing the "rigging" part.

Saletan's objections seem to be, basically, that he (anecdotally, more or less) thinks that the results of the test don't imply things that the authors of the test, and the authors of various newspaper articles about it, imply.

Even if he's correct in that, that's very different than "rigging", and it's disingenuous of him to refer to it in that manner.
posted by Flunkie at 8:37 AM on September 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


he (anecdotally, more or less) thinks that the results of the test don't imply things that the authors of the test, and the authors of various newspaper articles about it, imply.
I meant "he thinks the results don't imply what the others think the results imply".
posted by Flunkie at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bokononist:
The 'study' is just so bad I want it to be a cleverly-planted straw man. The difference in mean age between liberals and conservatives is enough alone to explain whatever differences this silliness revealed.
The participants were all college students.

The study may (or may not) be bad. But you clearly don't have any idea of why that would (or would not) be.
posted by Flunkie at 8:48 AM on September 22, 2007


I imagined they controlled for a bunch of other factors as well. That's just how we roll in the reality based community.
posted by bashos_frog at 9:15 AM on September 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


The conservative case against this study is easy to make. Sure, we're fonder of old ways than you are. That's in our definition. Some of our people are obtuse; so are some of yours. If you studied the rest of us in real life, you'd find that while we second-guess the status quo less than you do, we second-guess putative reforms more than you do, so in terms of complexity, ambiguity, and critical thinking, it's probably a wash. Also, our standard of "information" is a bit tougher than the blips and fads you fall for. Sometimes, these inclinations lead us astray. But over the long run, they've served us and society pretty well. It's just that you notice all the times we were wrong and ignore all the times we were right.

He just ignored all the times he was right. I was expecting a few examples. Regardless, he's trying to get away with saying that conservatives favor non-action and slow study, ignoring their compulsive reactions inspired by fundamentalist regression, such as anticipating Armageddon or prayer in public schools.
posted by Brian B. at 9:22 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


In fact, that's exactly what you've done in this study: You've manufactured a tiny world of letters, half-seconds, and button-pushing, so you can catch us in clear errors and keep out the part of life where our tendencies correct yours. And now you feel great about yourselves. Congratulations. You haven't told us much about our way of thinking. But you've told us a lot about yours.

The study that Saletan picks on may or may not be flawed -- I don't have a scientific background, so unlike Saletan, I don't pretend to know -- but this entire article is jaw-droppingly bad.

After all, conservatives never, ever manufacture tiny worlds that try to catch liberals in clear errors and they never keep out the parts of life where liberal tendencies correct theirs.

And God knows that conservatives never feel self-congratulatory for showing liberals to be in error.

Congratulations, Mr. Saletan. I've not read your stuff on Slate in a blessedly long time, but you're a far lazier writer than I'd remembered.
posted by blucevalo at 9:30 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


[someone...]

The 'study' is just so bad I want it to be a cleverly-planted straw man.

[someone else...]

Clearly this study is fundamentally flawed. And you don't to be an NYU professor to see that.

It doesn't seem "clear" to me. I'm curious as to how you'd design your own test of the hypothesis?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:44 AM on September 22, 2007


This is a pretty classic format for a cognitive psychological experiment. I was a participant in several experiments like this when I was a student at Carnegie Mellon. I doubt that there are many problems with the experiment itself, as it seems to be a pretty basic and well established methodology.

This article is poorly written and poorly thought out. The only valid complaint is whether you can extrapolate such broad generalizations from this specific study.
posted by kcalder at 10:03 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


he does nothing to disprove that liberals adapt better to new stimuli compared to conservatives.

In experiments such as Amodio's, the habit is objectively wrong: You tapped the button, and the researcher knows that what you saw was a W. But real life is seldom that simple. Maybe what you saw—what you think you saw—will turn out to require a different response from the one that has hitherto served you well. Maybe it won't. Maybe, on average, extra sensitivity to such conflicting cues will lead to better decisions. Maybe it won't. Extra CM sensitivity does make you more likely to depart from your habit. But that doesn't prove it's more adaptive.

Adaptive means that you're open to change in response to new stimuli. Adaptive means that you take what evidence and info you have in deciding what to do, as opposed to simply doing what you've always done no matter what. I think Saletan is just trying too hard (and failing) to trash this study which makes his group look bad.
posted by amberglow at 10:17 AM on September 22, 2007


And his extensive remarks on supplemental documents of the study as opposed to the actual study and results themselves is weird too.

He even admits that conservatives don't adapt to change well himself--and that it's so basic a point as to be definitional--so what's the point of this? His wounded ego?
posted by amberglow at 10:23 AM on September 22, 2007


very related: Rudy the Buffoon: ... Please. Just for once, can we hold this guy responsible for what he says? Sure, he misspoke, but he misspoke because he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about and blurted out the first thing that came to mind: namely that reducing taxes is the answer to every question. Nobody with even the vaguest idea of what it meant to eliminate the AMT would say that it had to be balanced by reducing other taxes....

and more, on gun control: ... This is, once again, Rudy the wind-up doll. He's got a small supply of stock phrases (9/11, lower taxes, crime fighter) and he just hauls out whichever one seems handiest for the moment. Actual knowledge of anything necessary to be president? None.


We actually don't need special experiments to see them in action every day.
posted by amberglow at 10:31 AM on September 22, 2007


My personal favorite way out of context, unfairly redacted misquote from this whole thing:
Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times more likely than conservatives to show activity in the brain
Heh.
posted by Flunkie at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2007


This is almost exactly the structure of the TOVA test used to diagnose ADHD.

If you push the wrong button, they assume you're ADHD and start you on meds -- at least, that's the way it worked when I was a kid. Moreover, they told you beforehand that it was a "test of your reaction time." I assumed they were being honest, and tried to anticipate the patterns in the test. I was ranked high on "impulsivity" and various other things because I often pushed the button too quickly for it to have been an effect of hyper-awesome reaction times. I bet if I'd actually waited, it would have diagnosed me as somehow sluggish or inattentive and given me the same diagnosis of ADHD.
posted by InnocentBystander at 11:05 AM on September 22, 2007


If the study shows anything, it merely shows that some personality types are more inclined to go with what has worked before, and other personality types are more inclined to continually reevaluate.

It's really fucking stupid of anyone to make a value judgment about which of these personality types is “better”. What is “better” depends upon the environment. In a static environment, the conservative bias is superior because it allows a faster and correct reaction to a familiar stimulus. In a changing environment, the liberal bias is superior because it allows a correct reaction to an unfamiliar stimulus.

Put another way, looking at the relative errors, a conservative will jump from the frying pan into the fire, while a liberal will dither and be eaten by the crocodile. In each of those situations, the unfortunate party looks foolish.

It's tempting to value the liberal bias over the conservative bias on the basis of the argument that the liberal openness to new information is “thinking”, while the conservative reliance on what's worked before is merely “habit”.

But you are fooling yourself if you believe that you are not largely a creature of habit. These differences in temperament are differences at the margins. Most of our reactions and decisions are habitual and based upon what we already know with, at most, a cursory examination of the situation. We are creatures of habit. And that's a good thing for exactly the same reason that “muscle memory” is a good thing when we catch a ball.

What is fundamental is to have the correct habituation. “What has worked before” may not, in fact, be what has worked before but only what one has been taught, or deceived into thinking, has worked before. With the right upbringing and training, this conservative temperament will be superior to a largely static environment and may also be, in fact, politically progressive.

At any rate, these sorts of studies, like a lot of cognitive science as well as evolutionary psychology, should be understood as first, tentative steps into exploring the peculiarities of how we think. It's premature and often laughable to make of these studies more than they are.

Saletan is basically right: whether this study's results are correct, the real world environment and how people make decisions in it are far enough removed from the structure of this test that it's just demagoguery to interpret it as some validation of the correctness of liberalism. Frankly, that's just stupid.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:12 AM on September 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


What is “better” depends upon the environment. In a static environment, the conservative bias is superior
Too bad the universe is an inherently and overwhelmingly nonstatic environment.
posted by Flunkie at 11:19 AM on September 22, 2007


“Too bad the universe is an inherently and overwhelmingly nonstatic environment.”

Wow. That's one of the stupidest things I've read in a long time.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:31 AM on September 22, 2007


OK.
posted by Flunkie at 11:31 AM on September 22, 2007


I hoped you would argue. The universe isn't an “environment”. That's the first bit. Then, of course, we then must ask: on what scales in space in time? On an astrophysical scale, I can think of numerous environments which are profoundly static.

But we're not talking astrophysics, we're talking human environments, so a characterization about “the universe” is not appropriate and really just some stupid hand-waving. Within the context of human environments, we can be sure that in evolutionary time scales relative to individual lives, humans have lived in some very static environments, facing the same threats and experiencing similar experiences, for every day of the lives of hundreds of generations.

There's really no way to charitably interpret your comment.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:41 AM on September 22, 2007


What is “better” depends upon the environment. In a static environment, the conservative bias is superior because it allows a faster and correct reaction to a familiar stimulus. In a changing environment, the liberal bias is superior because it allows a correct reaction to an unfamiliar stimulus.


Where did the study suggest that a liberal bias was ever handicapped? Saletan is spinning the argument that conservatives are the passive and safer ones, while the experiment could be interpreted otherwise, especially considering their imposition of desired stasis onto a non-static environment, thus producing dramatic changes without being aware of it.
posted by Brian B. at 11:49 AM on September 22, 2007


I hoped you would argue.
Eh. Maybe in the future, when you hope for debate, you shouldn't simply insult.

Everything changes. Perhaps the word "universe", when taken literally with respect to this study, is inappropriate, but if you're going to insist upon taking it absolutely literally, you should note that stars die.

But back to the human condition:

Even those things which change very slowly can have profound effects. And conservatives seem particularly loath to admit that such slowly changing things do, in fact, change. Or, even if they admit that they do change, they seem to have an issue admitting that they might have consequential effects.

For example, the fact of American hegemony, or our planet's environment.

Both of these things have changed profoundly since I was a child, with large scale consequences. Both will continue to change in the future, and will likely continue to have large scale consequences. Many conservatives seem to want to pretend that that's not true.
There's really no way to charitably interpret your comment.
OK. I'm done with this conversation.
posted by Flunkie at 11:49 AM on September 22, 2007


I wonder what would have happened if they'd conducted the study at Wash U. or the U. of Kansas.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:24 PM on September 22, 2007


Yeah, I was wondering about the ages of the participants when I first heard about this study, but honestly didn't care enough to look it up.

Good to know that conservatives are getting their collective panties in a bunch about it. I'm glad they're paying attention to the important things.
posted by Talanvor at 12:26 PM on September 22, 2007


“Where did the study suggest that a liberal bias was ever handicapped?”

If I understand your question, the answer is that it's implicit in the design of the experiment. If the unexpected is more rare, and the penalty for a lack of any response emphasized, then the habitual response will “do better”.

“Saletan is spinning the argument that conservatives are the passive and safer ones, while the experiment could be interpreted otherwise, especially considering their imposition of desired stasis onto a non-static environment, thus producing dramatic changes without being aware of it.”

Saletan may be claiming this might be true in the real world (or he's putting those words in conservatives' mouths) but I don't think he's claiming the experiment itself shows this. It's pretty incontrovertible: by the study's design, the conservative bias leads to more error.

I don't really want to get into defending one bias or the other in the context of contemporary American political culture because the subject is too messy. I'm a progressive, I think about everything, carefully, all the time and almost always question my gut instinct. But, perhaps only underscoring the whole idea, I can question my instinctive desire to cheer on progressivism and I can see how a conservative bias may be optimal in many situations, even including contemporary American political culture. It all depends upon how that bias is expressed and what it means to say that something has been true, or worked, frequently in the past.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2007


Like the guy in the $2500 suit is going to push some buttons? Come on!
posted by dirigibleman at 1:00 PM on September 22, 2007


Conservatism is based on greed, ignorance and narrow-mindedness- so why rig the study?

The Police States of America is what you get when you let conservatism flourish.
posted by wfc123 at 1:59 PM on September 22, 2007


I feel like the title of this article should have been "cognitive science is LIBERALS!" It's embarrassingly naive.

1. Fifteen minutes is a habit? Tapping a keyboard is a way of thinking?

Yes, and yes. Not only that, but the habitual nature of the responses in the first phase of the test can be demonstrated by their quick responses as the subjects learned to press a button upon seeing a 'Go' signal (an M, or W, it varied.) "Preliminary analyses of task behavior revealed that participants made a significantly higher percentage of errors on No–Go trials (M = 39%, SD = .16) than on Go trials (M = 0.01 %, SD = 0.02), t(42) = 15.33, P <>2. One letter, one-tenth of a second. This is "information"?

Yep. If it wasn't information, you couldn't respond to it. People aren't just pressing buttons because they were inspired at random moments.

3. Participants were shown an M or a W. No complexity, no ambiguity.

I'm pretty sure my dictionary says that ambiguous means 'unclear'. In a tenth of a second, it is not always easy to tell the difference between an M or a W. Just because you don't like the short period of time the letters are shown doesn't mean you can ignore it in the next paragraph. You can't dismiss the study setup because you think that the authors thought "lifelike complications would have made the results less interesting", they were testing one thing, and they eliminated the other factors so they wouldn't interfere. (This is more of that "science" thing.)

4. The reason why liberals scored better than conservatives, the authors argued, is that the brain area responsible for this function was, by electrical measurement, more active in them than in conservatives.

They don't actually argue that, they just say that this brain area is being activated more in liberals, which has been shown by studies to be responsible for conflict monitoring, and that liberals scored higher. It's up to you whether you think that's the reason or not.

What's being measured is activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is associated with "error-related negativity", i.e., a subject notices that they got it wrong, and have an "oh shit, I was wrong" response. (Botvinick et al. (2001), as Saletan links.) The ACC is associated with many conflict-resolution tasks.

But the original definition of CM, written six years ago by the researchers who hypothesized it, didn't presume that the habitual response was wrong, inappropriate, or objectively mismatched with current requirements. It presumed only that a stimulus had challenged the habit.

You can't, obviously, presume the habitual response is wrong. However, the ACC is activated when it is wrong. It isn't fired when it's right. The point here is that the error-related negativity (ERN) activation is more strong in people more liberally minded. This has nothing to do with the idea that liberals doubt themselves more, or are more apt to pick a new tactic when faced with new information – both of those may be true or false. What it says is that, when subjects notice that they were wrong, the more liberal-minded of them have more activity in a part of the brain noted for conflict monitoring than the conservative-minded subjects.

Extra CM sensitivity does make you more likely to depart from your habit. But that doesn't prove it's more adaptive.

adaptive v. intr. "become adjusted to new conditions". I think it does.

Also, our standard of "information" is a bit tougher than the blips and fads you fall for.

Actually, this study just demonstrated that people who self-identify as conservative fall precisely for "blips and fads": a series of Ms displayed for a tenth of a second each. If you have a problem with the standards of modern neuroscience, though, I guess you should write an article on it.

You haven't told us much about our way of thinking. But you've told us a lot about yours.

Yeah, isn't science neat? Now there's some proper scientific studies done to show exactly why it's so hard to tell you things. Now maybe someone can figure out how to get you to fucking listen to new ideas.
posted by blacklite at 2:57 PM on September 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


Ugh, the end of the response to point one is supposed to look like this, the '<' messed it all up:

"Preliminary analyses of task behavior revealed that participants made a significantly higher percentage of errors on No–Go trials (M = 39%, SD = .16) than on Go trials (M = 0.01 %, SD = 0.02), t(42) = 15.33, P < 0.001, indicating that the Go/No–Go task was successful in eliciting a habitual response pattern that was difficult to inhibit." (From the supplementary materials document linked by Saletan.)

2. One letter, one-tenth of a second. This is "information"?
posted by blacklite at 3:00 PM on September 22, 2007


“adaptive v. intr. ‘become adjusted to new conditions’. I think it does.”

A quibble with your otherwise excellent comment: in this context, adaptive merely means optimal for a given environment. That environment may be more static, thus for that environment, extra CM sensitivity is not “adaptive”. This use of the word is comparative. Obviously, the acquisition of extra CM sensitivity is adaptive to an more dynamic environment; but when that environment becomes much more static, it is not.

Given all the usual disclaimers about EP, it seems to me that in a semi-gregarious species like ours, a mix of individuals, some with lower CM sensitivity and some with higher, may be the optimal adaptation to a mostly static environment that periodically goes through periods of unpredictable change. Just like the larger brain and the emphasis on culture, this adaptation allows greater flexibility while retaining as much of the benefit of automatic response as possible.

If one is trying to interpret these results as an indication of the relative real-world utility of these different political temperaments, then you need to be aware that the experiment only shows a higher sensitivity to a change, not the relative abilities to correctly respond to that change once the awareness of it exists. In this experiment, the liberal bias for this higher sensitivity results in the right response by default because, once aware, there is only one possible response. If there are several possible responses, then much of the benefit of the heightened sensitivity fall away if the decision making process is no better for the liberal than for the conservative.

And, frankly, I think in the real world this is almost always the case for most people. Most people don't have very well developed critical faculties for making real-world decisions on political matters and thus while liberals are more aware of the nuances of each new political context, most of them are no better at deciding the proper course of action than are the conservatives who notice or don't notice. Indeed, an awareness of a changed environment does not itself provide an alternative response—many or most possible responses may, in fact, be less appropriate than the default response. Thus the extra awareness can be a deficit if the decision making process is broken.

I am willing to agree that in the contemporary American political context the liberal bias is more appropriate than the conservative bias. But that's only the first step. If the second step taken isn't the right one, then this bias doesn't do any good and often can cause harm. And again, frankly, this is my observation. Liberals are only marginally more reliable in their political judgments because all the forces which corrupt or result in poor critical reasoning largely counterbalance the benefit the bias provides. In the real world, if we realize that the old way of doing things isn't optimum, there isn't a single, self-evident alternative response necessary. There may be no immediately apparent responses, or they may be many. How one makes these decisions, and what tools and stores of information draws upon to do so, is key.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:46 PM on September 22, 2007


It's a shame that most mainstream political debate in the US eventually gets framed in a binary fashion: liberal or conservative, yes or no, black or white. Real discourse includes many more shades of gray. I guess that's what centuries of a two party system gets you: the absolute tyranny of either/or.
posted by tighttrousers at 8:40 PM on September 22, 2007


Actually, this study just demonstrated that people who self-identify as conservative fall precisely for "blips and fads": a series of Ms displayed for a tenth of a second each.

so, what's the metric for determining who's a conservative and who's a liberal and how does that coincide with the various interpretations of those that various political philosophers have?

allowing people to "self-identify" doesn't seem very scientific to me

(hint - i'm not sure we HAVE any liberals or conservatives left in our mainstream politics anymore)
posted by pyramid termite at 9:15 PM on September 22, 2007


The neurocritic recently posted a number of scathing criticisms of Amodio' study on his blog, many of which were quite unfounded and just jumping on the sensationalist bandwagon. Interestingly, Amodio responded to each criticism.

Personally, I agree with other posts here that many people simply have no idea how scientific psychology works. Self-report is the predominant method of measuring personality variables in social psychology. These scales are (usually) psychometrically sound, and while there are self-presentation concerns (no one wants to answer yes to a questionnaire that assesses if you're racist) they remain a useful tool. After all, the proof is in the pudding! If you can get interesting group differences between personality types in a well controlled study that are in the direction of your predictions and if other people can replicate your results then personality measures have use. And there's thousands of peer reviewed articles backing me up on this (look at the last gazillion years of social psychology's flagship journal - the J of Personality and Social Psychology).

Even better, if you can use the full range of variance in the personality measure and correlate that with a behavioral or physiological measure than the results are even more compelling and this is precisely what Amodio did (treated the scale as a continuous rather than dichotomous measure).
posted by Smegoid at 8:52 AM on September 23, 2007


We don't need a study to prove what we can clearly see by picking up a newspaper.
posted by ewkpates at 8:17 AM on September 24, 2007


“when I first heard about this study, but honestly didn't care enough to look it up....
Good to know that conservatives are getting their collective panties in a bunch about it. I'm glad they're paying attention to the important things.” -posted by Talanvor

Yeah. People who get their panties in a bunch without examing the information first are idiots...oh, waitaminute.

“Conservatism is based on greed, ignorance and narrow-mindedness- so why rig the study? The Police States of America is what you get when you let conservatism flourish.” - wfc123

Yes, we should brutally crush those evil scum who dissent so we can avoid having a police state.

So clearly you can become smarter by changing your political perspective. Or at least your self-identification of your political perspective. At least outwardly.
Ok. I’m a liberal now.

...Gee, I feel so much smarter. I guess there’s no need to address the ideological or logical flaws in any political philosophy or engage in discourse of any kind. “Liberals” - of whatever stripe from radical bomb throwing anarchists or communists to methodically reasoning utilitarians are superior in every way to even the slightest institutional conservative who adheres to any slowing of rapid change in government and society.
I enjoy using didactic bits of information extrapolated into categorical meaninglessness as an authoritative example to support my own position...except, y’know, with science not the bible.

Please. The study is about how fast certain people - who self-label themselves with arbitrary and sweeping - and indeed socially changing - socio-political labels, pushed buttons.
The brain data might be solid, but the other side of that equation isn’t.
What makes someone a liberal or conservative? What if someone is socially liberal but fiscally conservative?
What would have happened 20 years ago when “conservative” and “liberal” meant something else?
Might have done the same study with Elvis fans vs. Beatles fans. Or authoritarians vs. libertarians. Hell, even democrats vs. republicans.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:57 PM on September 24, 2007


« Older Internet Commenter Retirement Party!...  |  "I knew I didn't look like an ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments