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Friday, July 18, 2014

So now we're cavemen according to "science"

"A large body of political scientists and political psychologists  ... Twenty-six different scholars or groups of scholars" have apparently concluded that "Conservatives" would have faired better and are throw backs to The Pleistocene epoch


In a stunning display of exaggerated pseudoscience, Cambridge University Press Cambridge Journal has published an article entitled "Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology"
Mother Jones summarizes the article and it's "history" and implications:
Behavioral and Brain Sciences employs a rather unique practice called "Open Peer Commentary": An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it, and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics. 
... The occasion of this revelation is a paper by John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a "negativity bias," meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free here.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of "a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it," as one of their papers put it). 
In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets—centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns—would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.
The authors go on to speculate that this ultimately reflects an evolutionary imperative. "One possibility," they write, "is that a strong negativity bias was extremely useful in the Pleistocene," when it would have been super-helpful in preventing you from getting killed.
The Mother Jones piece of course gets even sillier, and was republished by Moyers & Company
Hibbing and his colleagues make an intriguing argument in their latest paper, but what's truly fascinating is what happened next. Twenty-six different scholars or groups of scholars then got an opportunity to tee off on the paper, firing off a variety of responses. But as Hibbing and colleagues note in their final reply, out of those responses, "22 or 23 accept the general idea" of a conservative negativity bias, and simply add commentary to aid in the process of "modifying it, expanding on it, specifying where it does and does not work," and so on. Only about three scholars or groups of scholars seem to reject the idea entirely. 
... That's pretty extraordinary, when you think about it. After all, one of the teams of commenters includes New York University social psychologist John Jost, who drew considerable political ire in 2003 when he and his colleagues published a synthesis of existing psychological studies on ideology, suggesting that conservatives are characterized by traits such as a need for certainty and an intolerance of ambiguity. Now, writing in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in response to Hibbing roughly a decade later, Jost and fellow scholars note that
There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety. [Italics added]
Finally there is this illogical conclusion
All of this matters, of course, because we still operate in politics and in media as if minds can be changed by the best honed arguments, the most compelling facts. And yet if our political opponents are simply perceiving the world differently, that idea starts to crumble. Out of the rubble just might arise a better way of acting in politics that leads to less dysfunction and less gridlock…thanks to science.
The Cambridge Journal piece itself is largely as ludicrous
6. Negativity bias and politics
As is apparent, the list of empirically demonstrated psychological and physiological differences between liberals and conservatives is long and diverse. Additional studies are needed, however, because much of the extant physiological work is based on small, geographically constrained samples and much of the psychological work relies on college undergraduates who may have yet to form stable political attitudes. Perhaps an even greater need is for theoretical integration of this burgeoning empirical literature and that is what we hope to provide in this section, though we recognize that any effort to provide a theoretical undergirding for the findings summarized will be unavoidably speculative. 
Liberals and conservatives vary in their tolerance of social equality and change, their moral foundations, their values, and even their perceptions of the nature and perfectibility of the human condition (Graham et al. 2009; Jost et al. 2003; Pinker 2002, Ch. 16; Schwartz et al. 2010; see also Sowell 1987; Tomkins 1963). As valuable as these efforts are, questions immediately arise regarding the precursors of these differences. Why do some people say they value security and some self-expression? Why do some more than others rest their moral judgments on purity and authority? Why do some have a tragic and some a utopian vision of humankind? Why do some embrace change and others avoid it? To answer these questions, it may be useful to incorporate deeper physiological and psychological differences. After all, people’s answers to the survey items used to assess moral foundations, personal values, and personality traits must come from somewhere and given the important role of subthreshold forces in political orientations, variations in physiology and deep psychology are likely to play an important role. We believe a key factor in accounting for people’s political predispositions is their orientation to negatively valenced events and stimuli. Negativity bias is the principle that “negative events are more salient, potent, dominant in combinations, and generally efficacious than positive events” (Rozin & Royzman 2001, p. 297; see also Baumeister et al. 2001). Essentially, this principle reflects the fact that humans generally tend to respond more strongly, to be more attentive, and to give more weight to negative elements of their environment. This tendency shows up in a wide variety of socially-relevant characteristics – everything from loss aversion (Kahneman & Tversky 1984) to quick recognition of angry versus happy faces in a crowd (Hansen & Hansen 1988). People generally tend to be more attuned to negative faces, words, and social information, and both the autonomic and central nervous systems tend to have measurably higher levels of activation in response to negative than positive stimuli (Rozin & Royzman 2001). Good evolutionary reasons exist for negativity bias given that negative events can be much more costly in fitness terms than positive events are beneficial; to state the obvious, infection, injury, and death curtail reproductive opportunities. 
... Documented differences in response patterns extend beyond overtly threatening situations and into those that are more broadly negative. Environmental stimuli that are unexpected, ambiguous, uncertain, or disorderly also appear to generate more response and attention from conservatives than liberals at a variety of levels, including brain activation patterns, sympathetic nervous system response, cognitive behaviors, and self-reports. In many respects, compared with liberals, conservatives tend to be more psychologically and physiologically sensitive to environmental stimuli generally but in particular to stimuli that are negatively valenced, whether threatening or merely unexpected and unstructured. The consistency of these patterns across diverse research designs with diverse samples in different countries is difficult to miss. In fact, we know of no published study pointing in the opposite direction (i.e., that liberals respond more to negative stimuli or are more bothered by ambiguous or unexpected stimuli). What could explain this connection? It is not surprising that those attuned to the negative in life might take steps to avoid it, perhaps by refraining from taking chances with the unknown, by following instructions, and by sticking to the tried and true. As an illustration, an adult subject in one of psychologist Jerome Kagan’s longitudinal studies who was classified as “highly reactive” to novel, unfamiliar stimuli as a result of behavioral patterns detected when she was just four months old, summed up her approach to life by saying “I don’t stray from the rules too much” (quoted in Henig 2009). This is exactly the pattern we see in the personality data: Conservatives are less open to new experiences and are more conscientious. As a result, conservatives are less likely both to solicit new, potentially harmful information and to retain positive information concerning an object or perhaps a person or group (Castelli & Carraro 2011; Shook & Fazio 2009). Consequently, not only do political positions favoring defense spending, roadblocks to immigration, and harsh treatment of criminals seem naturally to mesh with heightened response to threatening stimuli but those fostering conforming unity (school children reciting the pledge of allegiance), traditional lifestyles (opposition to gay marriage), enforced personal responsibility (opposition to welfare programs and government provided healthcare), longstanding sources of authority (Biblical inerrancy; literal, unchanging interpretations of the Constitution), and clarity and closure (abstinence-only sex education; signed pledges to never raise taxes; aversion to compromise) do, as well. Heightened response to the general category of negative stimuli fits comfortably with a great many of the typical tenets of political conservatism.
So now I guess it's not enough to steal an ideology you have no historical connection too - Liberalism, the progressive socialists spread all kinds of filthy accusations, slanders, lies, distortions about anyone opposed to you, they now must invent a "science" to prove that your opponents are "cavemen"

Or have I been eating paint chips again?

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