Scientists Find Growing Consensus: Political Attitudes Derive from Body and Mind

Eurek Alert, July 31, 2014


Two political scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a colleague from Rice University say that neither conscious decision-making nor parental upbringing fully explain why some people lean left while others lean right.

A growing body of evidence shows that physiological responses and deep-seated psychology are at the core of political differences, the researchers say in the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

“Politics might not be in our souls, but it probably is in our DNA,” says the article written by political scientists John Hibbing and Kevin Smith of UNL and John Alford of Rice University.

“These natural tendencies to perceive the physical world in different ways may in turn be responsible for striking moments of political and ideological conflict throughout history,” Alford said.

Using eye-tracking equipment and skin conductance detectors, the three researchers have observed that conservatives tend to have more intense reactions to negative stimuli, such as photos of people eating worms, burning houses or maggot-infested wounds.

Combining their own results with similar findings from other researchers around the world, the team proposes that this so-called “negativity bias” may be a common factor that helps define the difference between conservatives, with their emphasis on stability and order, and liberals, with their emphasis on progress and innovation.

“Across research methods, samples and countries, conservatives have been found to be quicker to focus on the negative, to spend longer looking at the negative, and to be more distracted by the negative,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers caution that they make no value judgments about this finding. In fact, some studies show that conservatives, despite their quickness to detect threats, are happier overall than liberals. {snip}

“We see the ‘negativity bias’ as a common finding that emerges from a large body of empirical studies done not just by us, but by many other research teams around the world,” Smith explained. “We make the case in this article that negativity bias clearly and consistently separates liberals from conservatives.”

The most notable feature about the negativity bias is not that it exists, but that it varies so much from person to person, the researchers said.


Many scientists appear to agree with the findings by Hibbing, Smith and Alford. More than 50 scientists contributed 26 peer commentary articles discussing the Behavioral and Brain Sciences article.

Only three or four of the articles seriously disputed the negativity bias hypothesis. The remainder accepted the general concept, while suggesting modifications such as better defining and conceptualizing a negativity bias; more deeply exploring its nature and origins; and more clearly defining liberalism and conservatism across history and culture.


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  • dd121

    I think we have more that’s negative confronting us as we see our country sink.

    • The Worlds Scapegoat


      I was listening t a radio program one time, and they had some kind of
      psychologist as a guest speaker. He said something like people who are
      depressed have a better understanding of what is happening around them.
      He said people that are always happy generally have no clue what is
      happening around them. He also said depressed people can better process
      multiple scenarios simultaneously, and are better able to see the
      similarities and differences between different situations. I found that


      • dd121

        I guess, but I’m one of the most cheerful people you’ll ever meet. 🙂

      • TruthBeTold

        Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.

        Ernest Hemingway

  • je suis paganisme

    This explains a lot . . . a lot!
    Not to sound dramatic, but liberals are nearer to the Lord of the Flies. That is the name that the Semitic people gave to their satanic entity. Flies are attracted to waste, to death, decay, voidings. They have no animus against it.
    Conservatives do have an animus against it. We do not follow the Lord of the Flies.
    We aim higher, seek cleanliness, health, purity.
    This has profound implications for art, literature . . . also for philosophy (nihilism is the philosophical equivalent of people eating worms). . . also for family life (the current relationships among the young are like maggot-infested wounds compared to the relational norms of the ’50’s).

    This is one of those “little” discoveries, like the transistor, that are revolutionary.

    • The Worlds Scapegoat

      I have noticed that the general pattern of behavior is the same between Republicans (conservatives) and Democrats (liberals). There is only a difference between who they attack and who they defend. Both are welfare recipient. Conservatives just hide it through government contracts.


    • Christorchaos

      Yes! This is an aha moment for me as well. I remember being horrified and seeing great meaning for me when I saw LOTF as a kid.

      In this discussion my mind races back to the school playground. Kids who were from liberal families (and mostly grew up to be liberals in later life) were often bullies and seemed impervious to pain, fear and ugliness.

      I also think of what a black TV newsman told me once when we were discussing the abortion issue and I asked why blacks weren’t more prolife. He said, “We’re not prolife because death doesn’t bother us, it’s all around us anyway.”

      • John R

        I think you have it ass backwards: Liberals are not more likely to be bullies. People who HAVE BEEN BULLIED are more likely to grow up to be conservatives. There. Fixed it.

  • This is basically a rehash of the same old Authoritarian Personality discredited gibberish.

    Using eye-tracking equipment and skin conductance detectors, the three researchers have observed that conservatives tend to have more intense reactions to negative stimuli, such as photos of people eating worms, burning houses or maggot-infested wounds.

    And the alternative is to trust all our political power to people who love looking at people eating worms, houses burn and maggot-infested wounds.

    • Georgia Boy

      Another way of describing this reaction to disturbing scenes is greater empathy. How about when they were shown pleasant scenes, was that reaction more intense too? *crickets*

      Also, “A growing body of evidence suggests” = This is still conjecture on our part but we want to push it anyway. Wait a few years and it’ll be discredited.

    • margotdarby

      It is really a rehash of Hofstadter’s “Paranoid Style” notion, explaining conservatism as a mental aberration. Except that scientists Hibbing and Jost did not put this spin on their findings; that interpretation was made by leftist scribes at Salon and elsewhere.

  • IKUredux

    Uh, once again. I DON’T BELIEVE ANY STUDY that comes out of current academia. Are you fing kidding me? What lies! They ALL have an agenda. Oh, and, by the way, it is ANTI WHITE.

  • dean53

    In other words, liberals rush in where angels fear to tread…. Liberals are the eternal optimists in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Liberals may lay claim to “progress and innovation” but many of the people who made progress and innovation possible, through science, invention and business, were conservatives.

  • Alexandra1973

    Liberals aren’t happy because they’ll never see their utopia achieved. I’d think we’re much happier when we’re able to face reality and go from there.

    • Neue Sachlichkeit

      Ah, but that is difficult, and sometimes involves hurt feels. We can’t have that, that’s the WORST THING EVER. Somebody summon a team of therapists and lawyers: somebody just became sad over reality! Heavily doctored film at eleven!

  • Who Me?

    Conservatives already face so much negativity each and every day that it doesn’t take much more to tip the meter over into pain.

  • The Worlds Scapegoat

    posted in wrong spot. Delete.


  • willbest

    Sounds about right. Where I will measure the risk, my liberal friends have a “whats the worse that can happen?” attitude about it.

  • The Worlds Scapegoat


    Liberals see danger in white independence and sovereignty.


    • Neue Sachlichkeit

      Liked the intro. Not so keen on the middle bit, loved the outro.

  • Glen

    “Across research methods, samples and countries, conservatives have been found to be quicker to focus on the negative, to spend longer looking at the negative, and to be more distracted by the negative,” the researchers wrote.

    What they are describing has more to do with male-female sex differences, imo. To the extent that politics is involved, political positions are often a reflection of sex.

    In my experience few white people, conservative or liberal, spend time focusing upon or examining life’s negatives. They instantaneously reject negative experiences or avoid them entirely if there is foreknowledge. This aversion is rationalized with self-righteous claims of ultra-sensitivity and moral superiority. I associate these behaviors a bit more with females and do not consider them a “positive” in a male. Such a person could never truly examine themselves, much less clean up life’s messes or solve widespread social problems. Men, however, are more likely to focus on the negative. Except liberal males, whom I hesitate to call “men” in the first place.

    • tancred guiscard

      The negatives, the losses, are what one learns the most from. Being more memorable, they allow for more introspection.

  • LHathaway

    At some age people just pick a side and it’s more akin to rooting for one or another football team. It would almost seem, however, as if ‘they’ purposely steer middle class white men into the conservative lane. Turning blacks across the world into leftists has likely been ‘the only thing that has civilized them’.
    There’s ‘also’ a growing body of evidence. . . there is no difference between left and right wing Americans?

    • John R

      Read my post: Blacks are the furthest thing from liberals, psychologically.

  • Garrett Brown

    Well duh, I’ve always argued that your political beliefs are everything, they effect all aspects of your life; love, hobbies, your pursuits, entertainment, everything. When people of different political ideologies date and try to marry it hardly ever works. That’s why the divorce rate is so high. People have been brainwashed and this shows how deeply seeded that brainwashing delves.

    • Ella

      Being divorced myself, it also reduces the overall number of children -a form of birth control. Many of my friends have 3-4 four children but they have never been divorced. Oddly, over half are liberal with 3-4 kids! Are conservatives having less children than liberals today? Conservatives used to have the larger families much like the Mormons and Amish. I rarely meet conservative women at home and it’s annoying.

      • Garrett Brown

        I don’t think so. The families with 10-20 children are still conservative, most southern baptist or Mormon that teach traditional vales. I admire them a lot.

        I believe divorce has been forced on us not in a way necessarily that marriage is bad (liberals get married all the time) but that it’s okay to end it whenever you want, because we no longer respect what it’s supposed to mean. We also are rushing into situations way too quickly, and because women/men have been “enlightened” and “freed” they are having sex way too much before marriage. Which, according to many new studies coming out affects marriage tremendously. There’s no excitement or appreciation, nothing new to remember him/her for. He/she is just another person that you “experiment” with because our feminist/liberal friends told us its okay to “branch out” and try everything. I think there’s something deeply wrong with that, down to the root.

    • Spikeygrrl

      Yes. Yes. Yes.

      One’s politics are a reflection of one’s fundamental worldview. I simply can’t imagine sharing my life and my bed with someone who for all practical purposes lives in an alternate philosophical universe. The cognitive dissonance would drive me barking mad within mere months.

      • Garrett Brown

        M’lady, are you bipolar?

        • Spikeygrrl

          What an odd question.

          • Garrett Brown

            Ill take that as a yes.

          • Spikeygrrl

            Actually it’s a no…and still an odd question. What part of wanting a mate who shares your worldview strikes you as unbalanced? I am sincerely curious.

            EDIT: Oh. YOU again. Nevermind.

  • Neue Sachlichkeit

    I’m a very big fan of progress and innovation. What I see myself standing in chin-deep resembles neither.

    • tancred guiscard

      Exactly. Stability, order, progress, and innovation are not mutually exclusive.

  • superlloyd

    Sincere liberalism is pathological and delusional : To not be repulsed by sickness, disease and death is a perversion of the survival instinct, and to further welcome these negative phenomena as somehow life enhancing and morally uplifting is delusional, suicidal and pathological.

    The Darwinian social instinct of the greater good for the group has been perverted by redefining and enlarging the group and by viewing the good as desirable only for the alien and negative and not for the still greater part of the group.

    Liberals are not ‘progressive’ as progress does not tend to extinction and an ‘innovation’ such as multiculturalism is plainly destructive and inherently contradictory.

    • John R

      “To not be repulsed by sickness, disease and death is a perversion of the survival instinct,”
      THANK YOU! That about sums it up, in one sentence.

  • Demo P. Seal; PouponMarks

    Most liberal women would therefore ascribe being raped by a Black or Brown, as an expression of existential alienation of the perp, a symbolic cry for a soul tortured by a racist, unequal society with insufficient payouts of welfare and free cheese.

    • Garrett Brown

      I think you’re right on the money, why are so many vehemently apologetic afterwards? I think some of those sick whores like it.

  • John R

    I think this article is biased, to try and make conservatives look bad. But, nonetheless I do agree with it. And they did admit, grudgingly, I suspect, that conservatives are happier people. (Of course, we try and avoid as much the negative things in life and don’t voluntarily subject ourselves to them.)
    A liberal, when struck in the face: “Gee, I must have done something wrong. I won’t get mad. Maybe I can reason with this person and we can be friends.”
    A conservative: “Hit me in the face, I will hit back, HARD! You better get the hell away from me, damnit!”
    And, finally, the most extreme version of negative bias, The Negro: “He looked at me the wrong way. I perceive some negativity from him. I am going to mess him up!”
    There. That is my conclusion from this study. Thoughts?

  • JohnEngelman

    People can change. A liberal who is the victim of black criminals, and/or who tries to teach in a violent black public school may become conservative on racial issues. A conservative who is fired arbitrarily and who cannot get another job that pays nearly as well may become liberal on economic issues.

    • Mary

      Yes. My NYC-bred mother-in-law was a racial egalitarian until she taught in an inner city school. Many people do possess the intelligence and flexibility to alter their deeply-held views in light of personal experience.

      • JohnEngelman

        I have difficulty understanding how anyone can survive an experience like that and retain a benign opinion of most blacks. Until one sees that up close and personal it is easy to imagine that poor ghetto blacks are victims of badly funded schools, text books falling apart, toilets that do not flush, and so on.

        • Lion’s Mane

          ‘I have difficulty understanding how anyone can survive an experience like that and retain a benign opinion of most blacks.’

          Such delusional people do exist. No matter what they experience, they will be in love with the Black Race. (There are parallel cases of abused spouses who are unable to recognize the abuse as abuse. Tragic and utterly heart-breaking.) In fact, it is to be questioned whether Whites can adapt to the modern world that they helped bring about.

  • Jack Burton

    God has a negativity bias. The Devil is permissive.

  • Jack Burton

    I don’t consciously have a negativity bias, but from my own experiences I do have greater recall of negative memories. Scientific studies show that this is completely normal, it’s a defense and survival mechanism we developed through evolution.

    So having a “negativity bias” just means having greater survival instincts. No surprise there, liberals don’t care about their or your white racial survival.

    Look at Jews. What’s their mantra? Never forgive and never forget. They have a very strong negativity bias, they celebrate it, and their people have survived pretty much intact since ancient times.

  • Lion’s Mane

    REALITY itself is neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative.’ Our Western society needs to re-think its standards and develop a new paradigm.

    When self-styled ‘conservatives’ tell me that racial integration and miscegenation are a very good things that ‘conservatives’ have always supported, I am stunned at their ignorance!

    When ‘liberals’ disregard the harmful consequences — actual or imminent — of instant, forced, violent change because they see change itself as inevitable — though they are deluded, since they are pushing for it — and intrinsically good, I am again stunned at their lack of sense.

    Life is not like either of these political ideologies. Every issue has to be decided on its own merits and also on how it fits into the overall picture.

  • Bryce Armstrong

    Genetic determination of political belief is hardly a new theory. The last time I heard it talked about was when GLENN BECK was screaming about how DANGEROUS it was to even discuss it. This guys a libertarian.

  • Bryce Armstrong

    Well thats a cutesey relevance argument worthy of Bill Maher. Its also bs. Liberals do see the dangers in everything that’s why they INTERNATIONALLY support dangerous things like fag marriage or legalized marijuana. And If the conservatives are so paranoid why do they constantly bend over to appease them? As far as being anti-pornagraphy and anti-videogame nobody has beat that drum longer or harder then liberals.

  • Spikeygrrl

    Ummmm…how is it a bad thing to react strongly to disgusting and/or evil images and acts?

    I’m not at all surprised that liberals are by now so morally jaded that they do not recoil in disgust from depravity like normal, decent people do.

  • Spikeygrrl

    Great point! I’m going to use this elsewhere if you don’t mind.

  • TheHBD

    “More than 50 scientists contributed 26 peer commentary articles discussing the Behavioral and Brain Sciences article.”

    I bet a quick poll of the more than 50 scientists on their view of racial differences would illuminate some of their ‘biases’

    The takeaway I get from this is that conservatives react correctly to external stimuli, like maggot infested wounds, while liberals live in their own cozy hash-induced slumber while the world crumbles around them. Put this one in the painfully obvious column.

  • margotdarby

    For some time, “negativity” has been a code word for conservatism or opposition to some prog agenda. A quick scan of amren in the search box above will bring up examples from news clippings.