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article imageDo conservatives and liberals think differently?

By Tim Sandle     Oct 23, 2020 in Politics
In the run-up to the U.S. presidential election, a research group has examined the thought processes of conservatives and liberals, identifying the key words that shape how people think and to the extent this influences attitudes and beliefs.
According to the researchers certain hot-button words trigger conservatives and liberals differently. This is based on brain scan analysis, drawing out the vocabulary that drives neural polarization.
The University of California – Berkeley scientists have located a brain region with a phenomenon they are calling neural polarization. The aim is to provide a partial explanation as to how the brains of those who strongly identity as either liberal or conservative think.
In terms of liberal or conservative, this is in the relatively narrow policy difference of U.S. politics where conservative represents center-right and liberal represents center-left (unlike the Australian system, where liberal is right wing or the U.K. where liberal is center-right). In the U.S. context neither the Democratic Party or the Republican Party is especially left-wing, in comparison with many social democratic parties in Europe.
The research revealed that when a message is delivered to people who identify as holding strong liberal or conservative views (in the U.S. context) then the inclusion of words connected to risk and threat, or to morality and emotions, result in greater polarization. This is shown by what people exoress and from an analysis of thier neural responses (as monitored using neuroimaging techniques).
These findings were drawn from stuides involving 38 young and middle-aged men and women, who came from similar socio-economic backgrounds and education levels. The key difference was with how strongly their identified with different political schims within the U.S. two-party system.
If there is an aim for having a balanced, even reasoned argument about policy, then the worst way to attempt this is by creating political messages that deploy threat-related and moral-emotional language. This will only serve to push those with strongly held views to interpret the same message in different ways. The outcome will only serve to increase polarization and make any aim of consensual politics even more remote.
Going forwards, the researchers are hoping to use neuroimaging techniques to construct more precise models of how political content is interpreted.
The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research paper is titled "Conservative and liberal attitudes drive polarized neural responses to political content."
More about Words, Thinking, Linguistics, Conservatives, Liberals
 
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