Differences Between Conservatives and Liberals
#ScienceFact: your ability to recognize an irregularly drawn circle as a circle or tolerate looking at disgusting pictures predicts your political orientation.
There is a natural tendency to view foreigners are being dirty, diseased, and immoral. Conservatives are so sensitive to difference that they see liberals as “damn filthy fer’ners.”
Conservatives are more prone to lying and accepting lies, more susceptible to conspiratorial thinking, and more likely to have dark tetrad personality characteristics.
I know, shocker, right? Yeah, they just don’t get it as clearly and as well as liberals do. Go figure.
In another shocking finding, conservatives view the world as much more dangerous and are more risk averse.
There are real verifiable concrete differences between conservatives and liberals. These differences are #ScienceFact. The differences have been documented here in the anals of Ye Olde Blogge (see the sidebar for a few of our favorites).
It is important to know these differences because it can guide our responses to the other side and maybe, just maybe, help us mitigate some of the worst effects those differences are creating.
Okay, we won’t be able to blunt the worst effects or maybe any of the effects that they’ve had on MAGA, but we could perhaps stop the people who are ruthlessly and cruelly exploiting those effects for their own political and financial gain.
Once it reaches the MAGA crowd, it pretty much is as possible to stop as a snowball gathering moss rolling downhill in Hell. The trick is to stop the snowball from ever starting that fateful decent.
While none of these findings are like shocking or anything — we’ve all known this intuitively, right? — it is nice to have some our deepest suspicions confirmed: your favorite drunk uncle really is just an asshole who is really nothing like you. But, he can barely help it; he was born that way.
This post will help us understand these differences better, develop some ideas on how to put them to good use, and help us all feel superior to MAGA, which is the goal of every partisan, right?
Our differences really are based on three difficult to change parts of our psychology: personality, biology, and genetics.
Personality is the characteristics and qualities of our thinking, values, and behavior that we bring with us to every situation. It is stable and slow to change. It is who we are, but different clusters of personality traits lend themselves to different political ideologies.
Biology, in this case, refers to the structures of our brain. There are key structures that are different in the brains of most conservatives. These key differences — to be detailed below — make political orientation part of our neurodivergence from one another.
Genetics, of course, means that political leanings are passed from parents to children, and there is strong evidence that ideology is as heritable as height.
The conservative personality values security, safety, predictability, and authoritarianism. They want things to stay the same and not to change. To them, the world is a dangerous place. We have to be careful. We have to move with caution. Too much change, too soon, and too fast could really destroy us all. We should just continue what we were doing, since, obviously, it is what got us here. It worked.
The liberal personality sees the world as less dangerous and more full of possibility. There’s a whole wide world out there of things we ought to try! Where conservatives want things to stay the same, liberals value the novel, the new, the nuanced differences. It is the belief that things can get better if we sincerely try to make them better.
It can be summed up in some of our favorite biases and heuristics and other cognitive trends:
- RISK AVERSION: Everyone hates risks, just some of us hate them more than others. As a group, conservatives are much more risk averse than liberals. It affects the way we perceive each other and the world. Conservatives appear stodgy, slow, and old fashioned; liberals spend way too much time on their lawns.
- AMBIGUITY TOLERANCE: The more conservative you are, the more uncomfortable ambiguity makes you. You want things clear cut, black and white, preferably more white than black, if you know what I mean. Liberals, on the other hand, not only can tolerate ambiguity, they can see value in exploring the nuanced differences.
- NEGATIVITY BIAS: Negativity bias is the cognitive tendency to weight negative events more heavily than positive ones. It is the glass half full with the top half having been stolen and the glass is so stinking dirty that you wouldn’t drink from it no matter how full it is. Conservatives tend toward negativity bias. Surprised?
- EMPATHY vs PUNISHMENT: While these are not biases or heuristics, but they are clearly traits of personality. Liberals tend to have more empathy for more people because they recognize more human beings — read that Black, Brown, and Asian people — as being like them and deserving of the things that white people get for just existing. Conservatives reserve their empathy for a smaller — white — swath of humanity before they realize that they look like them. Conservatives tend to over value the efficacy of punishment to affect or control undesireable behavior and count more behavior as undesireable.
There are other clear cognitive and emotional tendencies that cluster or correlate with political outlook. Feel free to discuss them in the comments. I’d love to discuss them with you.
All of these cognitive-emotional tendencies are linked to fear and sense of danger, so they color your perceptions and in turn your recollections.
In as much as there are neurological analogues to some of these personality characteristics. The brain is a complicated place, and there are many structures that work together to produce our behaviors and attitudes. We will not enter into a deep discussion of how the brain functions, even though it is very interesting, but just touch upon them.
- THE ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX is part of the frontal lobe that helps us allocate attention, anticipate reward, make decisions, apply ethics and morality, and control our impulses. In particular, it helps us detect errors and resolve conflicts. It tends to be larger in liberals than in conservatives. Larger means more neurons and greater connections to the other parts that it works with. Thus, liberals tend to be more concerned about errors, especially inconsistencies between what someone is saying they believe and how they act or the policies they endorse.
- THE AMYGDALA is an almond shaped dohicky at the end of the hippocampus that helps us with emotions, especially fear and anger. It is one of the reasons that events with strong emotional components form such strong immediate memories. It is a big part of the fight or flight response. It helps monitor the environment and reacts to surprises. It is larger in conservatives. Hunh. Go figure.
Interestingly, the wanting system, part of the mesolimbic dopamine reward system, splits with some of the neurons leading to the terminus at the anterior cingulate cortex and some at the amygdala. The ACC helps us evaluate our values and wants and how they fit together. The amygdala helps us figure out whether we should be angry, scared, or some other emotion.
The implication of this is not clear to me — if it is clear to you, tell us about it in the comments — but it seems like if the hit from the liking system is smaller than anticipated, conservatives, especially, are likely to react angrily or with sadness and liberals are likely to try and figure out what went wrong.
Since the ACC is further connected to the frontal lobe and higher order thinking skills, it is likely that they are more likely to activated in liberals, and the amygdala connected to the fight or flight system, it is more likely that that system is going to be activated.
Obviously, the biological underpinnings of personality are genetic. The size of your amygdala and ACC, like the color of your eyes and the size of your hands is governed by genes. In fact, it is clear from twin studies that political ideology are as heritable as any physical characteristic. And, like those physical characteristics, they are malleable.
Tall parents tend to have tall children, but their exact height is determined by the amount of protein they have in their diets at certain ages. In other words, just because your ACC is stunted and your amygdala is ginormous, you don’t have to be a conservative asshat. And, just because you have thick and healthy ACC and tiny amygdala, you can still grow up to be a Bernie Princess pitching fits in 2024 because Bernie lost to Clinton in 2016 and it as okay not to vote in 2016 or to vote for Jill Stein. It was! It was! It was! And I’m going to hold my breath until you say it was okay!
And just like you can hold your breath until you pass out, you are not a slave to your biology. These impulses can be overridden. You can recognize that Black Americans are just as American as white Americans are and deserving of the same rights and privileges. You may no like to watch two men kissing — but, really, who doesn’t like to watch two women, hunh? Be honest! — but recognize that love is love and they have as much right to kiss each other as you have the right to kiss whoever it is you kiss. You may believe that sex should only be for procreational purposes, but you can recognize and accept that other people don’t hold your beliefs no matter how sincere or deeply held they are.
Our rational brains can and do override our emotional brain. We may have evolved for that it to take time and effort, but we live in a calorie-rich environment and can afford to burn a few in that direction.
While conservatives have tendencies to misinterpret the world as being worse than it is and accept inconsistencies from their politicians, and create fanciful snowflake safe harbors when their impossible to meet demands aren’t being met, they are capable of change. We can use these insights to help us shape or media environments and messages to conservatives to help them feel less threatened and accept the changes that are happening in the world whether they want them to or not. But, it becomes more important than ever to limit the damage from the CRT panic and rollback of our rights and the effectiveness of our government.
Like or rate this post!
- LIKING OR RATING a post is a quick and dirty way of letting me know that you’ve been here and liked what you saw. It will activate my mesolimbic dopamine reward system and keep me going as a part-time blogger and full-time system.
- COMMENTING on the post is a great way of engaging with me and other readers. It is also a sure-fire way of getting on the Festivus card list for next year.
- SHARING the post with family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers is a good way of helping them be as well informed as you are!
- FOLLOWING Ye Olde Blogge or joining the email list is a great way to never miss a post.