Saturday, September 20, 2008

Misunderstanding the results?

...people are[n't] free thinkers.... according to a new study that probes past the rational mind in search of a biological basis for our political beliefs. The research... attempts to connect the dots between a person's sensitivity to threatening images—a large spider on someone's face, a bloodied person and maggot-filled wound—and the strength of their support for conservative or liberal policies.

The results seem to suggest that our ideas about the world are shaped by deep, involuntary reactions to the things we see. As evidence, the study found that greater sensitivity to the images was linked to more fervent support for a conservative agenda—including opposition to immigration, gun control, gay marriage, abortion rights and pacifism, and support for military spending, warrantless searches, the Iraq War, school prayer and the truth of the Bible. [L]iberals ...were less sensitive to the threatening images, and more likely to support open immigration policies, pacifism and gun control.

Are conservatives reactions to such photos a sign of feeling threatened or empathy? The photos mentioned actually present no threat to the individuals in the study. So, wouldn't a better analysis of the results claim that conservatives are more empathetic than liberals?

Without access to the study it is hard to make anything out of the results. Furthermore, there were only 46 people, all from Lincoln, NE, in the study. What if there was a correlation between liberals and professions such as health care, and biological scientific studies (Lincoln, NE is a college town)? Would there be any surprise that liberals in those such professions would show almost no reaction to a photo of a maggot filled wound, a bloody face and a spider on a face.

For the record, I actually do not think that conservatives are more empathetic than liberals. Take the illegal immigration debate for example, conservatives are empathetic to the poor Americans who they fell will lose their jobs to illegal immigrants, while liberals are empathetic to the poor immigrants who are coming to America for a better life. Both sides are equally empathetic, it is just each side is finding a different group to be empathetic towards.

Update: Ann Althouse's view