The Frontal Cortex

Political Dissonance

Joe Keohane has a fascinating summary of our political biases in the Boston Globe Ideas section this weekend. It’s probably not surprising that voters aren’t rational agents, but it’s always a little depressing to realize just how irrational we are. (And it’s worth pointing out that this irrationality applies to both sides of the political spectrum.) We cling to mistaken beliefs and ignore salient facts. We cherry-pick our information and vote for people based on an inexplicable stew of superficial hunches, stubborn ideologies and cultural trends. From the perspective of the human brain, it’s a miracle that democracy works at all. Here’s Keohane:

A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

In How We Decide, I discuss the mental mechanisms behind these flaws, which are ultimately rooted in cognitive dissonance:

Partisan voters are convinced that they’re rational⎯only the other side is irrational⎯but we’re actually rationalizers. The Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels analyzed survey data from the 1990′s to prove this point. During the first term of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the budget deficit declined by more than 90 percent. However, when Republican voters were asked in 1996 what happened to the deficit under Clinton, more than 55 percent said that it had increased. What’s interesting about this data is that so-called “high-information” voters⎯these are the Republicans who read the newspaper, watch cable news and can identify their representatives in Congress⎯weren’t better informed than “low-information” voters. According to Bartels, the reason knowing more about politics doesn’t erase partisan bias is that voters tend to only assimilate those facts that confirm what they already believe. If a piece of information doesn’t follow Republican talking points⎯and Clinton’s deficit reduction didn’t fit the “tax and spend liberal” stereotype⎯then the information is conveniently ignored. “Voters think that they’re thinking,” Bartels says, “but what they’re really doing is inventing facts or ignoring facts so that they can rationalize decisions they’ve already made.” Once we identify with a political party, the world is edited so that it fits with our ideology.

At such moments, rationality actually becomes a liability, since it allows us to justify practically any belief. We use the our fancy brain as an information filter, a way to block-out disagreeable points of view. Consider this experiment, which was done in the late 1960′s, by the cognitive psychologists Timothy Brock and Joe Balloun. They played a group of people a tape-recorded message attacking Christianity. Half of the subjects were regular churchgoers while the other half were committed atheists. To make the experiment more interesting, Brock and Balloun added an annoying amount of static⎯a crackle of white noise⎯to the recording. However, they allowed listeners to reduce the static by pressing a button, so that the message suddenly became easier to understand. Their results were utterly predicable and rather depressing: the non-believers always tried to remove the static, while the religious subjects actually preferred the message that was harder to hear. Later experiments by Brock and Balloun demonstrated a similar effect with smokers listening to a speech on the link between smoking and cancer. We silence the cognitive dissonance through self-imposed ignorance.

There is no cure for this ideological irrationality – it’s simply the way we’re built. Nevertheless, I think a few simple fixes could dramatically improve our political culture. We should begin by minimizing our exposure to political pundits. The problem with pundits is best illustrated by the classic work of Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at UC-Berkeley. (I’ve written about this before on this blog.) Starting in the early 1980s, Tetlock picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends” and began asking them to make predictions about future events. He had a long list of questions. Would George Bush be re-elected? Would there be a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the pundits were asked to rate the probability of several possible outcomes. Tetlock then interrogated the pundits about their thought process, so that he could better understand how they made up their minds. By the end of the study, Tetlock had quantified 82,361 different predictions.

After Tetlock tallied up the data, the predictive failures of the pundits became obvious. Although they were paid for their keen insights into world affairs, they tended to perform worse than random chance. Most of Tetlock’s questions had three possible answers; the pundits, on average, selected the right answer less than 33 percent of the time. In other words, a dart-throwing chimp would have beaten the vast majority of professionals.

So those talking heads on television are full of shit. Probably not surprising. What’s much more troubling, however, is that they’ve become our model of political discourse. We now associate political interest with partisan blowhards on cable TV, these pundits and consultants and former politicians who trade facile talking points. Instead of engaging with contrary facts, the discourse has become one big study in cognitive dissonance. And this is why the predictions of pundits are so consistently inaccurate. Unless we engage with those uncomfortable data points, those stats which suggest that George W. Bush wasn’t all bad, or that Obama isn’t such a leftist radical, then our beliefs will never improve. (It doesn’t help, of course, that our news sources are increasingly segregated along ideological lines.) So here’s my theorem: The value of a political pundit is directly correlated with his or her willingness to admit past error. And when was the last time you heard Karl Rove admit that he was wrong?

Comments

  1. #1 Erik Rasmussen
    July 13, 2010

    Rachel Maddow is the only pundit I’ve seen regularly go back and correct her past mistakes. She earns a lot of my respect by doing so.

  2. #2 n
    July 13, 2010

    Simple matter, difficult implementation: In our culture, children are not raised with good coping mechanisms for dealing with cases where they must deal with an idea that conflicts with their view of the world, which is tightly bound to: their personal, familial, and cultural identity. Accepting a new idea is roughly akin to cultural suicide, ego suicide, betrayal of one’s kin.

    Partially, it’s also because we do not teach children basic (simple) propositional logic at an early age. (or even the concept of SOURCE EVALUATION). And to contemplate doing so is sort of a chicken/egg problem. Because this concept, itself, is, to us, a new idea:

    (okay – not so new. . . Lewis Carroll wrote a book on it back at the turn of the century. . . )

    (. . . but I think the reason we don’t do this, is because it flies in the face of a consumer-driven capitalist culture – if we were to educate people in kindergarten how to understand basic logic and make sure they’re being told the right facts, well, then the entire Advertising industry would surely collapse overnight.)

    In a Democracy, who would convince us all to buy into this “new idea”? (without offending our cognitive dissonance afflicted sensibilities?)
    Where would we locate the tens of thousands of teachers, trained to teach the millions of 4, 5, and 6 year old children? (and how would we approach the problem of the older individuals who already have a difficult time grasping basic logic, and emotional coping mechanisms)?

    I look back on the year 2000, the election of Bush, and I see it as; 50 million Americans who did not know simple basic facts: Bush’s record in Texas – he took Texas from a record surplus to record deficit. His staff were mostly former Nixon Administration associates, former Iran-Contra figures, it didn’t take an IQ over 70 to understand exactly what Bush was going to do to this country. I’m not that smart of a person, but it was like watching an 8 year long train wreck in slow-motion, and just wondering how and why this could all happen.

    Eventually, I decided, most people were just plain too afraid to reject their cherished family and friendship bonds to accept new ideas. These relationships are very important to people, and the fear of losing them is an anxiety that drives such behavior that would otherwise seem extreme and illogical and otherwise, counter to their own wider interests.

  3. #3 Jay Rosen
    July 13, 2010

    Hi Jonah. You said… “And it’s worth pointing out that this irrationality applies to both sides of the political spectrum.)”

    But you overlooked something in the Boston Globe article you were writing about. The article is mainly about the so-called “backfire” effect, wherein contrary information not only doesn’t inform but actually strengthens the existing (and incorrect) belief, thus backfiring. Seems irrational, right? Here’s what the article says about this irrationality applying across the board:

    Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

    For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

    In other words, the backfire effect did not occur “across the board.” It was observed among conservatives and not among liberals, at least in this portion of the study. However, blocking out facts that were inconvenient did occur among liberals, as well. This shows that liberals are not immune to these irrational tendencies, but it does not show that the irrationality discussed in the Globe article is evenly distributed across the political spectrum. I think that’s an important qualifier.

    I also think that there’s a danger of PC thinking taking over here. In being careful not to encourage fantasies among liberals of being immune from these tendencies, which is an entirely valid thing to do, some writers, I have noticed, are too quick to suggest that a kind of symmetry reigns over political behavior. I don’t think we should be doing that.

    By the way, here’s a link to the full study:

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bnyhan/nyhan-reifler.pd

  4. #4 Coturnix
    July 13, 2010

    I have also noticed the omission of that important detail that Jay notes above.

    But more importantly, all of these studies measure instant responses. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for people to change their minds instantly, and even more difficult to admit it. Thus the seemingly irrational ‘backlash’ effect.

    But people do change their minds all the time. It is just a much slower process. The first exposure to correct information that is at odds with one’s beliefs is the first seed. Repeated exposure to correct information adds water and nutrients to that seed, which then grows. Six months later, you talk to the same person and s/he will tell you the correct information and NEVER admit they ever believed anything else.

    I would love to see these studies done in a more longitudinal way. At least re-test all the subjects 6 or 12 months later.

  5. #5 Walter
    July 13, 2010

    When I think back to the Healthcare debates last year I realize that it is our emotions that drive political decisions, not reason. I think we use reason to justify our emotions, and since people have different emotions we try to justify our emotional superiority to others with a veneer of reason. But the above comments are correct. I have noticed that conservatives, and libertarians, are more incline to do so. Not that liberals are a model of objectivity, but liberals usually suffer from self doubt. In fact I always thought self doubt was a must in order to be considered a liberal. Perhaps this self doubt makes liberals more open to criticism, and more likely to question their own convictions. Maybe that is why there are more conservatives than liberals in the population. Liberals can be converted, conservatives not likely.

  6. #6 Mozza
    July 13, 2010

    I’m afraid that I like this post a lot because it confirms my beliefs…

  7. #7 MacVean
    July 13, 2010

    I wonder if a kind of scientific method would be better (or possible) to analyze political debates; or at the least, always keep an independent position, keeping this subconcient phenomenon present at all times. This is something that I have found common in the wisest leaders and opinions that I’ve seen.

  8. #8 Zoasterboy
    July 13, 2010

    I wrote a paper on the idea that one should not watch any political pundits because the likelihood of bias/bias creation is so high (in the pundit and viewer) for my argumentation class, citing various psychological phenomena.

    I actually used your book and the Tetlock study in my sources.

    If anyone is interested, I uploaded it here:

    http://zoastertech.com/zoasterboy/pundits.html

  9. #9 Janene
    July 14, 2010

    Did you use Rove as an example to see how many of your amygdala-driven readers would chime in to cheer for Rachel Maddow? Good work.

    We all know this type of research is leading to the inevitable finding that conservatives actually use their heads as opposed to the emotion-driven alternative. We’re seeing the entire country trying to catch-up right now. Do the analysis yourself, if you can bring yourself to face the facts. It’s pretty obvious.

    See, e.g., for just a glimpse of what you’ll find.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703561604575282190930932412.html

    “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? – Self-identified liberals and Democrats do badly on questions of basic economics.”

    A simple fMRI test should easily show what’s what.

  10. #10 NJ
    July 14, 2010

    conservatives actually use their heads

    Because the rest of us don’t need to have something stuck up our behinds?

  11. #11 Patricio
    July 14, 2010

    I want to acknowledge that Walter brings up a very good point: emotion plays a huge role with regards to how people react to politics. However, I think it is more likely that people try to rationalize politics based on their experiences and, inadvertently, the emotions they have had during particular political periods (be that during a democrat or republican-dominated government) and less likely that people just rationalize in order to account for or justify their emotions. In other words, inclination originates from emotions and is presented as reason, which is different from having inclination originate from reason in order to justify emotions. This could be used to further explain why people are ultimately so irrational about being proven wrong when it comes to political facts; our feelings are the ones who are ultimately “filtering” our rational thoughts. People don’t want to be wrong because being wrong means being confused, frustrated, and seemingly stupid. Thus, you find most people experiencing those “back fire” effects.

    All in all, very interesting article.

  12. #12 Mark
    July 14, 2010

    “Unless we engage with those uncomfortable data points, those stats which suggest that George W. Bush wasn’t all bad…then our beliefs will never improve.”

    And what, pray tell, are those uncomfortable data points? Anemic GDP growth? The slowest job growth of any administration since Hoover? Creation of a massive housing credit bubble that almost destroyed the economy? The invasion of Iraq? Holding prisoners without trial for a decade and torturing them? Massive unfunded expenditures ranging from tax cuts to giveaways to drug makers and defense contractors? Ginning up hatred of gay people to win the 2004 election?

    Seriously, come up with an example. Don’t just be a spineless fence-sitter who splits the difference between two viewpoints that are clearly not equally valid.

  13. #13 quell
    July 14, 2010

    Pardon, Jonah.
    I object to your qualification that Bush was not completely evil.
    He killed 5000 american soldiers and 100000 + muslim Iraqi citizens, not to mention spent a trillion taxpayer dollars and embroiled us in two decades of meaningless war…. All because he was too stupid to understand that when muslims can vote, they will vote for more Islam, not less.
    Stupidity is the greatest evil.
    And Bush was stupid to the chromosomes.

  14. #14 Scrooge McDuck
    July 14, 2010

    Interesting that both liberal and conservative posters have responded that “yes, that’s true, but the other guys are worse.”

    Here’s an interesting takedown of the WSJ opinion piece cited by Janene: http://tinyurl.com/29tedzf

    In point of fact, tall Buddhists are the only segment of the population that sees the world as it truly is.

    Namaste!

  15. #15 quell
    July 14, 2010

    And it isn’t any pretension to rationality.
    Its teamspirit and biology.
    Conservatives and liberals are divided by biology, not ideology.
    I suspect that the divide between conservative and liberal is also dependent on IQ and g.
    Bush was truly a representative of the conservative base….high religiosity (gog and magog), lower IQ and g, antipathy to scientists and intellectuals, conviction that “commonsense” trumps intelligence….

  16. #16 quell
    July 14, 2010

    Jefferson’s Noble Yeoman Farmers elected one of their own.
    And the result is obvious.
    The tyranny of the Stupid.

  17. #17 Curt
    July 14, 2010

    Quell is pretty obnoxious.

  18. #18 quell
    July 14, 2010

    “Quell is pretty obnoxious.”

    but im right, aren’t I Curt? let me guess…..you’re a “conservative.”

  19. #19 Curt
    July 14, 2010

    Since you asked, no. I’m a liberal.

    But hijacking this blog for your own off-topic tirades is obnoxious. And you’re confirming the opinions of some conservatives that believe that liberals are irrational and emotional.

    Take it somewhere else. Please.

  20. #20 Elvis Elvisberg
    July 14, 2010

    I don’t think it’s bad faith or simple partisanship to note that at the current time, one side of the political divide in the US is quite a bit more emotional and irrational than the other. Just from yesterday, this comes to mind: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/07/mcconnell_no_evidence_whatsoev.html

    Now, everyone on both sides is equally capable of falling into these traps. And it’s probably easier, mentally, to be a liberal than a conservative these days– because conservatives were in power for the bulk of the past decade, and their views on budgeting and foreign policy have been more recently falsified. Surely a time will come when the conservatives are the serious realists, and the liberals are the anti-science types. But that just isn’t where we happen to be right now. And it’s, well, bad faith to claim an imaginary middle ground.

    The larger point, that everyone on both sides is susceptible to these cognitive biases and methods of self-deception, is inarguable.

  21. #21 JJ
    July 14, 2010

    I am with Mark (comment 12) on this one. I can add to his observations that according to data from the Census Bureau while Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. Furthermore, the gross U.S. federal debt to GDP ratio increased from 56.4% when Bush entered the White House to 83.4% when he left.
    So please Jonah, tell us what are “those uncomfortable data points, those stats which suggest that George W. Bush wasn’t all bad”?

  22. #22 quell
    July 14, 2010

    But Curt, im not hijacking. Political dissonance is much better explained by the biological basis of behavior.
    Why conservatives are racists–

    Kanazawa believes that the explanation for the link lies in the Savannah hypothesis. This is the idea that general intelligence evolved as a way to deal with evolutionarily novel situations. It lets us transcend our evolved behaviour and do things that contravene our instincts.
    In support of this, Kanazawa shows that intelligence is linked to liberal ideals in the same way. In particular, the link seems to be between intelligence and openness to support of people from other ethnic groups (i.e. whites supporting government intervention to help blacks).

    Why conservatives sleep around–

    What’s more intelligence in those adolescents increases belief among men (but not women) in sexual exclusivity – i.e. that people should not sleep around.

    Im with Mark too. That is why conservatives forgive Bush’s far more egregious trespasses, like the ones that horrify me, Mark and JJ.

    Because conservatives are not as intelligent.

  23. #23 quell
    July 14, 2010

    this would also explain why the backfire effect was observed only in conservatives.
    I hypothesize there is some sort of IQ gradient. ;)

  24. #24 Nick Green
    July 14, 2010

    And your sure there isn’t a bias behind this article or the article from the globe?
    It seems to be getting much more popular to write an article or even a whole book about how irrational we all are. I think we tend to believe we’re less irrational than we are, but I also think these articles and books are missing the point that we are rational and irrational.
    Either no-one wants to explain these two conflicting sides co-exist, or no-one who does is getting published. Of course we can be irrational to extents! -but if all humans are the sheep that yourself, ariely, gladwell etc. seem to want to make out, then what a miracle it must be the construction of a skyscraper, an iphone 4, the dna encoding of a living cell, etc..
    When it comes to politics and buyer behaviour, etc., it really is a damn confusing world and information is costly (in the broader sense) to come by. So while some are perhaps too irrational, some have to be to some extent to (as you should understand) make any votes and any political claims at all, which everyone is socially pressured to do.

  25. #25 Coturnix
    July 14, 2010

    Kanazawa? As a serious reference? ROFL. Search Jonah’s blog for that name to begin with….then the rest of Scienceblogs…edifying.

  26. #26 Pete Smillie
    July 14, 2010

    The empirical evidence remains. Ignorance tends toward conservatism, as does selfishness.

    A wise old slave once said, “Facts is stubborn things which can’t be drove”.

  27. #27 frank
    July 14, 2010

    The “empirical evidence remains, that ignorance tends toward conservatism?” What evidence is that? Sounds like an ignorant statement to me.

    I know liberals like to pat themselves on the back for their supposedly superior intelligence, but I’ve rarely met liberals that were actually as smart as they thought they were. Anyway, I’d like those smart liberals here to post actual evidence that compares intelligence levels of liberals and conservatives, and shows that liberals have higher IQs.

    One of the few surveys I’ve ever seen that hints at the issue was this one: http://people-press.org/report/586/

    It is a Pew survey taken earlier this year that measured Americans’ knowledge of current affairs’ issues. Pew asked a dozen questions related to current affairs. The Democrats who were questioned did better than Republicans on only one question, while Republicans did better on ten questions.

    It is puzzling to me how “ignorant” Republicans could perform so much better than “intellectually inclined” Democrats on such a survey when they are so lacking in mental acuity. But perhaps one of the high IQ liberals here could explain it to me.

  28. #28 Derek Scruggs
    July 15, 2010

    The one positive thing I can think of about Bush is that his serious financial commitment to fighting AIDs in Africa was generally applauded on the left and the right.

  29. #29 quell
    July 15, 2010

    coturnix and frank, the UT study and Kanazawa are congruent, as is Dr. Lynn’s work and Dr. Nyborg’s. more and more data points. pretty soon we will reach a critical mass of research.
    Why does that distress you?
    It is intuitively logical that conservatism attracts the lower IQ…..its games theory….rubberband theory to be exact.
    Conservatives get skillups for religiosity and “commonsense”, not for intelligence and education.
    remember, 94% of scientists are NOT conservative (pew 2008).

  30. #30 ranggaw0636
    July 15, 2010

    I’m afraid that I like this post a lot because it confirms my beliefs.

  31. #31 Janene
    July 15, 2010

    How very timely:

    “My Biggest Mistake in the White House” by Karl Rove

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704518904575365793062101552.html?mod=djemEditorialPage_h

    He’s admitted this and others many times. It is how we learn.

  32. #32 jpedmd
    July 15, 2010

    Re. Karl Rove – please. That article is a disingenuous admission of fault to cover up a policy of disinformation leading to war. Here’s what he says:

    “At the time, we in the Bush White House discussed responding but decided not to relitigate the past. That was wrong and my mistake: I should have insisted to the president that this was a dagger aimed at his administration’s heart. What Democrats started seven years ago left us less united as a nation to confront foreign challenges and overcome America’s enemies.

    We know President Bush did not intentionally mislead the nation. Saddam Hussein was deposed and eventually hung for his crimes. Iraq is a democracy and an ally instead of an enemy of America. Al Qaeda suffered tremendous blows in the “land between the two rivers.” But Democrats lost more than the election in 2004. In telling lie after lie, week after week, many lost their honor and blackened their reputations.”

    Revisionist history in action. Res Ipsa Loquitor.

  33. #33 quell
    July 15, 2010

    “Iraq is a democracy and an ally instead of an enemy of America.”
    False.
    Iraq is a representative islamic state with shariah law in the constitution, religious political parties and that declared a national holiday when american troops left the cities. The Islamic jurisprudent clerical elite still call the shots as advisors.
    My hypothesis is that Bush was simply a low IQ president that was easily manipulated by his advisors. The reason the Bush Doctrine failed was that Bush did not understand that when muslims get to vote, they vote for Islam.

  34. #34 quell
    July 15, 2010

    “But Democrats lost more than the election in 2004″

    Doubtful.
    in 2000 Bush won by 5 electoral college votes, and lost the popular vote.
    in 2004 (in wartime) Bush won by a mere 35 ec votes.
    by contrast Barack Obama won by 195 ec votes.

  35. #35 quell
    July 15, 2010

    Janene……
    Obviously Rove is still lying to mask grievous errors and trying to shift blame onto liberals.
    that is not admitting mistakes and learning.

  36. #36 quell
    July 15, 2010

    Jonah, what will happen (do you think) if a body of research is established that correlates conservatism with statistically significant lower IQ and g?
    Will people not want to be conservatives anymore?
    LIke the previous negative association of the term “liberal”?

  37. #37 Tanya Z
    July 15, 2010

    As liberal as I am, and as long as my list of GWB failures (aka comfortabe facts), here is my list of things GWB has done right:
    1. Did not pardon Scooter Libby. Chaney aksed/demanded that multiple times, and the decision caused a huge rift between them. GWB stuck to his decision no matter how difficult it was.
    2. Worked across the isle with Dems on financial system satbilization in 2008; appointed Paulson rather timely and help prevent financial meltdown.
    3. Pushed for a very sensible immigration reform – twice. As an immigrant who knows quite a bit about how f*cked up the current laws are, I should admit that GWB 2006 version of CIR was the best I have seen in many years. He supported it, and it went pretty far, though not far enough to be signed into the law. I do not expect that Obama will be able to get a law through that good. He may not be able to get any, in fact. I admit that Obama knows what needs to be done, and knows why – I just don’t think he will choose to fight that fight.

  38. #38 Janene
    July 15, 2010

    Hmmm, let’s review.

    Ignorance? Check. Bias? Check. Narrative fallacy? Check. Cognitive dissonance? Check. (“Bb-b-but he admitted the ‘wrong mistake.’” I love that story.)

    That’s without even checking my own checklist, just off the top the head of a casual observer.

    Need I go on? I’d put my Q.E.D. on this right now, but I’m looking for even more emoting.

  39. #39 quell
    July 15, 2010

    Janene, backfire response occurred only in conservatives.
    “the backfire effect did not occur “across the board.” It was observed among conservatives and not among liberals, at least in this portion of the study. ”
    and you are obviously blocking facts.
    quod erat demonstrandum.
    <3

  40. #40 Tanya Z
    July 15, 2010

    “Will people not want to be conservatives anymore?”

    Are you seriously suggesting that being a conservative reduces one’s IQ? Even if the correlation was true, I think you may have got cause and effect wrong.

    On a different note, I think everybody should read an article in Psychology named “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” The bottom line: we ALL think we are smarter than we really are. And the dumber we are, the more we think of ourselves. Something to think about…

  41. #41 quell
    July 15, 2010

    “being a conservative reduces one’s IQ?”

    correlation is not causation. however, being lower IQ and g seems to be a selector for conservativism. In Games Theory, people choose the game they do well at, and clever designers offer skillups. Conservativism offers a kind of social levelling for IQ and g.
    Intellectuals, “elites” and fancy educations are scorned by conservatives in favor of religiosity and “commonsense”.
    So religiosity and commonsense are skillups for conservatives.
    They self select.

  42. #42 Neuroscientist
    July 16, 2010

    I’m pretty certain the self-satisfied liberals on this page, who are acting so smug about a few studies showing lower g among conservatives, will tie themselves in knots when shown similar studies showing lower intelligence in african-americans as compared to whites and asians. Or in women as compared to men. How about it, quell? When more such studies get published, do you think people will “not want to be” dark-skinned or female anymore?
    For the record – i am an immigrant in america, im definitely not white, i consider myself libertarian, and im a neuroscientist.
    The memory of what happened to James Watson with the racial intelligence debate, and to Lawrence Summers with the gender science debate, is still fresh in most people’s minds.
    My points are:
    1. Conservatism has varied adherent groups. Highly educated, libertarian-leaning, richer males, for instance, are likely to be much more intelligent than small-town bible-hugging cowboys. Paul Krugman’s or Noam Chomsky’s intelligence cannot be taken as representative of the average unemployed african-american welfare-recipient who votes Democrat, or the whale-loving, tree-hugging new-age spewing, ditzy cheerleader who thinks the entire petroleum industry is part of an evil plot hatched by the CIA.
    Dont forget that richer people, and white people, vote republican in a reliable pattern. And studies have shown richness and whiteness to correlate with higher intelligence, higher SAT scores, better lifestyle, law-abidingness and the like.
    2. The vast majority of these political studies seem to show a bias towards liberals. One possible reason may be that psychology, social science and humanities departments in your american universities are FILLED with liberals. I scarcely think one would want to identify one’s own group as intellectually inferior, hence the bias in publication. Not all scientists are inherently biased, but im sure some error creeps into their judgement.
    3. And don’t forget to account for other countries. In the middle east, in India, in China, nearly every educated person is conservative to some extent. The educated middle classes form the bedrock of support for conservative parties worldwide. Even far-right movements like AlQaeda draw their strongest support from the educated classes – they may be supporting terror, but you cant say they’re dumb. The left in most countries draws support from the uneducated, the poor and the minorities-not exactly the communities you would go searching for intellectuals in.
    So im just saying there’s plenty of investigation to be done, and it is highly suspicious if there’s any study showing all irrationality on one side of the political spectrum alone. And there was a comment earlier that said most citizens are conservative. thats false..left leaning parties have greater membership than right parties in almost every country.

  43. #43 quell
    July 16, 2010

    NS
    pardon, my core belief is in the biological basis of behavior.
    FYIY, i agree with Watson and Summers.
    and I find your post horrifyingly racist and ignorant.
    Im citing science and your citing bullshytt anecdotal data.
    Here is more science data about the biological basis of political affiliation which is congruent with the UT study, Kanazawa, Lynn, and Nyborg and others.
    Murray–

    The General Social Survey, a mother lode of information for social scientists that has been collected annually or biannually since 1972, has asked people in every survey to say whether they are extremely conservative, conservative, slightly conservative, moderate, slightly liberal, liberal, or extremely liberal. A really simple question.

    The graph represents the percentage of people who answered “extremely liberal” or “liberal” minus the percentage of people who answered “extremely conservative” or “conservative” in any given survey. I won’t go into the statistical details (for that, buy the book in a couple of years), but think of the classes this way:

    Traditional Upper: Someone at the 95th percentile of income, with a graduate degree, who is a business executive, physician, engineer, etc.

    Intellectual Upper: Also at the 95th percentile of income and with a graduate degree, but a lawyer, academic, scientist (hard or soft) outside academia, writer, in the news media, or a creator of entertainment programming (film and television).

    Traditional Middle: Same occupations as the Traditional Uppers, but with just a bachelor’s degree and at the 75th percentile of income.

    Technical Middle: Someone working in the many technical specialties that have proliferated in health, information technology, and industrial technology, with an associate’s degree and at the 50th percentile of income.

    Working: Someone working in a skilled blue-collar job, with just a high school diploma and at the 25th percentile of income.

    Lower: Someone working at a low-skill job who didn’t finish high school, at the 5th percentile of income.

    Murray(as a conservative) intends his study to show how out of touch the WH is with the general populace, but he shows us something else that is far more interesting.
    Who are the culture creators in this study?
    Intellectual uppers– all extreme liberals.
    Who are culture consumers?
    everyone else.
    What i said about game theory, rubberband theory is just obvious.
    Conservatives self select on the basis of skillups that effect social levelling of IQ and education.
    The mindsets in the UT study conform to Kanazwaws data, and to Nyborg and Lynn’s.

    NS if you want to refute my hypothesis cite me some data, and don’t spew racist anecdotal bullshytt.

  44. #44 Tony
    July 16, 2010

    I’ve never viewed anyone that jockeys for intellectual positioning as intelligent. I don’t care who’s smarter, you can’t judge a person’s wisdom based on their political alignments. But I suppose you have the right to make yourselves feel smarter by finding minutia “facts” to support your predispositions.

    Some of the politicians on both sides of the isle are crooked people, to their very core, so how is their decision making ideological? When people pursue power, money, justification… they do not act in a benevolent way. If they did, this “discussion” might be a lot different. Arguing about who’s smarter wont weed out the crooks.

  45. #45 quell
    July 16, 2010

    NS…
    When more such studies get published, do you think people will “not want to be” dark-skinned or female anymore?

    no one can choose to not be darkskinned or female.
    again, my hypothesis is that conservatives self-select because of game theoretic social levelling for IQ and g, and because the biological basis of their “mindset” inclines them towards conservatism.
    Consider it both memetic and genetic selection.
    And I postulate there is going to be more and more data making interlocking puzzle pieces.
    We might as well start talking about it now.
    .

  46. #46 quell
    July 16, 2010

    Tony, the IQ hypothesis is a plausible explanation of why backfiring was only observed in conservatives in the study.

    “In other words, the backfire effect did not occur “across the board.” It was observed among conservatives and not among liberals, at least in this portion of the study.”

    again, offer non-anecdotal data to refute my hypothesis if you want to argue.

  47. #47 Tanya Z
    July 16, 2010

    “Dont forget that richer people, and white people, vote republican in a reliable pattern. ”

    White people yes, wealthy – no. This is a well circulated myth, and Republican voters actually have lower income than Democratic voters. I am not surprised, however, that you did not know this based on the article we discuss. In fact, the divide is largely between urban and rural voters.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2206512/

  48. #48 Tanya Z
    July 16, 2010

    “The left in most countries draws support from the uneducated, the poor and the minorities-not exactly the communities you would go searching for intellectuals in.”

    Most countries, but not the US. Republicans built a base among Joe the Plumbers – uneducated, poor, delusional, blue collar whites – by convincing them that they are rich and telling them the Democrats are out there for their money. This was a rather successful strategy to get people to vote against thier own economic interests. In fact, Joe the Plumber is an excellent example of how these voters think – they truly believe that a tax on those with income above $250K a year will hurt them personally.

    On a personal note, I don’t think there is a chance you convince me that anyone with an ounce of intelligence can stand to listen to Rush Limbaugh.

  49. #49 Rob Monkey
    July 16, 2010

    NS, are you actually making the claim (your #5) that “conservative” in the US and in other countries is comparable? I thought it was pretty common knowledge that our *ahem* “left-wing” politicians were considered middle if not conservative in many other countries. The Overton Window in action I guess. I think part of the problem with this is that I know a lot of older conservatives who remember Goldwater, and are nostalgic for Reagan. Granted I think Reagan sucked balls, but compared to the modern GOP he was fucking Einstein. Today’s conservatives (I mean politicians, not regular citizens) think that scientists are all conspiring to ruin the economy with climate legislation (cause scientists hate jobs and money), they think a provision in the healthcare bill to pay for a conversation with your doctor is a “death panel,” and they think that $30Bn to the unemployed is too much to add to the deficit, but $560 Bn to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest in the country is A-OK. Wanna know why liberals think conservatives are dumber? Because of what they fucking vote for. Just on my last point, I don’t think it’s really that hard to understand that unemployment money gets spent, and money that’s spent helps the economy. If my neighbor is eating nothing but Ramen noodles because he can’t afford anything better, then my local grocery store is making less money, which makes them lay off workers, which continues the poverty cycle. Compare that to tax breaks for rich people, which is giving money to people who won’t spend it because they don’t need to. And before anyone talks about the jobs that the rich create, you better come armed with a good fucking reason why these tax breaks targeted personal income instead of business income. Rich people who hire workers don’t use personal income, they use business income, unless you’re talking about the glamorous pool-cleaning and prostitution industries.

  50. #50 quell
    July 16, 2010

    Tanya is correct.
    Consider the last 50 years of memetic selection in the conservative base.
    Selection for voters who vote against their economic self-interest, who are sufficiently undereducated to not understand ToE and basic meiosis, who are highly xenophobic, who despise science, intellectuals and acadame and whose religiosity index is extremely high.
    Its like biomemetic engineering to produce a tractable population that is extremely permeable to fearmongering and demagoguery.

  51. #51 quell
    July 16, 2010

    you had bettah get ready Jonah.
    how long before we have conservative and liberal fMRI templates that overlay on IQ and g?
    we better be talking about this first, before the shit hits the fan.
    half of the country isn’t going to relish being told they are below the mean of IQ. :)

  52. #52 Neuroscientist
    July 16, 2010

    tanya z,quell,rob monkey – You are mostly missing the point of my commenting on political alignments in other countries. Unlike your narrow take on whether Republicans are dumber than Democrats, I was looking at the scientific hypothesis behind the study – conservatism vs progressivism, which is actually a far better way to investigate this question. Because Republican and Democrat are umbrella terms that convey NO meaning, whereas Conservative/Progressive is a state of mind, a way of looking at society. A New Yorker bank CEO who votes republican has more in common with a college professor who votes Democrat, than with an Evangelical who votes for the “church’s party”.
    As I mentioned, I’m libertarian, and my overall position would be republican, but I strongly support abortion rights, unrestricted stem cell research, gay rights, gun control, evolutionary theory and many other things that would be anathema to your average republican. Plus I’m fervently atheist. But my republicanism stems from my belief that American ideals of individualism, self reliance, limited government, freedom and a value system based equally on modern thought and christian values needs to be safeguarded from all the relativistic weakness of today. Otherwise you will descend into a multicultural mess like Britain, with suicide bombers and jihad preachers crawling out of the woodworks.

    rob monkey-You make interesting points, but Im sorry to say I cannot argue with you on economics, it is not my field of expertise. I have the limited knowledge i gain from newspapers and TV, and frankly, you can find things to back up every point of view there. I dont know how tax breaks targeted to personal income will help the economy, though Ive read stuff about how people will want to see their savings grow and so invest and so on. while we’re on the subject of deficit cutting, lets not forget the willingness of liberals to swallow up a massive carbon tax, to outlaw offshore drilling when there’s little oil available in the markets, to ban drilling in the arctic to save polar bears – a species which will have little or no impact on america anyway?

    quell – I was expecting some racism charges, though like I mentioned previously, I’m very dark skinned, I’m not a WASP by any standards. but believing that ashkenazi jews as a a group are smarter than most other groups does not make me racist. particularly since im not jewish. its just a valid assumption based on scientific study.
    And “ignorant” is something that has long lost meaning in debates. Im not citing articles here because there is plenty of debate going on in the journals and there is no meaning in getting involved in that on a website.
    ALL people want to believe things which reinforce their worldview, not just conservatives. Granted, considering the modern worldview of science and the internet, it is easy to hate and ridicule religion (as I myself used to do, cheering on dawkins), but then you realize that most of the beliefs on the liberal side are also myths and phantasms – and liberals are equally eager to brush conflicting evidence under the carpet. But since most researchers are liberal, this doesnt get publicised much. Case in point – Jonah’s article had more references to irrationality in republicans, and it signed off with a dig at Karl Rove. The climate change paranoia. The hatred for GMO crops. The hatred for pesticides which have not been proved harmful. The organic food craze. The relentless belief in the equality of genders and races in every activity. the relentless belief in the stupidity of anyone who doesnt agree with the liberal worldview. Liberals talk of conservative disdain for evolution, but little is said of the venomous attacks by most people on the left on sociobiology, which is just an extension of evolution into human society.
    FYI quell –
    “we better be talking about this first, before the shit hits the fan.
    half of the country isn’t going to relish being told they are below the mean of IQ.
    :)”
    half the country is ALWAYS below the mean of IQ. In a normally distributed population parameter, that is the definition of a mean (since it will be equal to the median).

  53. #53 quell
    July 16, 2010

    you see NS, you reveal your bias right there. you are only a cafeteria libertarian, like most closet conservatives.
    you said progressive for liberal. :)
    UT study–

    Researchers at UofT have shown that the psychological concern for compassion and equality is associated with a liberal mindset, while the concern for order and respect of social norms is associated with a conservative mindset.
    “Conservatives tend to be higher in a personality trait called orderliness and lower in openness. This means that they’re more concerned about a sense of order and tradition, expressing a deep psychological motive to preserve the current social structure,” says Jacob Hirsh, a post-doctoral psychology student at UofT and lead author of the study.

    and i meant the conservative half of the country is largely below the mean, of course.
    do you think there will be IQ riots? or will most republicans just switch their registration to democrat?

  54. #54 quell
    July 16, 2010

    the other guy does it too is not a defense of your argument.
    i have linked studies and research to support my hypoth.
    please do the same, or be quiet.
    again, anecdotal data is proof of nothing.

  55. #55 Neuroscientist
    July 16, 2010

    haha well to be honest I was very clear that I am a Libertarian-Conservative supporter of the Republican party – no hiding my feelings there. Even though I’m not a US citizen – I’m not eligible to vote here.

    And I think Progressive more accurately expresses the belief systems of what you call “liberal” in the US. Otherwise, you get mixed up with “liberal” parties in Canada, Australia, Japan and the like, which are all Conservative. Plus progressive and conservative are opposites in meaning.

    And that dichotomy between the preserving and changing instincts is well known. this TED talk sums up most of it nicely:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html

    I believe there is little debate about compassion and openness being more in liberals/progressives. but these moral traits are all in a continuum. for instance, if you think conservatives are xenophobes, that probably means their loyalty to members of their own group is higher. And this mistrust of the foreigner may have served the maya and inca and aztec well, if they had had more conservatives in their midst when pizarro and cortez and the rest landed. If you call conservatives warmongering, violent and trigger happy in peacetime, that probably means they are brave, heroic and self sacrificing defenders in wartime. if you call conservatives hidebound, doctrinaire and rigid, that also means they are responsible for the survival of many of the spectacular elements of the cultural heritage of humanity – the old and new testaments, the writings of confucius, the vedas, the buddha’s teachings, daoist texts. And as atheists we are quick to downplay the use of religion, whereas it is quite clear that for many people it is the comforting embrace of the solid, unchanging, eternal religious-social structure that keeps them going when times are tough-the loss of a child for instance. Conservatives may be called lovers of inequality and haters of the poor, but it was primarily conservative groups (the pope john paul II in particular) which opposed marxist tyranny in many countries throughout the cold war.

    And your quoted study brings out another aspect of the differences among nations – in china, orderliness and respect for authority has been the cornerstone of life for thousands of years. SO that would mean nearly everyone in china is conservative to some extent. Not hard to believe that most police organizations, militaries, religious orders and corporate hierarchies in the world are predominantly conservative. While most artistic, literary and entertainer populations like hollywood are predominantly liberal. Hard to say one side is more useless and stupid than the other. Life without art is pointless, but life without an army or the police is slaughter.

  56. #56 Neuroscientist
    July 16, 2010

    I repeat – I do not want to link studies here. The debate is ongoing in the journals, and quoting Kanazawa is not exactly my definition of neutral unbiased scientific thinking. Kind of like quoting a german fan’s analysis of a game for predicting whether germany would beat england in a soccer match.

    And “the other guy does it too” is precisely my argument, that irrationality exists everywhere. I do it, you do it, Jonah does it, everyone does it. It’s not just the big bad republican machine that hoodwinks gullible bozos into supporting their stupid causes.

  57. #57 quell
    July 16, 2010

    let us try this again.
    liberal is the term used in scientific research. progressive is conservative spin.
    do you unnerstand?
    Conservatives have been memetically and genetically selected for the past half century to be less intelligent, for a variety of reasons, starting with the dichotomy of civil rights.
    Conservatives (unlike skincolor or gender) also self-select.
    My hypothesis is based on game theory.
    Conservatism is also social levelling for IQ and education.
    Do you have an argument against that?
    Yes i agree with the savannah hypothesis, that conservatism is likely the base state of homo sap. and we are evolving beyond the base state.
    Cognitive dissonance, conformation bias, supernatural belief, rule-based social order, and deference to authority and the past were all likely fitness enhancers in the EEA.
    i don’t an argument there.

  58. #58 quell
    July 16, 2010

    I do not want to link studies here

    ???
    don’t you want to learn, to know? Kanazawa is congruent with a lot of other ongoing research, like the Hirsch study i just quoted.
    do you object to his methodology?
    what is your objection?
    that he is biased? but you said we are all biased.

  59. #59 quell
    July 16, 2010

    we ARE all biased.
    that is why statitiscal analysis exists as a discipline.

  60. #60 Neuroscientist
    July 16, 2010

    Hmmm. You win – I give up.
    All I ask is that when your dreamed-of Progressive revolution comes, you don’t send all of us Libertarians and Conservatives to the slaughterhouse. It seems like you will, since you believe our philosophy of life is merely an anachronism from the Pleistocene, something that deserves to be exterminated, for the species to Progress to the next level.
    Or maybe if given enough time, we will self-segregate into a subhuman race of low-IQ, violent, incestuous freaks. Taking away half the US population, and the vast bulk of the middle classes in Asia and Africa. Maybe you could bring in your “Games theory” to speed up the segregation.
    Ha. Progress indeed.

  61. #61 quell
    July 16, 2010

    you mistake me, NS.
    im a quellist.
    i dream of a Jeffersonian metaverse where every citizen has the potential to become a liberal polymath.

  62. #62 Walter
    July 16, 2010

    To Janene and Neuroscientist:
    Janene: I sort of agree with you. I think both liberals and conservatives can be guided by emotions and behave irrationally. We could argue about who does it most but that is simplifying the issue. I believe both ideologies can behave irrationally because of emotional baggage. The difference between conservatives and liberals is not really that one is more emotional than the other, but they are influenced by different emotions. While both are influenced by emotions to more or less the same amount, each is influenced by different emotions.

    Neuroscientist: if you really are a neuroscientist and a libertarian, that does not make you stupid, perhaps not even irrational, it just makes you plain evil. If you can reconcile both intellectual worlds it means you fully understand the implications of libertarian ideology while still accept it. That is frightening, very frightening. I am an immigrant as well. I know what the Chicago Boy ideology did to my country, and I have seen the mass graveyards where civilians were shoot at cold blood. The criminals understood what they were doing; they saw the world as the strong and the weak. It was not irrational in their part, it all made perfect economic sense, they were just evil.

  63. #63 quell
    July 16, 2010

    but walter, the point of the paper is that conservatives and liberals ARE NOT THE SAME.
    again, back-firing effect was only observed in conservatives.
    wouldn’t you like to know why, instead of ladling more the other guys are just as bad pablum?

  64. #64 Neuroscientist
    July 16, 2010

    To Walter:
    Finally, a breath of fresh air. You are absolutely right with your analysis of my thoughts. Im not being sarcastic here.

    I’ve been feeling for quite some time that my thought processes seemed to be justifying evil, kind of like Nietzsche. Especially since it seems to be backed up by neuroscience and biology, which I accept without reservations. And im not thrilled about it, but that’s the way I feel.

    My drives and motivations make me feel that untrammeled freedom to do as I please is the most important thing in an ideal society. In fact I would say my tilt towards conservatism is only an attempt to balance out the flaws I noted with my pure libertarian-neuroscientist mixture.

    Now, whatever be my other flaws, I’m willing to hear other viewpoints. And I really am a neuroscientist, I am also a medical doctor, and I’m libertarian, but I have no formal grounding in this philosophical stuff. So I come to you as a student – I would be happy to hear any other criticism you may have of me, as long as it doesnt involve you saying that people with my ideology are morons who belong in the african savannah (as certain others have been doing).

    PS: Im assuming you’re from somewhere in Latin America based on your name and your reference to Chicago Boy excesses. Chile maybe?

  65. #65 Neuroscientist
    July 16, 2010

    And I’m also impressed with your response targeted to Janene. You seem brilliant and insightful.

  66. #66 quell
    July 16, 2010

    you shouldn’t take it personal NS.
    its just science.

  67. #67 quell
    July 17, 2010

    one more thing…the disdain i see for kanazawa’s work reminds me a lot of how Dr. Watson was treated.

  68. #68 Janene
    July 17, 2010

    I would argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with being guided by emotions as long as an executive decision has been made to do so, first. I would posit that fMRI research may reveal that certain people simply skip this step. These amygala-based types simply react to Karl Rove as if they just saw a snake. They will not notice that it talks, let alone what it said.

    I believe (personally) that such emotional analyses should be reserved for, e.g., art and music, not political choices. Others are free to go with their gut, or tingly legs as it were. I would rather think it over, if you don’t mind.

    As a general statement, I say let’s spend less time analyzing every single grunt of Bob Dylan or Jackson Pollock splatter and more on say, the candidates’ understanding of basic economics. But, that’s just how I roll. You feel free to vibrate in your chair over endless platitudes.

    Finally, looking at the seven intelligences (or however many there are now), how is a simple concept of say “liberty” better understood by any level of conservative “Intellectual Upper” or “ball-sucking” knuckle-dragger? Even a snake knows when he’s been caught. A lot of these responses are basically noise, albeit interesting.

  69. #69 quell
    July 17, 2010

    but Janene, you personally exhibitted fact-blocking and backfire effect in situ, right here, when you said Rove had issued a correction.
    and there is only one kind of intelligence, sowwy.
    when multiple intelligence theory theory was debunked some years ago, the spinoff was multi modal learning. you must be thinking of that.
    Like i said, get used it.
    Every day we get better at fMRI.
    Its just a matter of time.
    Dr. Murray and Dr. Watson were both reviled for being early adopters of the truth.
    Ditto Dr. Lynn and Dr. Nyborg.
    Now Kanazawa and Hirsch…..goes right back to Galileo.
    Homo sap. always wants to shoot the messenger of science.

    eppur si muove

  70. #70 Walter
    July 17, 2010

    Janene: The problem is that political and economic issues are not scientific. Let me explain. We can ask; what is the best tax system for a particular society? Well, that is not a question to be answered with pure reason because the answer depends on what kind of society we want to live in, and the kind of society we prefer is a matter of personal preference. If I prefer a more egalitarian society I would chose a progressive tax system. If you prefer a hierarchical society you will prefer a system that promotes such a society. We can scientifically study how each tax system creates this or that outcome, but the outcome we prefer is emotional. That is why conservatives and liberals never agree. We constantly argue the wrong things. We argue facts, while the real disagreement is much more intimate, we are both trying to create a different world. Take neuroscientist here. While I might think him a monster I actually admire his self-understanding, assuming he was not sarcastic.

    Quell: I actually agree with you. What I mean is that we liberals are full of self-doubt. I think self-doubt is healthy, but perhaps is this emotional uncertainty that makes liberals less likely to engage in the back-firing effect. I could be wrong on this, but I believe self-doubt is somehow linked to divergent thinking. Hence most artists are of a more liberal tendency, same with most scientists.

    Neuroscientist: Not Chile but Argentina. If you were not sarcastic I do admire your honesty.

  71. #71 Neuroscientist
    July 17, 2010

    Beautifully put, Walter. And I can understand why you feel there’s a chance I’m being sarcastic, but I’m very honest in my appreciation of intelligent people. And many people would be hurt if you called them a “monster” and “evil”… But to be honest I don’t really mind.

    I was impressed by your immediate realization of the implications of putting together neuroscience/biology and libertarianism – even though you don’t seem to have the same beliefs yourself. Can you explain how you came to that conclusion? I do not know how exactly the ideas played out in my mind, so I’m hoping you can tell me how one idea leads to the other and finally to evil.

    And most importantly, do you believe there’s any sense in trying to change the way someone like me thinks? Or am I condemned to continue to use reason to justify what my emotions are telling me (based on your older comment)?

    I’m very interested in getting all this thrashed out, since I’m currently working on the neuroscience of emotion, anxiety and fear.

    Are you involved in politics/psychology or are you just a wise man from another field entirely who happened to stumble across this thread?

  72. #72 quell
    July 17, 2010

    let me help you out NS.
    you cannot be a real libertarian and a conservative.
    you are only a cafeteria libertarian and a conservative like Rand Paul.

    walter, doubt is our scientific duty. but doubt and intellectual curiosity are also correlated with higher IQ.
    liberal polymath, Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali…

    “Therefore, there is no salvation except in independence of thought. As the Poet has said:
    Forget all you’ve heard and clutch what you see
    At sunrise what use is Saturn to thee?
    If writing these words yields no other outcome save to make you doubt your inherited beliefs, compelling you to inquire, then it was worth it -leave alone profiting you. Doubt transports [you] to the truth. Who does not doubt fails to inquire. Who does not inquire fails to gain insight. Without insight, you remain blind and perplexed. So we seek God’s protection from such an outcome.”
    Source: Mizan al-’amal as quoted in Moosa p.165.

  73. #73 quell
    July 17, 2010

    look guys…please stop trying to pretend conservatives and liberals are just alike.
    they are not.
    and it is in how the substrate of their genetics and memetics is different that we can discover the mechanisms.
    i think that is wildly exciting.

  74. #74 Tony
    July 18, 2010

    quell:
    I know people can grow and develop wisdom over time, no doubt imperfectly in so many ways. To loft myself above others because I think the government should make certain decisions and not others is flat wrong. To put myself in front of someone because of higher IQ, well developed math skills, more publications is not intelligence.

    I pursued a science education while my brothers went to church and then the military. I meditate and exercise on a regular basis while my brothers pray and sing songs in church and their living rooms after dinner. They question my beliefs but let me know I am always welcome with them. I’ve questioned theirs and have been delighted with the explanations and still think they are worng. They study their beliefs, they bring intellectual curiosity and rigor to constructing the ideologies they live by. They are flexible and yes even progressive in their development as human beings. But they are conservative people and have a faith based perspective on everything. While I think they are wrong they are not less capable and the effect they have on the people in their lives is positive and enlightening, they do good in all facets of their life. They accuse me of being an engineer because of money, and I accuse them of being religious and conservative out of fear of the unknown. Over and over we have these conversations, each time finding a little bit more common ground, finding small details in our beliefs where we are comfortable being flexible on (we’ve both changed our political affiliations to Please Stop Trying to Screw us! Benevolence should be the law we live by!) because we WANT to. I want to believe my brothers is right although I tell him he is missing something very important in trying to understand what we are, where we came from and where we are going. I am 100% convinced my conservative, bible hugging, army boy brother has a higher IQ than I do although his BA in History doesn’t have much on my MS in Mechanical Engineering and neither can hold a flame to some of the intellectuals cruising this blog. But were all good people, right? Sorry if the lower echelon of our culture, some guy on ten beers that spouts the only bible verse he knows, one his daddy taught him with a belt, right before he passes out, doesn’t qualify as a comparison of intelligence to a liberal elitist and neither does George Bush. Half the ignorance in America can be linked to substance abuse and bad parenting the rest is ego and greed-not conservatism. The desire to be smarter, to be better than the other guy makes the world worse in many ways. Accepting people differences gives you the opportunity to have a better understanding and subtle influence on them. Acceptance of another persons differences or “ignorance” if you will is what will drive a better world and a more intelligent conversation than the I’m right and you wrong that your espousing. Even if Bush was “stupid to the chromosomes” and you had the chance to get in his face and tell him so your not doing anything smart, not helping to solve how that rampant stupidity got into office in the first place. You can have a single conversation with another person that changes their perspective for the rest of their lives, but calling someone stupid and telling them they are genetically predisposed to be stupid just makes things worse, less intelligent, less informative, less persuasion, less progress even if there is some evidence of it.

    Anyway Comment # 2 got it right, go read that one again.

    Thanks

  75. #75 quell
    July 18, 2010

    but calling someone stupid and telling them they are genetically predisposed to be stupid just makes things worse, less intelligent, less informative, less persuasion, less progress even if there is some evidence of it.

    sorry, that isn’t science. it sounds like you think scientific data should be suppressed so’s not to hurt conservatives fee fees.
    I think preventing another Bush depends on speaking the truth. He was a WEC, a religious dogmatic that believed in gog and magog and was too stupid to understand that when muslims can vote, they WILL vote for islam.
    did you see what janene wrote about Rove’s non-apology? Rove is a toxic person and janene was completely scammed by her biology.
    that was a very moving story about your brothers, but theres no science in it.
    like i said, we are better at fMRI everyday, and knowledge accumulates.
    eventually we will have a hard correlation between conservatism and lower IQ and g.
    So what?
    conservatives hate scientists and intellectuals and academics anyways.
    why would they even care if they have statistically significant lower IQ than liberals?

  76. #76 Janene
    July 18, 2010

    This being a leisurely Sunday morning, I decided I had time to take a closer look into this 50-page .pdf mentioned repeatedly above.

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bnyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf

    Surprisingly, I found the conclusion entirely reasonable. I’m glad I took a moment to consider this new information.

    To wit:

    “Without conducting more studies, it is impossible to determine if liberals and conservatives react to corrections differently. 33″

    …annnnnnnnnnnnnnd…

    “33 It is plausible, for instance, that the stem cell misperception failed to provoke a backfire effect because it
    was less salient to liberals than the WMD and tax cut misperceptions were for conservatives. Also,
    conservatives may have been more motivated to defend claims made by President Bush than liberals were
    to defend statements made by the Democratic Party’s defeated presidential ticket.”

    …both at page 32.

    I vaguely recall this from years ago. While I respect the effort and methodology, the bottom line (for me) is what Karl Rove might call a “nothingburger.” Thanks anyway.

  77. #77 quell
    July 18, 2010

    ah, janene….what happens if you add a WHOLE lot of nothingburgers together?
    you get a something burger. like I said Nyhan and Rieflers work is congruent with a lot of evo and cog psy work coming out.

    nice to see you quote Rove again.
    janene: My Biggest Mistake in the White House” by Karl Rove
    He’s admitted this and others many times. It is how we learn.

    but he didn’t admit admit anything……Mark and I proved he lied some more. and you swallowed.
    it is true we need more data, but the data trends a certain way.
    and you certainly exemplify the conclusions.
    the other thing we need to consider, is not to bend over pretending there is no difference.
    i think it is highly plausible, logical even, that there is a difference.
    Jay’s comment.

    This shows that liberals are not immune to these irrational tendencies, but it does not show that the irrationality discussed in the Globe article is evenly distributed across the political spectrum. I think that’s an important qualifier.
    I also think that there’s a danger of PC thinking taking over here. In being careful not to encourage fantasies among liberals of being immune from these tendencies, which is an entirely valid thing to do, some writers, I have noticed, are too quick to suggest that a kind of symmetry reigns over political behavior. I don’t think we should be doing that.

    Consider….conservatives self-select for commonsense and religiosity, not for IQ and education. IPOF, there is negative social capital payoff for IQ and education in conservatives…..smart people have to pretend to be “real murricans”.
    Isn’t this true?

  78. #78 Tony
    July 18, 2010

    quell:

    “sorry, that isn’t science. it sounds like you think scientific data should be suppressed so’s not to hurt conservatives fee fees.”

    There isn’t a direct relation to some scientific study just the experience and observations I’ve made of conservative people while questioning their ideologies directly and without attacking them first. I’m not sure how you came up with the notion that I want to suppress scientific data!

    The Nyhan paper is full of conjecture and the authors admit it! Furthermore those studies were conducted on less than 200 college age students from a single Catholic school. Hardly representative of the American public.

    You say:
    “smart people have to pretend to be “real murricans”.
    Isn’t this true?”

    Not even close, but when you attack people and draw hard lines you get what you give. Your hate mongering quell, your closer to a Bush ideology than you realize. No scientific study needed to determine that.

  79. #79 quell
    July 18, 2010

    moi?
    a hatemonger?
    npoe, im a seeker.
    let me repeat….conservatives self-select for lower IQ and g.
    In game theory 101 people select the game they are good at. because its more fun to play. People with lower IQ and less education can be very good at conservatism, because coservativism gives skillups for commonsense and religiosity.
    Conservatism is social levelling for IQ and education.
    Its rubberband theory.

    “smart people have to pretend to be “real murricans”.
    lawl, empirical data!
    conservative candidates have to (at minimum) profess belief in creationism, ensoulment of diploid oocytes, and the risen Jesus.
    They also have to represent the “common man” or joe sixpack in Palinese.
    Some one you’d have a beer with. ;)

  80. #80 quell
    July 18, 2010

    your(sic) closer to a Bush ideology than you realize.

    Nah.
    im perfectly cognizant that when muslims can vote, they vote for more Islam, not less.
    wat a retard.

  81. #81 Tanya Z
    July 19, 2010

    NS, I am not debating your ideology (if anything, I think Libertarianism has a thing or two right). I am debating your facts. You said Republicans are wealthier and more educated. It is INCORRECT. Simple as that. That’s what the whole article was about – people with strong political views tend to dismiss facts that do not support their views. Now that we have established the fact that Republicans are less educated and have lower income, we can debate why and how it happened.

    Walter, we may prefer different taxation systems, that’s alright to debate. What is not alright is to fudge the facts. If you read the macroeconomics book about optimizing tax rate for max revenue, you will see that there is a certain level of taxation when the government gets max revenue – you increase the tax rate, and the revenue falls, you drop it, and the revenue falls. What the Republicans (and many libertarians) are saying is that the theory says the revenue ALWAYS rises when you reduce taxes. It is INCORRECT. They also say the Bush tax cuts were offset by an increase government revenue and thus don’t have to be paid for. That’s a LIE. And unfortunately lie is one of the strategies they use to attract the uneducated poor people to vote for them. It is also does not foster a healthly debate on which form of taxation (or healthcare, or immigration) will best suit this country, so your first point is moot until people stop making up the facts.

    Democrats have also indulged in the fudging of the facts to suit their electoral interests. However, when confronted, they usually act with more intellectual honesty, and admit that the other side may have a valid argument. That’s why the last budget surplus was under a Democrat.

  82. #82 Tony
    July 19, 2010

    “And unfortunately lie is one of the strategies THEY use to attract the uneducated poor people to vote for THEM.”

    I’m wondering what you think your studies might say if you were able to conduct them on the THEY and THEM your referring to.

    I also must suggest the ghettos in this country are growing…. And there not growing with the uneducated poor people your referring to. The Democrats pursue a vastly larger number of votes from Minorities and African Americans that are uneducated, poor, working class people. Than the Republicans due from some kid that grew up in the country……

    But I will always challenge the notion that an uneducated working class person is stupid by default, or IQ or g or whatever. I’m happy to give a little and agree that they (or is it me, we and you?!) vote stupid quite often.

  83. #83 Neuroscientist
    July 19, 2010

    Tanya Z:
    You may be right about your monetary gains=democrat votes claim, though I am not really interested in the details of that aspect of the argument. I was hoping for Walter to come back and enlighten us further with his insights, but he appears to be busy.

    However I personally dont believe your Slate article proves that fact – it primarily looks at correlations like average income in a neighbourhood, which doesnt mean much. Of course, I am no expert at election analyses.

    If there’s a highly unequal-income neighbourhood, it is all the more likely that the richer minority will be conservative, while the poor majority will vote progressive. And the richest 5% or so may be liberal also. But the average income of this community may be pretty low.

    On the other hand, high-income communities, like some of the boutique towns in california for instance, are very ethnically, culturally and economically homogenous, and tend to vote progressive. This is the pattern in elections worldwide.

    Conservatism tends to find followers when the group finds itself surrounded by strange and unfriendly people, following different cultures. Like Han Chinese in Tibet, Indian hindus in mainly-muslim cities, Arab minorities confronted by immigrant waves in the Gulf, Israeli jews, the Flemish in Belgium – whatever. Note that all the groups I mentioned are actually fairly economically dominant.

    And that is why conservatism is identified as the ideology of relatively prosperous middle-class majority-ethnicity members. Because they have the most to lose from any change in the social system. While Social Democracy of the Democrat type finds votaries among the poor, and the elite rich – one group wants change, the other will not be significantly affected by change.

    So your contention about the Republican Party’s voter base may be right – but that speaks nothing of conservatism as a whole. It is not the ideology of the poor and the stupid, but of those who feel they have the most to lose.

    But of course much of these discussions do not take into account the fact that modern education in the school and university level, as well as popular culture, drive home the message of progressivism. Like even little kids are taught to be green, to believe in the fundamental equality in abilities of all humanity, to wish for an egalitarian society. Much of this bias is owing to the preponderance of progressives in education, psychology, and the social sciences in today’s age. So perhaps greater time spent in the education system correlates with greater tendency to vote Democrat, simply because that becomes the default mode of thinking. Not that I’m saying any of this is a bad thing – it does promote social cohesion and good morals.

    And one should stop looking at politics at an instant in time. If you follow the history of conservative thought, in 18th century europe its main champions were the rich, educated and aristocrats (the ones with the most to lose), while the proponents of libertarian/liberal ideas were the merchants and traders (the ones with the most to gain). Neither group thought the other to be lower in innate capacity, it was more about every group trying to grab what it can. And several of the most capable thinkers of that age were racist, sexist, god-fearing and violent.

  84. #84 Tanya Z
    July 19, 2010

    “The Democrats pursue a vastly larger number of votes from Minorities and African Americans that are uneducated, poor, working class people. Than the Republicans due from some kid that grew up in the country…… ”

    If this was true, then median income for Democrats would have been LOWER than that of Republicans. In reality, it is higher. Again, you got your facts (and periods) wrong.

    Read my statements. I never said the less educated and poorer Republicans were stupid. I said they were voting against their own economic interests after being duped by talking heads. That does not equate to stupid.

  85. #85 Neuroscientist
    July 19, 2010

    Just as rich and progressive people sabotage their own economic interest by voting for Democrats, who will tax them to spend on other people. It’s not irrational, it’s just believing in principles other than economic gain, I guess..

  86. #86 Tanya Z
    July 19, 2010

    “However I personally dont believe your Slate article proves that fact – it primarily looks at correlations like average income in a neighbourhood, which doesnt mean much. Of course, I am no expert at election analyses.

    If there’s a highly unequal-income neighbourhood, it is all the more likely that the richer minority will be conservative, while the poor majority will vote progressive. And the richest 5% or so may be liberal also. But the average income of this community may be pretty low.”

    First, either you got your example backwards, or you just proved that lower total average means lower income for the majority voters (Democratic in your imaginary case; Republican in reality). Your example just showed that you can only have a richer Republican minority if the county’s income is low and majority are Democratic voters – and that’s the opposite of what stats are showing. Second, you provide no numbers of your own. At least, use better imaginary numbers. I mean, seriously, are you willing to throw all logic away just to hold on to your anachronistic beliefs? Third, to prove that the situation you are imagining is impossible, Slate did additional analysis on who moved and where, and what their income was, and you simply ignored it (yes, incovenient). Fourth, you may also want to read this – http://www.slate.com/id/2260757/ This is the county that went 78% McCain, more than almost any other county in the whole country. It’s one of the poorest and less educated in KY, with more than 50% of population with no GED.

    Lastly, I am sorry, but I think you are the living proof of the resistance to uncomfortable facts described in the article. The evidence is staring you in the face everywhere, and for an educated person like you to hold on to your fantasies against all facts is simply estounding. Yes, rich people were fatter at some point in human history. So what? It does not mean they are in today’s US.

    Myth confirmed.

  87. #87 Tanya Z
    July 19, 2010

    “It’s not irrational, it’s just believing in principles other than economic gain, I guess..”

    People do not maximize their economic gain – even the most primitive economic theory says that people maximise their satisfaction woth life rather than total amout of money. So, it is perfectly rational to care about more than money. Warren Buffet talks about it every quarter on CNBC.

    To give you an example – would you choose to be twice as rich, but live in a country where half of all old people have to survive by begging on the street, and once in a while you have to see someone die on the street because they can’t afford healthcare (or worse yet, find a dead person in the vicinity of your home)? It’s not a theoretical choice – I had to make one just like that in my life, and there is definitely a huge deal of value people extract from living in a country where the needs of the old, sick, poor, and down on the luck are covered. Even if it means higher taxes. Not everyone wants to live the “dog eat dog” life just to get granite counters in their faux-Tuscan McMansions. I am not going to go all spiritual on you (I am an atherist, too), but you probably know about studies of happliness and the things that make people happy. Looking at an old/sick person in the same spot on the street every day with a hand out and thinking one day s/he will die and people will just keep on going stepping over the body… well, it’s is not one of them.

    Wellfare is not only for those who gets it, but largely for those who pays for it.

  88. #88 Neuroscientist
    July 19, 2010

    Who’s arguing facts? If you read my post carefully you will note that I concede it is very much possible that you are right about your facts on Republican voters. What I was arguing about was Conservatism as an ideology, as a thought process used by several members of the species in different periods of history as well as in different locations.

    And I agree my community example was confusing, and wrongly expressed, and I apologize for that. I meant it as a mix of both race and economic grouping – as in the Southern USA. Let me rephrase that – where there is a large number of poor people belonging to one group, for example african americans in the south, the richer community – be it majority or minority in terms of population – will tend to be conservative. Possibly from xenophobic tendencies. And this is seen all over the world. And this tendency to conservatism would be less in a culturally and ethnically homogenous society.

    It’s happening in Europe as we speak. Once-progressive social democracies are turning to the right, because the underclass, which until now had been mainly white christians speaking the same language, is becoming mostly muslim, afro-arab, and culturally alien. It’s not because the country as a whole is poorer today than before, it’s not because the immigrants vote far-right. It is the white majority which is turning conservative. This trend will halt when the immigrants form a sufficient voting block to be able to vote in a progressive government – like hispanics in california.

    And remember I’m arguing about the biological basis of behavior. So your example of fatness and richness is right. However it does not speak of the misinterpretation that has been going on in this thread. An analogous misinterpretation would be that in today’s USA, most poor people are fat, so poor people have self-selected to be fat, so that they are now genetically predisposed to be fat. And since they’re poor, they must be stupid. Therefore fat people are genetically predisposed to be stupid and poor. Or any other combination of the three. Which I think is silly. But this is precisely the interpretation that some people are trying to draw about conservatism, intelligence and class.

    Your point, that fat and rich have had different relationships in human history, illustrates my beliefs perfectly. Even more importantly, the fat-rich relationship changes from country to country. There is nothing inherently stupid about conservatism, just as there is nothing inherently rich about fatness – these things change with the time and place.

  89. #89 Neuroscientist
    July 19, 2010

    I’m not criticizing rich people who vote for welfare and social spending, society would collapse if it weren’t for them. I wrote that comment merely to illustrate that your accusation that Republican voters were poor people who had been duped into voting against their economic interest could be turned on its head and used against you.

  90. #90 quell
    July 19, 2010

    NS, let me lay it down for you.
    All conservative memes are Fail in the 21st century.
    1. unregulated free markets– caused the econopalypse
    2. strong defense– 2 meaningless wars dragging on into their first decade at a horrific cost in blood treasure …….for nothing.
    3. supply side economics– GINI is higher than ever

    my hypothesis is that there is a significant measureable between group difference in IQ between liberals and conservatives…for the following reasons.
    1. evolutionary psych and the savannah principle and the biological basis of political affiliation

    2. games theory
    In gaming, people choose the game they do well at, and clever designers offer skillups, or skill levelling. Conservativism offers a kind of social levelling for IQ and g.
    Intellectuals, “elites” and fancy educations are scorned by conservatives in favor of religiosity and “commonsense”.
    Being branded an “elite” or an “intellectual” in conservatism results in negative social capital.
    So religiosity and commonsense are skillups for conservatives. This is called rubberband theory.
    Conservatives self-select based on social levelling for IQ and g.

    3. memetic selection
    Consider the last 50 years of memetic selection in the conservative base.
    Selection for voters who can be manipulated into voting against their economic self-interest, who are sufficiently undereducated to not understand ToE and basic meiosis, who are highly xenophobic, who despise science, intellectuals and acadame and whose religiosity index is extremely high.
    Its like accidental biomemetic engineering that has produced a malleable population extremely permeable to fearmongering and demagoguery…indeed that only responds to slogans and race-bating and IQ-bating.

    4. fMRI
    Eventually we will have conservative and liberal fMRI templates that overlay on IQ and g.
    I wonder if there will be IQ riots or if people will just quietly change their voter registration to look smarter?

    and this is snarky and bad…i admit it. :)
    the funnest thing of all will be watching Steve Sailor try to weasel word the research findings.
    hahaha

  91. #91 Neuroscientist
    July 19, 2010

    And I say you are taking a too-narrow view of politics, ideology and society.

    Your countdown of points why conservative principles are failures in the 21st century – it’s like saying that Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and the rest were idiots, just because their ideology happened to end in disaster. They weren’t – they were very likely brilliant, capable and daring men. They just happened to believe in something that turned out to be unable to compete with another system – liberal capitalism. I grant them that even though I despise Communism.

    In fact, even if your and Tanya Z’s claims of stupid people voting for conservative parties is true, it means that true Conservative thinkers are a brilliant minority who managed to come up with a cunning ideology that hoodwinked vast numbers of “unwashed, unlettered” Americans into supporting them even though it went against every interest of theirs. Which is what Tony mentioned.

    I don’t believe that, of course.

  92. #92 Neuroscientist
    July 19, 2010

    This discussion is getting kind of repetitive.

  93. #93 quell
    July 21, 2010

    “This discussion is getting kind of repetitive.”

    because you are fact-blacking and exhibiting backfire effect.
    you keep saying anti-factual things.
    you still keep insisting that laissez faire capitalism is wonderful.
    unregulated free markets resulted in the apocalypse of greed that wrecked our economy.

    “even though it went against every interest of theirs”

    i SAID economic interests. conservatism supports the tyranny of the stupid, racism, creationism, ensoulment of diploid oocytes, refusing civil rights and civil welfare to women and minorities, sneering at intellectuals and education, …..it supports a WHOLE lot of their interests. :)

  94. #94 Mina Danışmanlık
    January 24, 2011

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  95. #95 quell
    February 16, 2011

    hey Jonah, heres a proximate cause for conservative backfire effect.
    Salam-Douthat stratification on cognitive ability.
    Grand New Party, page 154.
    look it up.

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