In the current study, John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford, have identified that political conservatives have a "negativity bias," meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments.
One of the major findings, described in the passage I'm citing here has been shown to be true at the neurobiological level as well, with conservatives tending to have larger amygdalas than liberals, and the amygdala is the fear center (or one of them) in the brain.
One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of "a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it," as one of their papers put it).Fascinating stuff.
In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets—centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns—would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.
The original paper, nicely so, is freely available online (link below). To begin, here is a summary of the research from Mother Jones, then below that is the abstract to the original article, with the link to study.
Ten years ago, it was wildly controversial to talk about psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. Today, it's becoming hard not to.
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- This Machine Can Tell Whether You're Liberal or Conservative - John Hibbing and his colleagues are pioneering research on the physiological underpinnings of political ideology.
- The Surprising Brain Differences Between Democrats and Republicans - Two new studies further support the theory that our political decision making could have a neurological basis.
- Diagnosing the Republican Brain - Fact: Conservatives deny science and facts. But there's a reality check that liberals need too.
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a1 Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588. firstname.lastname@example.org www.unl.edu/polphyslab
a2 Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588. email@example.com www.unl.edu/polphyslab
a3 Department of Political Science, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005. firstname.lastname@example.org http://politicalscience.rice.edu/AbstractDisputes between those holding differing political views are ubiquitous and deep-seated, and they often follow common, recognizable lines. The supporters of tradition and stability, sometimes referred to as conservatives, do battle with the supporters of innovation and reform, sometimes referred to as liberals. Understanding the correlates of those distinct political orientations is probably a prerequisite for managing political disputes, which are a source of social conflict that can lead to frustration and even bloodshed. A rapidly growing body of empirical evidence documents a multitude of ways in which liberals and conservatives differ from each other in purviews of life with little direct connection to politics, from tastes in art to desire for closure and from disgust sensitivity to the tendency to pursue new information, but the central theme of the differences is a matter of debate. In this article, we argue that one organizing element of the many differences between liberals and conservatives is the nature of their physiological and psychological responses to features of the environment that are negative. Compared with liberals, conservatives tend to register greater physiological responses to such stimuli and also to devote more psychological resources to them. Operating from this point of departure, we suggest approaches for refining understanding of the broad relationship between political views and response to the negative. We conclude with a discussion of normative implications, stressing that identifying differences across ideological groups is not tantamount to declaring one ideology superior to another.