Battlepanda: We really are different


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, September 10, 2007

We really are different

Liberals kick ass at the most boring computer game in the world. WooT!:
Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative." They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

How to interpret results like this?

First of all, it's fascinating because it's just so unexpected. We like to think that the way we arrive at our political orientations is a complex journey. "I read so-and-so, and suddenly the scales fell from my eyes"; "it was then I realized that x value was the most important to me" etc etc. It's rather startling to find that, in the aggregate at least, a factor as simple as "how likely are you to incorporate new information versus acting upon established patterns?" can predict where we are on the left-right spectrum. Since I'm very fond of clever-clever psych experiments that cut through complexity despite simple parameters, I say kudos, UCLA team.

Secondly, tempting as it may be, liberals shouldn't be smug about the results. The important thing this study showed is that liberals and conservatives have different thinking styles, not that one is superior to the other. I'm sure there can be other games where the conservative style trumps. Maybe it will be interesting to rig the same game to see under what conditions conservatives start to win (perhaps increase the frequency of the flashing letters to the point where thinking too much about it decreases performance?).

Thirdly, even though I just said liberals shouldn't be smug, I think there is one instance where it is totally legitimate to use this study to beat the conservatives with like a stick. Next time I hear any variant to that old "Conservatives are from Mars and Liberals are from Venus" trope, I'm going to say "You know there's another way to explain why conservatives and liberals think the way they do..."

(Via the Drumstir)

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