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Left-Brained: Conservative Democrats Don’t Compute For Liberal Voters

Summary: A new study reveals progressive democrats are more likely to scrutinize inconsistencies in evalutate them as negative when candidates stray from the party line.

Source: University of Nebraska.

Political partisans would like you to believe voters’ heads will explode if faced with candidates crossing party lines on key policies – a Democrat who opposes abortion, say, or a Republican who supports gun control.

In a new study, University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers found that self-identified liberals were more likely to notice when candidates deviated from the party line. Liberals also tended to take longer to react to inconsistent positions from Democrats. And in the majority of instances, they evaluated those inconsistent positions as “bad.”

The study used a powerful functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine at the university’s Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior to observe what happens inside the brain when people are faced with “incongruent” policy positions from their party’s candidates. The researchers used the scanner to see if certain areas of the brain activate when people evaluate candidates’ stances on a range of issues.

Participants were asked to review made-up candidates’ positions on dozens of issues, then decide within milliseconds whether those positions were “good” or “bad.”

“We found that liberal and conservative participants processed the information differently and that liberals were more likely to penalize candidates who expressed incongruent positions,” said lead researcher Ingrid Haas, a political psychologist at Nebraska.

That may mean Democratic candidates with conservative leanings may have a trickier time in today’s political climate than Republican candidates with a liberal bent, Haas said.

The findings have implications for the causes of political gridlock, she said. It may not be true that polarization comes only from the top, with politically polarized elites alienating constituents by refusing to compromise. The study hints that polarization may also emerge at the grassroots level.

Despite conservatives’ reputation for being less tolerant of ambiguity, the findings suggest liberals are more likely to scrutinize inconsistency, Haas said.

“If less scrutiny is applied to Republicans for policy deviations, it may indicate that specific liberal causes and policies have some electoral viability among Republican candidates,” Haas and co-authors wrote in the study.

There are other possible explanations for the differences in conservative and liberal reactions: Perhaps the GOP has become so fractured on issues like health insurance, social issues and foreign policy, the researchers suggested, that voters don’t always recognize when a candidate has left the ideological fold.

Haas’ research team included Melissa Baker, a former Nebraska student and now a graduate student at the University of California at Merced; and Frank Gonzalez, a former Nebraska graduate student who is an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.

The Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, or CB3, is an interdisciplinary center at Nebraska that brings together faculty in the social, biological and behavioral sciences and engineering. The center’s state-of-the-art facilities and multidisciplinary environment expands understanding of brain function and its effects on human behavior. The center’s unique capabilities and partnership with Nebraska Athletics deepen the university’s research capacity, including its leading expertise in concussion research.

The team conducted brain scans of 58 adults while they reviewed policy positions of four hypothetical political candidates — two Democrats and two Republicans. While in the scanner, participants saw stock photos representing the candidates and responded to about 50 of their policy positions on issues such as the death penalty, teaching evolution, immigration, same-sex marriage, climate change and gun control.

Image shows faces.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln brain study shows liberal voters may penalize Democratic candidates with conservative views. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Craig Chandler.

About one-third of the time, the hypothetical candidates held positions that conflicted with their party’s. Participants pressed a button to indicate whether they felt “good” or “bad” about the candidate based on the policy stance.

Conservatives were less likely to notice whether policy positions followed party lines. They also showed a stronger positive response when Democrats held conservative positions. They were more evenly divided in ruling whether it was good or bad when a candidate deviated from the party platform.

Researchers found that the areas of the brain used to monitor conflict and evaluate information were more active on incongruent trials for liberal participants compared to conservative participants, especially when they evaluated “in-group,” or same-party, candidates.

“These findings may be concerning to those who see political polarization as a problem as well as to those who desire meaningful social change as they demonstrate the psychological process that help to hinder the likelihood of political compromise, which is necessary for translating desired policy into implemented policy given the divided nature of government in the United States,” the authors concluded.

The study was published online in the journal Social Justice Research.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Mark Michaud – University of Nebraska
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Craig Chandler.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Who Can Deviate from the Party Line? Political Ideology Moderates Evaluation of Incongruent Policy Positions in Insula and Anterior Cingulate Cortex” by Ingrid Johnsen Haas, Melissa N. Baker, and Frank J. Gonzalez in Social Justice Research. Published online October 27 2017 doi:10.1007/s11211-017-0295-0

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
University of Nebraska “Left-Brained: Conservative Democrats Don’t Compute For Liberal Voters.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 14 November 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/politics-democrats-neuroscience-7940/>.
University of Nebraska (2017, November 14). Left-Brained: Conservative Democrats Don’t Compute For Liberal Voters. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved November 14, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/politics-democrats-neuroscience-7940/
University of Nebraska “Left-Brained: Conservative Democrats Don’t Compute For Liberal Voters.” http://neurosciencenews.com/politics-democrats-neuroscience-7940/ (accessed November 14, 2017).

Abstract

Who Can Deviate from the Party Line? Political Ideology Moderates Evaluation of Incongruent Policy Positions in Insula and Anterior Cingulate Cortex

Political polarization at the elite level is a major concern in many contemporary democracies, which is argued to alienate large swaths of the electorate and prevent meaningful social change from occurring, yet little is known about how individuals respond to political candidates who deviate from the party line and express policy positions incongruent with their party affiliations. This experiment examines the neural underpinnings of such evaluations using functional MRI (fMRI). During fMRI, participants completed an experimental task where they evaluated policy positions attributed to hypothetical political candidates. Each block of trials focused on one candidate (Democrat or Republican), but all participants saw two candidates from each party in a randomized order. On each trial, participants received information about whether the candidate supported or opposed a specific policy issue. These issue positions varied in terms of congruence between issue position and candidate party affiliation. We modeled neural activity as a function of incongruence and whether participants were viewing ingroup or outgroup party candidates. Results suggest that neural activity in brain regions previously implicated in both evaluative processing and work on ideological differences (insula and anterior cingulate cortex) differed as a function of the interaction between incongruence, candidate type (ingroup versus outgroup), and political ideology. More liberal participants showed greater activation to incongruent versus congruent trials in insula and ACC, primarily when viewing ingroup candidates. Implications for the study of democratic representation and linkages between citizens’ calls for social change and policy implementation are discussed.

“Who Can Deviate from the Party Line? Political Ideology Moderates Evaluation of Incongruent Policy Positions in Insula and Anterior Cingulate Cortex” by Ingrid Johnsen Haas, Melissa N. Baker, and Frank J. Gonzalez in Social Justice Research. Published online October 27 2017 doi:10.1007/s11211-017-0295-0

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