Monday, January 30, 2012

The Biology of Partisanship

An interesting study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on different biological responses to political image stimuli. First, the study design:
To gauge participants' physiological responses, they were shown a series of images on a screen. Electrodes measured subtle skin conductance changes, which indicated an emotional response. The cognitive data, meanwhile, was gathered by outfitting participants with eyetracking equipment that captured even the most subtle of eye movements while combinations of unpleasant and pleasant photos appeared on the screen.
Next, the results:
Consistent with the idea that conservatives seem to respond more to negative stimuli while liberals respond more to positive stimuli, conservatives also exhibited a stronger physiological response to images of Democratic politicians – presumed to be a negative to them – than they did on pictures of well-known Republicans. Liberals, on the other hand, had a stronger physiological response to the Democrats – presumed to be a positive stimulus to them – than they did to images of the Republicans.
The researchers were careful to not make a value judgment on either political orientation. But they did note that their discovery provided an opportunity to recognize the relevance of deeper biological variables in politics and turn down political polarization.
As far as I can tell, this type of research is still fairly new. I'm interested to see how political scientists integrate findings like this to their understanding of partisanship as more studies on topic are published.

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