Political views may have innate tendencies

Social scientists at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln have noted a correlation between the positions a person adopts on certain political issues and how he or she responds to frightening stimuli. They determined the later by measuring the subjects’ galvanic skin response (sweating) when viewing distressing images and also be observing their response to a sudden, loud noise. People who were more prone to being startled were more likely to adopt conservative positions on “hot button” social issues, like same-sex marriage, gun control, abortion, and the Iraq war.

The finding suggests that people who are particularly sensitive to signals of visual or auditory threats also tend to adopt a more defensive stance on political issues, such as immigration, gun control, defense spending and patriotism. People who are less sensitive to potential threats, by contrast, seem predisposed to hold more liberal positions on those issues.

[R]esearchers stressed that physiology is only one factor in how people form their political views — and far from the most important factor. Startle responses, moreover, cannot be used to predict the political views of any one individual — there are many liberals who startle easily and many conservatives who do not. What the study did find is that, across groups of people, there seems to be an association between sensitivity to physical threats and sensitivity to threats affecting social groups and social order.

Researchers also stress that this cannot be used to judge any individual’s political beliefs. “We are not saying if you sneak up on someone and say ‘Boo!’ and see how hard they blink, that tells you what their political beliefs are,” said John Hibbing, one of the involved political scientists.

We all like to think we’re completely objective and not influenced by external factors, only by the merits of the issues. However, it’s likely that we are all manipulated by outside forces and innate tendencies far more than we’d like to admit. Well, other people, at any rate—surely not the author or readers of this blog! The study was published in the journal Science.

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