Different Worlds

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

BeanFest is a silly little game that has nothing to do with politics:

It’s a simple learning video game in which the player is presented with a variety of cartoon beans in different shapes and sizes, with different numbers of dots on them. When each new type of bean is presented, the player must choose whether or not to accept it — without knowing, in advance, what will happen. You see, some beans give you points, while others take them away. But you can’t know until you try them.

In a recent experiment by psychologists Russell Fazio and Natalie Shook, a group of self-identified liberals and conservatives played BeanFest. And their strategies of play tended to be quite different. Liberals tried out all sorts of beans. They racked up big point gains as a result, but also big point losses — and they learned a lot about different kinds of beans and what they did. Conservatives, though, tended to play more defensively. They tested out fewer beans. They were risk averse, losing less but also gathering less information.

Liberals and conservatives have different personalities:

Again and again, when they take the widely accepted Big Five personality traits test, liberals tend to score higher on one of the five major dimensions — openness: the desire to explore, to try new things, to meet new people — and conservatives score higher on conscientiousness: the desire for order, structure, and stability.

Conservatives pay more attention to the alarming, the threatening, and the disgusting in life:

In one experiment that captured this, Hibbing and his colleagues showed liberals and conservatives a series of collages, each comprised of a mixture of positive images (cute bunnies, smiling children) and negative ones (wounds, a person eating worms). Test subjects were fitted with eye-tracker devices that measured where they looked, and for how long. The results were stark: conservatives fixed their eyes on the negative images much more rapidly, and dwelled on them much longer, than did the liberals.

Liberals and conservatives, conclude Hibbing et al., “experience and process different worlds.”

Around 40 percent of the variation in political beliefs is genetic:

“Liberalism may thus be viewed as an evolutionary luxury afforded by negative stimuli becoming less prevalent and deadly,” write Hibbing et al.

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