by William Skink
I made a little documentary (only 11 minutes long) about the homeless camp clean-up I volunteered for a few weeks ago. I hope it adds some context to why I’ve become so disillusioned with Missoula, especially these last few years.
Before getting to the video, I did a little surfing for a link between the perception of threat and being conservative, because that is one of the dynamics at play with how my perception of the world has changed in the last 8 years. Sure enough, I found something worth considering about a neurological/political link regarding perceptions of threat and conservatism:
A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology and even traits like physiology and genetics.
That’s a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics — upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really change (most of us, anyway).
The occasion of this revelation is a paper by John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a “negativity bias,” meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free here.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of “a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it,” as one of their papers put it).
In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets — centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns — would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.
Pretty fascinating. Kind of gives me some additional insight into how my experiences have changed worldview. For more on that, here’s the video: