Are Liberals Smarter?

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by D_Tintagel_Demondong, Dec 12, 2008.

  1. D_Tintagel_Demondong

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    Are liberal people likely to be more intelligent then their fellow humans? I know putting people into either a Liberal or Conservative group is somewhat of a false divide, and most people share qualities from both groups. Nonetheless, liberals are apparently smarter than your average bear, according to the publication Nature Neuroscience.

    Take a hypothetical story on a house fire:

    I'll switch to Fox news and they'll show the flames and estimate the damage. They'll show a the black tennents and neighbors. They'll talk about how the local economy might be damaged. They'll mention how this is a result of black poverty and that the tennants could be responsible, but that's as far as they'll go. It seems very superficial, as if the effect is much more important than the cause.

    Click to, say, CNN and I see the neighbors being interviewed and saying that the family was nice and didn't deserve this catastrophe. They'll show the damage that the fire did to the community and the social network. They'll show the mother, crying as she talks about how the fire was caused by a slumlord neglecting fire codes, and how her family could have died because of his greed. In this case, the cause is more important than the effect.

    I believe that the glossing over that conservatives do on news stories reflects the lack of understanding of causality. For example, which is more helpful, giving money to the Rwandan government or educating the Rwandan people? This cause and effect confusion is common among conservatives. These are the same kind of fiscal conservatives who believe in trickle-down economics and social conservatives who want to deny HPV vaccines to adolescent females.

    Last year, scientists found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work. As noted earlier, there isn't a clear distinction between either camp; I will generalize only for the sake of brevity.

    According to this study published last year in Nature Neuroscience (source), liberal brains are fitter. In a rapid response test—you press a button if you're given one signal, but not if you're given a different signal—the authors found that conservatives were "more likely to make errors of commission," whereas "stronger liberalism was correlated with greater accuracy." They concluded that "a more conservative orientation is related to greater persistence in a habitual response pattern, despite signals that this response pattern should change."

    From the same authors: "Liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty." New York University, which helped fund the study, concluded, "Liberals are more likely than are conservatives to respond to cues signaling the need to change habitual responses." The study's main author, NYU professor David Amodio, stated that "liberals tended to be more sensitive and responsive to information that might conflict with their habitual way of thinking."

    The study suggests that conservatives have an inflexible way of thinking, a resistance to change, and a lesser ability to cope with change. It implies that conservatives, on average, are adaptively weaker at thinking, not just button-pushing. This implication has permeated the press. The L.A. Times told readers that the study "suggests that liberals are more adaptable than conservatives" and "might be better judges of the facts." The Guardian asserted, "Scientists have found that the brains of people calling themselves liberals are more able to handle conflicting and unexpected information." Agence France Presse reported that conservatives in the study "were less flexible, refusing to deviate from old habits 'despite signals that this ... should be changed.' " While I think that some of these editorializations are unneccessary--and even outlandish--I find these studies consistant with my day-to-day interaction with people.

    To be fair, other studies show that conservatives are happier (source), and Her Conservative Magesty, Ann Coulter says that, "felons are smarter than Liberals." (source). Does this mean that a liberal felon is a genius?

    As I've written in this forum before, I believe that a bit of conservatism is good. Without the senate in the government, or wise old Uncle Bob, I think that people could be prone to demagoguery. In fact, I believe that liberals could be more prone to the herd mentality that caused the Wal-Mart incident a few weeks back--conservatives are more likely to stick with the status quo, rather than join the lemmings.

    And now comes the triumphalism: raise your hand if you’ve ever known anyone who started out life as a liberal, but changed into a conservative--or even the reverse. Can this simple fact be proof positive that liberals and conservatives are inherently, possibly even neurologically, different and incapable of "switching over"?

    Let's break the study it down:

    1. Habitual ways of thinking.
    Either the letter "M" or "W" was presented in the center of a computer monitor screen. Half of the participants were instructed to make a "Go" response when they saw "M" but to make no response when they saw "W"; the remaining participants completed a version in which "W" was the Go stimulus and "M" was the No–Go stimulus. Responses were registered on a computer keyboard placed in the participants' laps.

    2. Responsiveness to information.
    Each trial began with a fixation point, presented for 500 ms. The target then appeared for 100 ms, followed by a blank screen. Participants were instructed to respond within 500 ms of target onset. A "Too slow!" warning message appeared after responses that exceeded this deadline, and "Incorrect" feedback was given after erroneous responses.

    3. Complexity and ambiguity.
    Participants were shown an M or a W and had to quickly identify them, without enough time to think consciously about what they were doing. Conservatives made more errors than liberals.

    4. Maladaptiveness.
    The scientific core of the study is a hypothesized brain function called "conflict monitoring." The reason why liberals scored better than conservatives, the authors argued, is that the brain area responsible for this function was, by electrical measurement of the anterior cingulate cortex, more active in them than in conservatives.

    Here's more from the L.A. Times article:

    "Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.
    The results show "there are two cognitive styles -- a liberal style and a conservative style," said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research."

    "Participants were college students whose politics ranged from 'very liberal' to 'very conservative.'"

    "Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy."

    "Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a 'flip-flopper' for changing his mind about the conflict."

    "Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas."

    "'There is ample data from the history of science showing that social and political liberals indeed do tend to support major revolutions in science,' said Sulloway, who has written about the history of science and has studied behavioral differences between conservatives and liberals."
     
  2. D_Chocho_Lippz

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    Two thumbs down.

    Stereotypes are for losers...
     
  3. D_Fiona_Farvel

    D_Fiona_Farvel Account Disabled

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    I do not believe Liberals are any more intelligent than Conservatives.
    However, I do believe certain segments of the population are anti-intellectual.
     
  4. marleyisalegend

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    Rec specifically said that he only generalized for the sake of efficiency, if he had to put up politically correct disclaimers, the already-long thread would've been even longer.
     
  5. D_Chocho_Lippz

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    I don't really care.

    To say that one person is less intelligent than another because of their political beliefs is wrong... and regressive.
     
  6. marleyisalegend

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    That's not what he's saying, he's simply recognizing a trend that we see here on LPSG, and in this study. I agree with the article that most people aren't strictly one or the other, rather a mix of both to varying degrees.
     
  7. Mandee

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    No, I don't believe that they are.
     
  8. D_Chocho_Lippz

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    How about we embark on a completely foreign idea....

    How about we judge each individual based on their own knowledge, their own tolerances, and their own intellect?

    Shit, I know it will be hard to judge everyone on their own merit, but damn, let's give it a shot... what ya say?
     
  9. D_Chocho_Lippz

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    Whoa. WTF? A trend we see here on LPSG? Back it up.... back it up...

    What are you trying to say here marley?
     
  10. marleyisalegend

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    You're behind dude, I already do that. I've met many conservatives who are very well-spoken. I've met some liberals who are pretty fucking pathetic.

    Done and done. Just outta curiosity....NOTHING to say about the results? I'd hate to think they did all that work for nothing. Conservatives certainly aren't the only bad guys here, don't get me started on my anger at liberals for thinking my tax dollars should pay for Shameeka to sit on her ass and pop out babies while I bust my ass for low pay and no benefits.

    This housing crisis also owes a big thank you (or fuck you rather) to liberals who wanted EVERYONE in the US to own a home, even people that can't keep jobs or afford these homes.
     
  11. D_Tintagel_Demondong

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    Ummm. You're stereotyping. Winners, losers, liberals, conservatives. The world is full of them. Accept it.

    I was not referring to Democrats or Republicans. Maybe you can show me where I stated that "Republicans are stupid"?

    I was stating that there was this study done that indicates that liberals may be able to solve problems more easily than conservatives. You can extrapolate all you want, but I added a few extra paragraphs to counter this very thing; I didn't want to just say, "Conservatives are dumb."

    You clearly didn't read my post.
     
  12. Xcuze

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    There, that ends the debate! :tongue:
     
  13. marleyisalegend

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    Rec, forgive me for obfuscating, I sometimes use liberal/conservative and democrat/republican interchangeably, I've always thought it was a fair, moderately accurate exchange.
     
    #13 marleyisalegend, Dec 12, 2008
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2008
  14. D_Chocho_Lippz

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    And the rebuttal article.... (link)

    Are liberals smarter than conservatives?It looks that way, according to a study published this week in Nature Neuroscience. In a rapid response test—you press a button if you're given one signal, but not if you're given a different signal—the authors found that conservatives were "more likely to make errors of commission," whereas "stronger liberalism was correlated with greater accuracy." They concluded that "a more conservative orientation is related to greater persistence in a habitual response pattern, despite signals that this response pattern should change."

    Does this mean liberal brains are fitter? Apparently. "Liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty," the authors wrote. New York University, which helped fund the study, concluded, "Liberals are more likely than are conservatives to respond to cues signaling the need to change habitual responses." The study's lead author, NYU professor David Amodio, told London's Daily Telegraph that "liberals tended to be more sensitive and responsive to information that might conflict with their habitual way of thinking."

    Habitual way of thinking. Informational complexity. Need to change. Those are sweeping terms. They imply that conservatives, on average, are adaptively weaker at thinking, not just button-pushing. And that implication has permeated the press. The Los Angeles Times told readers that the study "suggests that liberals are more adaptable than conservatives" and "might be better judges of the facts." Agence France Presse reported that conservatives in the study "were less flexible, refusing to deviate from old habits 'despite signals that this ... should be changed.' " The Guardian asserted, "Scientists have found that the brains of people calling themselves liberals are more able to handle conflicting and unexpected information."

    These reports convey four interwoven claims. First, conservatives cling more inflexibly to old ways of thinking. Second, they're less responsive to information. Third, they're more obtuse to complexity and ambiguity. Fourth, they're less likely to change when the evidence says they should.
    Let's take the claims one by one.

    1. Habitual ways of thinking. Here's what the experiment actually entailed, according to the authors' supplementary document:
    [E]ither the letter "M" or "W" was presented in the center of a computer monitor screen. … Half of the participants were instructed to make a "Go" response when they saw "M" but to make no response when they saw "W"; the remaining participants completed a version in which "W" was the Go stimulus and "M" was the No–Go stimulus. … Responses were registered on a computer keyboard placed in the participants' laps. … Participants received a two-minute break halfway through the task, which took approximately 15 minutes to complete.
    Fifteen minutes is a habit? Tapping a keyboard is a way of thinking? Come on. You can make a case for conservative inflexibility, but not with this study.

    2. Responsiveness to information. Again, let's consult the supplementary document:
    Each trial began with a fixation point, presented for 500 ms. The target then appeared for 100 ms, followed by a blank screen. Participants were instructed to respond within 500 ms of target onset. A "Too slow!" warning message appeared after responses that exceeded this deadline, and "Incorrect" feedback was given after erroneous responses.
    An "ms"—millisecond—is one-thousandth of a second. That means participants had one-tenth of a second to look at the letter and another four-tenths of a second to hit the button. One letter, one-tenth of a second. This is "information"?
    3. Complexity and ambiguity. Go back and look at the first word of the excerpt from the supplementary document. The word is either. Participants were shown an M or a W. No complexity, no ambiguity. You could argue that showing them a series of M's and then surprising them with a W injects some complexity and ambiguity. But that complexity is crushed by the simplicity of the letter choice and the split-second deadline. As Amodio explained to the Sacramento Bee, "It's too quick for you to think consciously about what you're doing." So, why did he impose such a brutal deadline? "It needs to be hard enough that people make a lot of errors," he argued, since—in the Bee's paraphrase of his remarks—"the errors are the most interesting thing to study."

    In other words, complexity and ambiguity weren't tested; they were excluded. The study was designed to prevent them—and conscious thought in general—because, for the authors' purposes, such lifelike complications would have made the results less interesting. Personally, I'd be more interested in a study that invited such complications—examining, for instance, whether conservatives, having resisted doubts about the wisdom of the status quo, are more likely than liberals to doubt the wisdom of change.

    4. Maladaptiveness. The scientific core of the study is a hypothesized brain function called "conflict monitoring." The reason why liberals scored better than conservatives, the authors argued, is that the brain area responsible for this function was, by electrical measurement, more active in them than in conservatives.
    The authors described CM as "a general mechanism for detecting when one's habitual response tendency is mismatched with responses required by the current situation." NYU's press release called it "a mechanism for detecting when a habitual response is not appropriate for a new situation." Amodio told the press that CM was "the process of detecting conflict between an ongoing pattern of behavior and a signal that says that something's wrong with that behavior and you need to change it."
    The indictment sounds scientific: CM spots errors; conservatives are less sensitive to CM; therefore, conservatives make more errors. But the original definition of CM, written six years ago by the researchers who hypothesized it, didn't presume that the habitual response was wrong, inappropriate, or objectively mismatched with current requirements. It presumed only that a stimulus had challenged the habit. According to the original definition, CM is "a system that monitors for the occurrence of conflicts in information processing." It "evaluates current levels of conflict, then passes this information on to centers responsible for control, triggering them to adjust the strength of their influence on processing."

    In experiments such as Amodio's, the habit is objectively wrong: You tapped the button, and the researcher knows that what you saw was a W. But real life is seldom that simple. Maybe what you saw—what you think you saw—will turn out to require a different response from the one that has hitherto served you well. Maybe it won't. Maybe, on average, extra sensitivity to such conflicting cues will lead to better decisions. Maybe it won't. Extra CM sensitivity does make you more likely to depart from your habit. But that doesn't prove it's more adaptive.
     
  15. D_Chocho_Lippz

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    (cont)

    Frank Sulloway, a Berkeley professor who co-authored a damning psychological analysis of conservatism four years ago, illustrates the problem. Appearing in the Times as a researcher "not connected to the study"—despite having co-written his similar 2003 analysis with one of its authors—Sulloway endorsed the study and pointed out, "There is ample data from the history of science showing that social and political liberals indeed do tend to support major revolutions in science." That's true: When new ideas turn out to be right, liberals are vindicated. But when new ideas turn out to be wrong, they cease to be "revolutions in science," so it's hard to keep score of liberalism's net results. And that's in science, where errors, being relatively factual, are easiest to prove and correct. In culture and politics, errors can be unrecoverable.
    The conservative case against this study is easy to make. Sure, we're fonder of old ways than you are. That's in our definition. Some of our people are obtuse; so are some of yours. If you studied the rest of us in real life, you'd find that while we second-guess the status quo less than you do, we second-guess putative reforms more than you do, so in terms of complexity, ambiguity, and critical thinking, it's probably a wash. Also, our standard of "information" is a bit tougher than the blips and fads you fall for. Sometimes, these inclinations lead us astray. But over the long run, they've served us and society pretty well. It's just that you notice all the times we were wrong and ignore all the times we were right.


    In fact, that's exactly what you've done in this study: You've manufactured a tiny world of letters, half-seconds, and button-pushing, so you can catch us in clear errors and keep out the part of life where our tendencies correct yours. And now you feel great about yourselves. Congratulations. You haven't told us much about our way of thinking. But you've told us a lot about yours.
     
  16. D_Tintagel_Demondong

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    Is this what you meant?

    Obfu-wha? Damn, my Republican gene is kicking in.

    Believe me, you wouldn't want that. :wink:

    Even more foreign: how about we just don't do any studies every again?!?!?

    Why so defensive, PK? Does this post offend you? Do the results of the study offend you? Maybe you aren't as moderate as you claim.
     
  17. StrictlyAvg

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    I'd say liberals tend to be more inquiring and have a broader world view; cons tend to be somewhat more parochial/insular. I'd agree you don't hear of many liberal rednecks or their uk equivalents!

    But that doesn't have any bearing on intelligence per se.

    There's some very clever businessmen (who tend towards conservatism), dictators (who tend to have had classical western education, usually ending up more communist during/post education) and a lot of scientists around who certainly aren't liberal in their outlook.

    The demographics of the leaked BNP membership list in the UK made interesting reading the other day - certainly not made up of dropout thugs though those are the ones that make the headlines as a rule. For those of you not familiar with UK politics the BNP represent the far right of the political spectrum. Personally I think their fortress Britain view is shortsighted but that's a different debate!

    You'd be struggling to find any stats to back up your theory without someone coming up with equally compelling evidence that refutes it!
     
  18. marleyisalegend

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    Some people only associate themselves with liberalism because it's the flavor of the moment.
     
  19. D_Chocho_Lippz

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    How in the world am I stereotyping? You have the choice to categorize and label people as less intelligent based on some silly "research" and you are going to stereotype based on that? I'm not stereotyping you... I'm calling you a name because I believe stereotyping is wrong and if you are going to participate in that stereotype, then you are wrong. If you can prove to me that you are righteous in believing in this stereotype, then I will withdraw my label of you.

    I am tired of this bullshit stereotyping that goes on in the political forum here. Because I am a conservative I am automatically less intelligent than you?

    Is that what you are endorsing here rec3000?

    Solve problems? People were pushing a button... that was the test here, right?
     
  20. D_Chocho_Lippz

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    Thank you. I hope that you keep the judging to an individual level like you said you do. It is only right to judge someone on their own merit...
     
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