Conservatives: Bad at complex thinking

Interesting studies. Whenever I argue with a conservative, I always end up saying in frustration, “But it’s not that simple!” It appears that for some people, their inability to reason out complex ideas is what makes them conservatives, and not their hatred of the human race (although there may be some overlap there)! What do you think?

Good news for conservatives as a compilation of four recent social psychology studies demonstrate that rather than necessarily being pathological, political conservatism is promoted when people rely on low-effort thinking.

In the four studies conducted by Scott Eidelman, Christian S. Crandall, Jeffrey A. Goodman, and John C. Blanchar published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc, they concluded, “(P)olitical conservatism is promoted when people rely on low-effort thinking. When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient; these conditions promote conservative ideology… low-effort thought might promote political conservatism because its concepts are easier to process, and processing fluency increases attitude endorsement.”

In other words, complex thinking makes their heads hurt, so they don’t do it!

Ever wonder why conservatives can’t seem to understand that people are not always to blame for the circumstances they find themselves in? While personal responsibility sounds like it makes perfect sense initially, when you walk people through the various life circumstances that can render people temporarily dependent upon government help, it becomes clear that things are not so simple. These studies demonstrate the impact of correctional/effortful explanations on political ideology, “This analysis also suggests that some forms of political ideology may result from intentional and effortful correction. For example, Wänke and Wyer (1996) found that liberals scored higher than conservatives on the Attributional Complexity Scale (Fletcher, Danilovics, Fernandez, Peterson, & Reeder, 1986), an indicator that the former generate more complex and detailed (if not more effortful) explanations for the behavior of others.”

Which would explain why conservatives only seem to understand painful situations when they happen to them, or to someone close to them.

We think that compassion and empathy are a fundamental part of liberal values, and we note at times that it takes being in that specific situation for conservatives to grasp why, for example, liberals support universal healthcare for all. There are many studies that address that take on things, but this study is specifically addressing whether or not having low-effort thinking will produce conservative thinking initially, and they showed that it does.

That would fall under blaming the person versus the situation. In some instances, it takes higher level effort thinking (correctional thinking) to consider the situational explanation. An example is considering why someone might be on government assistance. Conservative thinking will blame the person, liberal thinking will correct that initial impulse with a situation-based explanation. “Skitka and her colleagues (Skitka et al., 2002; Study 4) analyzed interviews conducted for the 1987 National Election Studies and found that liberals were more than twice as likely as conservatives to correct an initial “person” attribution with a “situation” explanation in response to a question about government assistance. These correlational findings suggest that some instances of ideology may result from correction processes, overriding and adjusting initial conservative responses. Our experimental studies provide evidence of causal direction.”

Whether that low-effort thinking comes from being busy, overwhelmed, or inebriated, the study shows that under conditions of what we could call cognitive impairment or limited time resulting in low-effort thinking, people are more conservative politically.

As for those centrists (or, come election time, undecided voters), your suspicions appear to be correct. “People with strong political views—left or right—show more cognitive ability than broadly defined centrists.” (Kemmelmeier, 2008)

5 Responses to Conservatives: Bad at complex thinking

  1. lless November 27, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Heuristics don’t really do much to explain Friedman and Brooks though.

  2. imhotep November 27, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Let’s define Conservatism by using the following example. It was clear by the early 1920’s that Capitalism had failed. An alternative hybrid called Fascism was developed in Italy by Pope Benedict XV and Mussolini. Franco in Spain and Hitler in Germany were enlisted to “convert” the entirety of Europe to the new Fascist economic model. Hitler was assigned the added task of “converting” communists and socialists into Fascists and Orthodox Christians in Roman Catholics. (Either convert or be eliminated.) The plan went sideways when Hitler left the reservation and concluded that the actual cause of Europe’s (and the worlds) problems were the Jews. (Here’e where all that Catholic guilt comes from. Along with their pathological support for Israel.) Timeline: Hitler invaded Poland in September of 1939 and Russia in June of 1941. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. On December 11, 1941 everybody declared war on everybody. The “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” was formalized by Germany in February 1942. The first U.S. troops to enter the war against Germany were sent to Africa in November 1942. Does that reading of history make you a Conservative or a Liberal? (No other discription is valid.)

  3. Foraker November 27, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    With the increasingly short attention spans facilitated by television and the internet, what does that say about the future of the country?

    Outside of academia, very few people ever have serious in-depth conversations.

    Advantage: conservatives.

  4. jawbone November 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    So, when we say, sometimes, that what we liberals need are brief, pithy, easy to understand phrasing and campaign slogans, we’re correct to a point. Where we run into problems is that conservatives can’t get beyond their already deeply programmed right wing phrasing, terminology, slogans. Educating them will be extremely difficult, as they seem to need direct dire experiences to be able to see where government actions may be not only beneficial but necessary.

    Atrios has a riff that lower economic quintile Republicans are against government programs because they know from experience that life is not easy on those programs. Yet, they’re told, via dog whistle and sometimes directly, that “those people,” the minorities, get the Good Government Programs. If the poor conservatives can’t get the Good Programs, they don’t want anyone to get them. Teeth, meet nose; bit off face.

    The R’s and the right have been working on making this “known” since LBJ, maybe earlier. But it really took off when St. Ronnie talked about welfare queens in their Cadillacs, etc. Everyone knew blacks scammed the welfare system, and Dems let them do it!

    Gonna take a whole lot of dire poverty or massive re-education for these people to see the world as it is, not as they’ve been propagandized into believing.

    Oh, well, If Obama and the Corporatist Dems and the Repubs get what they want in cuts to SocSec and Medicare, for sure a lot of older people will die sooner than they might otherwise.

    Note: It’s clear the left and Dems are not immune from such propaganda, as Obama et al make clear. What was bad under Bush/Cheney is now just find under Obama….

    Fascinating article. Thnx, Susie.

  5. Izquierdo November 28, 2012 at 1:51 am #

    These studies just confirm the common-sense suspicion that psychology is a liberal communist plot.

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