In spite of all their talk about God and faith, it seems that republicans are actually living in fear most of the time. That seems contrary to their constant rhetoric about an almighty and all powerful God who is supposedly their protector and benefactor.
On the other hand, a large compilation of research indicates that conservatives could probably really benefit from intensive counselling services, which could help them learn to cope with the underlying cause of their extreme ideology, fear. Of course they probably distrust counselors and think they will try to fill their heads with ‘liberal ideas’, so the odds of any of them getting help are pretty slim. For those of us who are not conservative, maybe understanding how the right wing thinks can help us figure out how to relate to them better.
Almost everyone has a negativity bias. It’s a phenomenon which makes people more receptive to recalling negative events, as opposed to recalling positive ones. As it turns out, conservatives have a greater negativity bias than other people, according to new research from John R. Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
Hibbing works with a team of researchers at the University Of Nebraska’s Political Physiology Lab, the only lab of its kind in the United States, to date. His latest paper was published in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences journal, in a paper titled”Differences In Negativity Bias Underlie Variations In Political Ideology.”
While Hibbings points out that conservatives are more tuned in to ‘perceived threats,’ his work reveals much of what we already knew about right wing ideology being entirely fear based.
In an earlier study by Hibbings group, both liberal and conservative participants were shown a group of images which included three that were ‘threatening,’ mixed in with 30 which were neutral. That study revealed that conservatives had a much stronger physiological reaction to the negative images.
Hibbings latest paper summarizes results from a broad range of studies, including those that involved self assessment and reporting by liberal and conservative research participants, a wide range of research into differences in physiological reactions and those that measured psychological responses. Finally, Hibbings relates the compiled research to the underlying negativity bias that drives conservative ideology. Using 26 separate studies to support his conclusions, Hibbings work has been well received by the overwhelming majority of scientists whose work was cited in his most recent paper.
As Hibbings paper illustrates, there really has been a great deal of research into the psychology of political positions in recent years. The research gives us a greater understanding of what motivates people to think and act the way they do.
We know that conservatives respond strongly to negative stimuli. We know that they are motivated by fear, or what researchers describe as ‘perceived threats’. We know that conservatives are often deeply insecure. Hibbings research also suggests that conservatives view themselves as part of a small group, and that they perceive those outside of the group as a threat to the well being of the group itself. That knowledge goes a long way toward explaining conservatives attitudes toward immigration as well as their hatred of minorities, non Christians and others who fall outside of their elite circle. Going one step further, it seems that there is a belief that everyone outside of the group is a threat to the group itself.
One thing we still don’t know is whether conservatives are born with these tendencies or whether they learn them throughout life. Is it nature or nurture? One thing is for sure, those at the top of the right wing food chain know very well how to exploit their base through fear and negativity. The extreme right wing operates very much like a religious cult. The main job of the cult leaders is to keep the members fearful and distrusting of everyone outside of the group, thus ensuring that they can continue to control the message.
I tend to believe that the right wing media is the cause of the underlying psychology that researchers observe in conservative personalities. Logically speaking, how many people would be afraid of absurd conspiracy theories like Agenda 21 or Obamacare death panels or FEMA camps, if the right wing media didn’t disseminate so many lies? The same goes for just about any of things that conservatives fear, from immigrant children to any form of sane gun control, the conservative media keeps these people afraid at all times.
It may be true that certain people are more disposed to tuning into fear mongering right wing media outlets than others, but nearly everyone has seen a ‘normal’ friend or family member get sucked in by the exploitative tactics of the right wing. Filmmaker Jen Senko has a new documentary coming out this fall called “The Brainwashing of My Dad.” The film details how her very normal father, who she describes as a Kennedy democrat, got pulled in by the hate and fear mongering of right wing radio. Over time the constant exposure changed her father, as it has many other people who held entirely different views prior to being exposed to round the clock right wing propaganda.
It’s easy to think of republicans as political adversaries or even as enemies. Research like this serves to remind us that there are a great number of people in the US who are living in constant fear. There is also a small number of unscrupulous people who have infiltrated US politics and media. Those people are more than happy to exploit others, feeding their fears and whipping them into a propaganda induced panic attack daily, for personal and political gain.
Hibbings paper shines a new light on the political divide. The average conservative voter is a victim of right wing manipulation and exploitation. Instead of viewing conservatives as our enemies, we need to look for new ways to reach out to them. As hard as it may seem to do, we have to acknowledge their fears and be open to discussing them, before we can hope to gain any new ground.