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QUESTION Psychological Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives February 5, 2018 by Ed Brayton

There is a lot of very interesting research about the psychological roots of our political leanings, much of it from Robert Altemeyer. But others are picking up where he left off and finding some interesting data. For instance, one of the key differences now discovered is how widely we extend our concern for others.
New research on compassion is de-bunking the myth that liberal voters might inherently be more empathetic and kind-hearted people than conservatives. In fact, previous studies have shown that conservatives and liberals are equally generous with their money and their time, they just dole it out in different ways.

Some of Waytz’s forthcoming research provides even more evidence that conservatives can be just as compassionate as liberals. His findings suggest that conservatives are simply more likely to extend that empathy only to their kin.

Dougy 7 Feb 8

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We conservatives do not lack empathy.


Liberal and conservative are, politically at least, relative terms. In Australian politics Bernie Sanders would be a center RIGHT moderate with wet economic leanings. Yet we remain a functioning democracy with a market capitalist economy.


I often wonder what conservatives think that they are conserving. Seems to me it is greed, bigotry and homophobia.


Disgust tolerance has been show to predict political affiliation with very high accuracy. The more easily disgusted you are, you more likely you're pulling for the red team. All other factors and beliefs may just be assimilated viewpoints that people defend once they find themselves on a particular team.


This is been my observation. I grew up in a politically conservative environment and the same people who use racist slang and denigrate super poor people will also donate their last $10 to a fund raiser for one of their own kind

They will also babysit, give rides, and many other kind things which is probably why we can't get through to them about some issues. They really are "nice" people if you are one of them


"Empathy only to their kin" sounds like a similar mindset to not caring about a particular disease unless they get it themselves.


I've been to a seminar of professor Hibbing. The most interesting pieces to me are the in vs out group psychology as well as the actual brain scans that show how true conservatism causes excessive stimulation of the fight/flight receptors and link to emotional non-fact based decision-making. For example, the ability to set aside the fact that a candidate is an accused child molester for the sake of voting for someone who would make sure the second amendment was upheld.


I think the labels "Conservative" and "Liberal" are quite absurd in the United States. The so called conservatives who current run our government are actually radical statists who serve a multinational plutocracy of banks and oil companies.


Wow, fascinating!

hippie-chick I can't follow any of this at all but for some weird reason I am loving it

@jacpod Oh I know!! I gleaned the idea of it and it made me feel good. Took some time to process it. My neurons aren't firing as fast as they used to and that's way out of my usual area.


This study is absolutely on target. Conservatives are much more tribal in their concern for people. They tend to care only for those who share their cultural beliefs and/or skin color In other words, they are inherently bigots, but simply cannot admit it. They are people who lack the moral courage to see themselves as they are.


You see the tendency of tribalism in how they deal with violators of the group's trust (violence, deviant behavior, criminal, abuse). Conservatives are much more likely to forgive or make excuses for the misdeeds. Liberals are more likely to throw the bastard under the bus!


"...suggest that conservatives are simply more likely to extend that empathy only to their kin." That would hardly be helpful to society as a whole.

"According to the experts who study political leanings, liberals and conservatives do not just see things differently. They are different—in their personalities and even their unconscious reactions to the world around them. For example, in a study published in January, a team led by psychologist Michael Dodd and political scientist John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln found that when viewing a collage of photographs, conservatives' eyes unconsciously lingered 15 percent longer on repellent images, such as car wrecks and excrement—suggesting that conservatives are more attuned than liberals to assessing potential threats."



"This fits with previous studies that show conservatives are extremely tribal and view outsiders as threats. They will be compassionate and even empathetic, but only to those they consider part of their tribe. [snip] They are far more likely, studies show, to react with fear to outsiders than liberals are."

Studies have found that conservatives tended to have increased gray matter volume in their right amygdala which is associated with fear.

At least they are not incapable entirely , but ya , tribalism . I was raised with it , & I have it to recon with

@VictoriaNotes -- Also considerably more prone to engage in conspiracy theories and religious beliefs. Note the general makeup of this site.

I have heard it as the "me and mine" ideology. Growing up catholic I kept hearing of the importance of "agape love and love thy neighbor as thyself. What happened to those ideals?

I believe that about conservatives having more fear, I think that is what leads them to only show empathy for those who they see as their own, or their kin. My uncle is very much like this. He watches Fox News and acts like it is legitimate news. I've tried to have conversations with him to widen his scope of thinking but he is really hung up on Muslims, he's very evangelical, and he acts like he knows so much about it yet when I offer him my Quran to read he won't even look at it. He has 6 kids but will only help some of them, if they believe like him of course. I had to quit having conversations with him about politics when he tried to defend white supremacy.

@Ktcyan I read a meta-analysis study a few years ago that found conservatives tended to be raised in authoritarian homes, and corporal punishment was a common means of disciplining. Children were also taught to obey and not question authority.

But, that doesn't necessarily suggest that everyone raised in these environments turned out to have conservative views as adults. Just that there was a significant correlation between conservatives and authoritarian homelife backgrounds. I witnessed first hand how Fox News put a "spell" on my dad and my ex-husband. Both had been moderate conservatives and changed significantly (became more fearful and paranoid) after watching/listening for hours over the years to Fox, not to mention Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Both also became more conservatively religious.

@VictoriaNotes Have you watched "The Brainwashing of My Dad"?
Very good documentary about right wing media's effects on people.


In an unpublished study, participants first indicated whether they considered themselves “very conservative” or “very liberal”on a scale from 1 to 7. Then they were asked to report how empathetic they felt towards different groups. Conservatives tended to agree with statements like “I often have tender, concerned feelings for my family members who are less fortunate than me.”

The liberal study subjects more frequently reported feeling that same tenderness toward less fortunate people in general, beyond those in their own families.

This fits with previous studies that show conservatives are extremely tribal and view outsiders as threats. They will be compassionate and even empathetic, but only to those they consider part of their tribe. That’s why racism, homophobia and misogyny are so much more common on the right, because they draw their tribes so narrowly and view anyone who is outside their circle as a serious threat to everything they hold dear. They are far more likely, studies show, to react with fear to outsiders than liberals are.

Dougy Level 7 Feb 8, 2018
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