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Conservatives and liberals react strongly to different situations

By Connor Wood

If you watch the news or read the opinion pages, you could be forgiven for thinking that liberals and conservatives are members of completely different species. But why is it that these different groups have such a hard time getting along? A team of scientists from Nebraska thinks that the answer has to do with people’s bodies – specifically, how they’re physiologically predisposed to respond to the good and bad in their environments. The difference between conservatives and liberals, then, may go all the way down to the brainstem, and this difference can affect religious ideology too.

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Religion influences political opinions unconsciously

By Connor Wood

Should politics and religion mix? Actually, for Americans that might not be the right question to ask. The fact is, religion and politics already do mix in the U.S., making the right question more like “How do they mix, and what does it mean?” The answers could be unsettling. New research from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that many religious messages affect people’s political opinions subconsciously, even among those who don’t want religious language in political speeches.

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Conservative emotional avoidance?

By Connor Wood

Do liberals and conservatives really see the world differently? Maybe it’s more like they feel it differently. Recent research (e.g., Tomkins 1995) has suggested that conservatives and liberals experience different sorts of emotional responses. Specifically, some emotions, like joy and distress, are more associated with people who identify as liberal, while emotions like anger, disgust, and excitement are more commonly felt by conservatives. However, a recent Italian study suggests that the main difference between conservatives and liberals is more likely to be that conservatives avoid emotions while liberals try to experience them.

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Predestined to be liberal?

By Nicholas C. DiDonato

Most people like to think they’ve carefully thought out their positions. They’ll say that they’ve fairly assessed both sides of an issue and have come to their particular position through thoughtful analysis. Well, what if a large part of their decision-making process had absolutely nothing to do with the substance of the issues but instead with their genes? What if their thought process was more rationalization than analysis? This very well may be the case: a gene has been discovered that influences liberal beliefs.

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Measuring religion: where do you fit?

By Nicholas C. DiDonato

“You’re not religious because you never go to church!” accuses one friend. “Well, you only go to church to socialize with your friends!” comes the retort. Is the person who goes to church in order to socialize more religious than the person who doesn’t go to church at all? If only there were some way to measure a person’s religiosity! In fact, there is – the religiosity scale designed by C. Daniel Batson and W. Larry Ventis captures what it means to be religious with three poles: religion as means, religion as ends, and religion as quest.

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Emotions affected by religious ideology

By Connor Wood

Religion affects every domain of human behavior, from our decisions about politics to our choice of a spouse. In fact, research collected over the past several decades suggests that even the very emotions we feel in our day-to-day lives are affected by our religious orientation, with different religious attitudes correlated with emotions like fear, shame, disgust, and excitement. One psychological research theory, the “polarity theory” of ideology, investigates personal ideological polarity and provides a focused picture of ideological differences in religion and emotions.

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Born into religion

By Nicholas C. DiDonato

It is often taken for granted that children will just inherit the religion of their parents. Clearly, it seems, nurture trumps nature in terms of religion. In 1990, Neils G. Waller and others (all from the University of Minnesota) dared to challenge this conventional wisdom. They sought to determine whether genetics played a role in religious orientation. Astonishingly, they found that genetics play a decisive role in about half of the variance observed in the measures of religion they employed.

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America’s hidden religiosity

By Nicholas C. DiDonato

Since 1990, more and more Americans have begun considering themselves “non-religious” (or “nones”). When plotted on a graph, the number of nones skyrockets at around 1990 and continues full steam ahead, making America seem destined for secularity within a generation. Well, a generation has passed and yet America remains quite religious. Sociologists Michael Hout and Claude S. Fischer (both University of California, Berkeley) have reanalyzed the data on America’s waning religiosity and found that what Americans oppose is organized religion rather than religion itself.

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The fear of the Lord

By Nicholas C. DiDonato

In general, the stereotypical religious conservative understands God as ready to punish those who sin. By contrast, the stereotypical religious liberal views God as ready to forgive anyone and everyone. These views need not be completely incompatible, but each view has a different emphasis: one on justice and the other on love. Psychologists Azim F. Shariff (University of Oregon) and Ara Norenzayan (University of British Columbia) have found that the former conception of God rather than the latter correlates with increased moral behavior.

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Tales of the cuddle chemical

By Connor Wood

It’s a “love drug.” It’s a “cuddle chemical.” The hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin has gotten a lot of good press in the recent past, as research has shown that it seems to increase people’s level of affection, trust, and warmth for one another. But new research from the University of Amsterdam shows that oxytocin’s role isn’t always benign: in addition to stimulating positive, bonding emotions, oxytocin also appears to increase bias and prejudice against outsiders. Might this research have implications for political and religious prejudice as well?

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