Thursday, 18 September 2008

Political Science

An interesting study for those who (as I am) are interested in the reasons why people hold different political views has been published in the latest issue of Science.

People who react more strongly to bumps in the night, spiders on a human body or the sight of a shell-shocked victim are more likely to support public policies that emphasize protecting society over preserving individual privacy. - Prof John Hibbing, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Although, clearly, these particular attitudes are only one of the elements that come together to make up an individual's range of views, the outcomes of studies like this have an important role to play in helping us understand the psychology of politics.


richard allan said...

I'd actually quite like to get into a field like this, though I'm a lowly economics student. Apparently those Meyers-Briggs personality tests (or the one with the five axes, don't know its name) actually demonstrate quite robust results in experimentation. I'd like to cross-reference that with some sort of political compass (not THE political compass though, that sucks balls).

I'm not sure what I'd put on the axes, although I'm leaning towards:

moralism - relativism
(ie. the degree to which norms are universal)
authoritarianism - libertarianism
(ie. the number of things that people can be forced to do, or something)
individualism - communitarianism
(very difficult, but feels empty without. Maybe "the degree to which people should accept the same norms", ignoring what they actually are. The difference between someone who thinks people should/should not unionise, regardless of what "Unions' rights" are).

A potential problem with the subject of your post is the possibility of seeing opposing political ideologies as mental illnesses to be diagnosed, though.

Crushed said...

As you say, I think a lot of factors go into these sorts of things.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that whether people are inclined to 'play it safe' or are natural gamblers has an influence on their soci-politico-philosophical outlook.

Letters From A Tory said...

I doubt they'll be much use understanding the warped psychology of Gordon Brown, though.

Gentleman Amateur said...

As you know, Ian, I am more than a little sceptical about this sort of thing. To quote from the article:

Hibbing defined those "protective policies" as more defense spending, more government resources directed at fighting terrorism and tighter controls on immigration. "People in this group are more willing to sacrifice a little of their privacy to protect the social unit," Hibbing said. "On the other hand, the subjects who reacted less strongly to the stimuli were more likely to favor policies that protect privacy and encourage gun control."

Now, although the researcher in a US context, might see those different views as representing opposite sides of the political spectrum (broadly a US-Style "Conservative/Liberal" dichotomy) from a European perspective, and particularly from a libertarian perspective, the difference is far less marked-surely the enforcing of gun control is a "protective policy", for example.

richard allan said...

"surely the enforcing of gun control is a "protective policy", for example."

Yes, in the sense that it means trading liberty for "safety".

No, in the sense that it means reducing people's power to defend themselves, often in the mistaken belief that people don't need to defend themselves.

Another example that breaks his ideological distinctions is "climate change" or whatever the hell they're calling it these days. Surely that is a protective policy given that it's often defended with regard to the "precautionary principle"?