Jerry Davich: Are conservatives more fearful, or vice versa?
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org February 24, 2013 5:34PM
Updated: February 24, 2013 5:49PM
Nature or nurture?
This social-psychological concept has been used to explore and explain everything from happiness to homosexuality.
Yes, it’s a flawed, binary, and overly simplified philosophy regarding which qualities create who we are as an individual — our innate, God-given gifts versus our personal life experiences. It is, however, a concept that has merit because it helps us examine ourselves, from womb to tomb. And this, to me, is a timeless, fundamental requirement for any human being. “Know thyself,” as the ancient adage goes.
With that said, a new study has found that people who have a greater “genetic liability” to experience higher levels of “social fear” tend to be more supportive of certain political policies. For example, these people are more in favor of anti-immigration, pro-gun and pro-segregation legislation.
In other words, people who are genetically more fearful tend to vote more conservatively. Not a big surprise there. As we all know, fear is smartly used in political campaigns to guide public opinion on polarizing, hot-button issues.
Nothing scares people more than being scared of so many things they feel they can’t control. And no one knows how to wield this psychological tool more than politicians, leaders and rulers, dating back eons.
“People scared of novelty, uncertainty, people they don’t know, and things they don’t understand, are more supportive of policies that provide them with a sense of surety and security,” said lead researcher Rose McDermott of Brown University, in a statement.
The study, published in the American Journal of Political Science, is titled “Fear as a Disposition and an Emotional State: A Genetic and Environmental Approach to Out-Group Political Preferences.” (Is that a quintessential academia title or what?)
McDermott and other authors of the study examined the multitude of ways that fear manifests itself in people (voters) and also its relation to political attitudes.
“While those individuals with higher levels of social fear exhibited the strongest negative out-group attitudes, even the lowest amount of social phobia was related to substantially less positive out-group attitudes,” the study states.
Genetics (nature), of course, play only part of the role in influencing political preferences, the researchers found. Environmental factors (nurture), such as education, played an equally important influence on “out-group attitudes.”
“More highly educated people displayed more supportive attitudes toward out-groups,” the study stated.
In many ways, the smarter you are, the less fearful you are. And the less fearful you are, the less you are prone to support political policies that repeatedly reload fear as its psychological trigger.
“It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” McDermott said.
“We can roll our eyes and get really frustrated at Congress for being paralyzed, but we’re applying a rational perspective to it because we’re detached,” she said.
“A lot of what’s driving the paralysis and disagreement has to do with emotional factors that are not necessarily amenable to or easily shifted by rational arguments,” she added.
Rational arguments? Ah yes, I’ve learned that these often have no meaning or bearing in political debates, even though we pretend they do.
Plus, what use are smart, factual, rational arguments when they’re stupidly used against innate, genetic, God-given fears?
Agree? Disagree? Visit my Facebook page and join the discussion or my blog, at www.jerrydavich.wordpress.com.
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