Spin-Meister Hibbing does good

John R. Hibbing has been doing research into the underlying differences between liberals and conservatives for a long time.  And Hibbing has a great talent  -- for spin.  Put any set of findings about Left/Right differences in front of him and he can  interpret those finding as showing that liberals are the cool cats and conservatives are the bad eggs.  Leftist psychologists do that routinely, of course and I have been amusing myself "Unspinning" their claims since 1968. And I have been unspinning Hibbing for at least 10 years.  See here and here 

But Hibbing seems ultimately to have been educated by his own data and now just takes refuge in jargon rather than spin. And his work is interesting for the type of data he produces.  He tries to examine biological differences directly -- which is in principle less fakeable.  Although it is less fakeable, it is also harder to interpret. So let me look at one of his papers that I don't think I have directly addressed before.  Here is the Abstract:

The political left rolls with the good and the political right confronts the bad: connecting physiology and cognition to preferences

By Michael D. Dodd, Amanda Balzer, Carly M. Jacobs, Michael W. Gruszczynski, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Hibbing


We report evidence that individual-level variation in people's physiological and attentional responses to aversive and appetitive stimuli are correlated with broad political orientations. Specifically, we find that greater orientation to aversive stimuli tends to be associated with right-of-centre and greater orientation to appetitive (pleasing) stimuli with left-of-centre political inclinations. These findings are consistent with recent evidence that political views are connected to physiological predispositions but are unique in incorporating findings on variation in directed attention that make it possible to understand additional aspects of the link between the physiological and the political.


A more detailed summary HERE
And later in the paper Hibbing becomes very humble indeed. We read:  "It may be that those on the political left are more out of step with adaptive behaviours".  He rightly sees caution as adaptive.

In any case, the findings are perfectly well interpretable as showing that Leftists avoid unpleasant thoughts and that conservatives are more cautious about possible threats and dangers.  Hibbing's obfuscatory version of that is that conservatives have  "greater orientation to aversive stimuli".  But since conservatism has been associated with caution for a couple of hundred years, "caution" is clearly a more informative and well-grounded word to describe conservatism than  is "oriented to aversive stimuli".  In some contexts "conservative" is even used as a synonym for caution. 

And the bit about Leftists avoiding unpleasant thoughts is also familiar.  Leftists in fact tend to live in a cloud cuckoo land of their own (with apologies to Aristophanes) where all thoughts jarring to their beliefs are zealously kept out.  And they most rigorously avoid any thoughts about possible bad impacts that their policies might have.  Ever since the French Revolution there have been mountains of evidence about what beliefs in "all men are equal" lead to but no Leftist seems to have heard of any of it.  Too unpleasant!  Much nicer to dwell on feelings that Leftists are all heart.  

In fact, given the anger that drives their policies, they probably NEED to seek out pleasant thoughts to cool themselves down.

So Hibbing's findings do confirm some basic truths -- after you get past the jargon.

Some critics (e.g. here) on both the Left and Right have criticized Hibbing on the grounds that it is the Left, not the Right, who are cautious about global warming.  How does that fit in?  Easy peasy:  Conervatives are only concerned about real threats and real dangers.  But most conservatives can see the threat of dangerous global warming for the transparent hokum that it is.  They can see that it is a made-up threat, not a real one.  For liberals on the other hand, global warming is a most pleasant fantasy.  It enables them to see themselves as "saving the planet".  How heroic can you get?  A saviour of the planet!  Beat that!

Hibbing was right -- JR

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