It’s likely that many if not most NewsBusters readers have come across the lefty slogan “Vote Republican/It’s Easier Than Thinking.” In a Wednesday article for Slate, Katy Waldman suggested that the slogan has a psychological basis.
Waldman delved into a study which found, in her words, that “participants were more likely to espouse conservative ideals when they turned off their deliberative mental circuits.” In one case, “researchers measured the political leanings of a group of bar patrons against their blood alcohol levels, predicting that as the beer flowed, so too would the Republican talking points. They were correct.”
From Waldman’s piece (bolding added):
Truthiness is the word Stephen Colbert coined to describe the intuitive, not always rational feeling we get that something is just right…
Scientists who study the phenomenon now also use the term. It humorously captures how, as cognitive psychologist Eryn Newman put it, “smart, sophisticated people” can go awry on questions of fact.
Newman…recently uncovered an unsettling precondition for truthiness: The less effort it takes to process a factual claim, the more accurate it seems…The information strikes us as credible, and we are more likely to affirm it—whether or not we should…
…But truthiness has a flip side: When we are not asking much of ourselves mentally, are there particular things we are more likely to believe?
It is no accident that the current understanding of truthiness unfurled from Stephen Colbert’s satire of the American right. Psychologists have found that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism. In a study by Scott Eidelman, Christian Crandall, and others, volunteers were placed in situations that, by forcing them to multitask or to answer questions under time pressure, required them to fall back on intellectual shortcuts. They were then polled about issues such as free trade, private property, and social welfare. Time after time, participants were more likely to espouse conservative ideals when they turned off their deliberative mental circuits. In the most wondrous setup, the researchers measured the political leanings of a group of bar patrons against their blood alcohol levels, predicting that as the beer flowed, so too would the Republican talking points. They were correct, it turns out. Drunkenness is a tax on cognitive capacity; when we’re taxed too much, we really do veer right.
The researchers pointed to a few cognitive biases that might prompt an overloaded mind to embrace pillars of conservative thought. First, we reflexively attribute people’s behavior to their character rather than to their circumstances…This type of judgment invites a focus on personal responsibility. Second, we learn more easily when knowledge is arranged hierarchically, so in a pinch we may be inclined to accept fixed social strata and gender roles. Third, we tend to assume that persisting and long-standing states are good and desirable, which stirs our faith in the status quo absent any kind of deep reflection. Fourth, we usually reset to a mode of self-interest, so it takes some extended and counterintuitive chin-stroking for those not actively suffering to come around to the idea of pooling resources for a social safety net...
And conservative ideology sparks something elemental and reflexive in our predator-wary neural wiring…Obama is setting up death panels. Immigrants will flow over the borders until the country is unrecognizable. To researchers, such theories are more than AM radio fear-mongering—they are beliefs steeped in truthiness, made potent by the ease with which they are processed in the receptively anxious echo chambers of Rush Limbaugh’s cranium.
Of course, the overlap between GOP tenets and low-hanging cognitive fruit does not mean that conservatives arrive at their beliefs by disconnecting their brains. (“Conservatives are dumb” would be the reductive, unfair, truthy version of this article’s argument.) Just as sometimes the simplest answer is also the correct one, sometimes the dimly intuited dangers bedeviling our reptilian nervous systems are real.