Furthest Right

Biological differences between conservatives and liberals


For many years, liberals have enjoyed the benefit of considering politics as a preference, meaning that political choices do not require a logical basis such as what is good for the nation, and reflect the whim and will of the individual alone. If you — for example — find liberalism to be aesthetically more inspiring, why not vote for that? Nothing wrong with it.

As always, time uncovers the hidden lie, and now science slowly reveals the gap between liberals and conservatives as having more of a biological (and thus aptitudinal, although they will fight that notion tooth and nail as they did with race, class and sex) foundation than previously thought. A recent study found that conservatives have a longer attention span and can postpone gratification for longer than liberals:

In a paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers say there is a link between political ideology and the ability to exert self-control.

In a series of three studies with more than 300 participants, the authors found that people who identify as conservative perform better on tests of self-control than those who identify as liberal regardless of race, socioeconomic status and gender.

Self-control includes the ability to defer gratification, which means that when the person looks forward to something pleasurable, they are able to put off acting toward that end in order to achieve a greater benefit. The classic example of this is the famous marshmallow test:

Mischel and his colleagues presented a preschooler with a plate of treats such as marshmallows. The child was then told that the researcher had to leave the room for a few minutes, but not before giving the child a simple choice: If the child waited until the researcher returned, she could have two marshmallows. If the child simply couldn’t wait, she could ring a bell and the researcher would come back immediately, but she would only be allowed one marshmallow.

In children, as well as adults, willpower can be thought of as a basic ability to delay gratification. Preschoolers with good self-control sacrifice the immediate pleasure of a chewy marshmallow in order to indulge in two marshmallows
at some later point. Ex-smokers forfeit the enjoyment of a cigarette in order to experience good health and avoid an increased risk of lung cancer in the future. Shoppers resist splurging at the mall so they can save for a comfortable retirement. And so on.

This ability toward self-control increases with intelligence, as we can see when looking at those who commit violent crimes, which are the antithesis of deferred gratification — just go in and take what you want. Researchers found that a genetic basis for low IQ superseded all other factors:

Cognitive ability in early adulthood was inversely associated to having been convicted of a violent crime (β = −0.19, 95% CI: −0.19; −0.18), the association remained when adjusting for childhood socioeconomic factors (β = −0.18, 95% CI: −0.18; −0.17). The association was somewhat lower within half-brothers raised apart (β = −0.16, 95% CI: −0.18; −0.14), within half-brothers raised together (β = −0.13, 95% CI: (−0.15; −0.11), and lower still in full-brother pairs (β = −0.10, 95% CI: −0.11; −0.09). The attenuation among half-brothers raised together and full brothers was too strong to be attributed solely to attenuation from measurement error.

Even more exciting is that research has decoupled socioeconomic status from criminality. In other words, poverty is not the cause of crime — criminal tendencies are. Researchers using the same Swedish data set discovered that innate tendencies do not vary when income changes:

He found, to no one’s surprise, that teenagers who had grown up in families whose earnings were among the bottom fifth were seven times more likely to be convicted of violent crimes, and twice as likely to be convicted of drug offences, as those whose family incomes were in the top fifth.

What did surprise him was that when he looked at families which had started poor and got richer, the younger children—those born into relative affluence—were just as likely to misbehave when they were teenagers as their elder siblings had been. Family income was not, per se, the determining factor.

In other words, not just our political leanings but our behavioral leanings are hard-wired by heritage, much as our ancestors believed. People are either born good or born bad, and social caste exists based on ability instead of affluence. Traditionalists and conservatives have always held and espoused these beliefs but for some time, liberal strongholds in the social sciences were able to baffle, confuse, distract, obfuscate and deflect from the issue. This suggests in turn that there is a biological difference in ability between conservatives and liberals: conservatives may take longer to develop as youngsters, but have more self-control and keep developing throughout adulthood, reaching greater heights of ability than liberals, who peak early and achieve a lower height. Those who have read The Bell Curve may see how conservatives are those on the right side of the center line of the curve, and liberals are those on the left but close to the center. That means they are more intelligent than the average person, but not as intelligent as they would need to be to make the decisions they purport to be making, unlike the ultimate conservative force in our society — military leaders and aristocrats — who tended to be more intelligent and capable of making these decisions.

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