Thursday, February 02, 2006
Political leanings based on psychological and racial biases
So studies have finally proved what I always knew - that a lot of political choices are based on racial biases and social presumptions. Curious about the growing schism between purported red states and blue states, a few psychologists have conducted studies on why people vote the way they do. A disturbing pattern shown by one of the studies is how intractable people are in their beliefs to the point that they will discount negative information about their candidates of choice, even when this discounting is illogical. This was true despite party affiliation. Furthermore, brain scans of the surveyed showed that the self-rewarding areas of the brains were activated whenever they rejected this unwanted information - a sort of "feel-good pat" (which goes a long way in explaining partisan hard-headedness on either side). Psychologist Drew Westen observed that "the way the subjects dealt with unwelcome information had curious parallels with drug addiction as addicts also reward themselves for wrong-headed behavior."
Another study revealed that conservatives, especially Bush supporters, had more implicit biases against blacks than liberals (a big surprise, huh?).
"What automatic biases reveal is that while we have the feeling we are living up to our values, that feeling may not be right," said University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek, who helped conduct the race analysis. "We are not aware of everything that causes our behavior, even things in our own lives."
Nosek and fellow psychologist Erik Thompson polled a sample of 130,000 white volunteers who were given a widely used test which measures the speed of people's implicit assumptions based on whether the face they viewed was black or white. Although the test showed that both conservatives and liberals have racial biases, those who support Bush tended toward a more strident prejudice against blacks.
These findings matched another study conducted by political scientist Vincent Hutchings of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In this study, conducted before the 2000 presidential race, participants who were led to believe that the black faces they viewed were welfare recipients were more receptive to Republican ads against government waste than were those who had not been shown the black faces.
Stanford psychologist Jon Krosnick independently assessed the studies and says it remains to be seen how strong the correlation is between racial bias and political affiliation. He wasn't sure that racial bias was a better indicator of political leanings than views on gun control or abortion. Even so, he says there is less doubt about what the studies show.
If anyone in Washington is skeptical about these findings, they are in denial," he said. "We have 50 years of evidence that racial prejudice predicts voting. Republicans are supported by whites with prejudice against blacks. If people say, 'This takes me aback,' they are ignoring a huge volume of research."
I agree, Mr. Krosnick. I agree. Let's look at some of egregious examples of racial campaigning:
- George Bush's (the daddy, not the son) use of a black rapist, Willie Horton, in his campaign; shades of the ole Southern "let's save the white woman's virtue from the raping black hordes";
- Ronald Reagan's code word usage of "welfare queen," a hardly subliminal reference to black women in particular;
- Republican-generated (and unsubstantiated) rumors about Bill Clinton's "black love child"; note that this same allegation was used against one of their own, John McCain, when he became "inconvenient." Also note that the slurs don't focus on these supposed children's illegimitacy, but rather that they are - gosh almighty - "Negroes."
If anyone is indeed surprised by these findings, they have been living either on cloud nine or in some subterranean hole for the past decades.
Per The Washington Post.