New Study Says Conservatives Have a “Negativity Bias”

July 16, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

There is mounting evidence that people with conservative politics are likely to have a “negativity bias,” a new cluster of studies from Behavioral And Brain Sciences reports. According to Mother Jones, the journal concluded that “liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics.”

The experiment used eye tracking software to observe participants as they were shown disturbing images like maggots on an open wound. The people with conservative political views exhibited a “negativity bias,” responding “much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli.” The study was also peer-reviewed, with researcher John Jost commenting:

There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety.

If people choose to pay attention, this study could have huge implications for how activism and political marketing happen in the future. The negative backlash that has surrounded similar studies, like the one Jost’s published in 2003, will most likely continue but as of now the scientific consensus is that we have much less control over our most basic beliefs than we thought. (Photo: Scipro/Science Photo Library)