Hibbing: physiological reactions ~ political orientation.... ?

someone more knowledgeable about scientific research methodology to evaluate the research on its own merits.f
  • #1


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Dr. John R. Hibbing of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA, has published several papers which basically say that there is a correlation between certain physiological reactions of a person and her political ideology (or at least her position in the American political spectrum, with Hibbing's definitions of liberal/conservative). Is anyone familiar with his work? I have only read some abstracts (e.g., Hibbing JR, Smith KB, Alford JR. 2014. Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology. Behav Brain Sci. 37(3):297-307. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X13001192 )

and flipped through the only book I could find freely available online
(https://archive.org/stream/PredisposedLiberalsConservativesAndTheBiologyOfPoliticalDifferencesJohnHibbing/Predisposed - Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences - John Hibbing_djvu.txt).

The latter text seems to be more of a journalistic style, lacking the back-up evidence I am used to from scientific research, but maybe that is in his other papers. Of the former, one reader who did read the full work pointed out that the samples were taken from the higher socioeconomic layers, and hence had an inherent bias. But I would like to get more details on the validity of his research methods and conclusions by anyone who is more familiar with his work. Anyone?

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  • #2
Hmm. Until the biochemistry of "disgust" or "aversion" is proven and a definite DNA link established, I would take this as somewhat speculative, maybe more like 'Psychology Today' articles. It is really a literature review. Psychology is not my area so I cannot critique it fairly.

Please note that this kind of discussion in the past - liberal vs conservative - has exhibited problems that gave Mentors nightmares. Just a word to the wise.
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  • #3
I am aware of these claims as well. It is true that this is the kind of things that is controversial, not due to validity or not, but due to its results.So one certainly wonders what the objective for the research is. Anyway, i haven't actually STUDIE any of if, but some papers on the topic i found is

Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations
"Disgust has been described as the most primitive and central of emotions. Thus, it is not surprising that it shapes behaviors
in a variety of organisms and in a variety of contexts—including homo sapien politics. People who believe they would be
bothered by a range of hypothetical disgusting situations display an increased likelihood of displaying right-of-center rather
than left-of-center political orientations. Given its primal nature and essential value in avoiding pathogens disgust likely has
an effect even without registering in conscious beliefs. In this article, we demonstrate that individuals with marked
involuntary physiological responses to disgusting images, such as of a man eating a large mouthful of writhing worms, are
more likely to self-identify as conservative and, especially, to oppose gay marriage than are individuals with more muted
physiological responses to the same images. This relationship holds even when controlling for the degree to which
respondents believe themselves to be disgust sensitive and suggests that people’s physiological predispositions help to
shape their political orientations."
-- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198440/

Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting
"In two large samples (combined N = 31,045), we found a positive relationship between disgust sensitivity and political conservatism. This relationship held when controlling for a number of demographic variables as well as the “Big Five” personality traits. Disgust sensitivity was also associated with more conservative voting in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. In Study 2, we replicated the disgust sensitivity–conservatism relationship in an international sample of respondents from 121 different countries. Across both samples, contamination disgust, which reflects a heightened concern with interpersonally transmitted disease and pathogens, was most strongly associated with conservatism"
-- http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1948550611429024

You can find more probably. Intuitively, i don't think the link between strong disgust reactions -> stronger reactions against what we are nog used to -> conservatism is not actally far fetched. But that said, i can imagine of many other reasons for conservative stances that has nothing todo with this. Economy for example.

  • #4
Thanks, Fredrik aka Fra. Of the two sources you cited, I am granted access to only the first one ("Disgust Sensitivity and the ...") in its entirety. The entire text is, obviously, much more enlightening about his methodology and conclusions -- besides the fact that "involuntary physiological reactions" is made more precise (skin conductance change) as well as clarifying his use of the label "conservative" (i.e., stances on 18 issues), the conclusions are peppered with caveats about possible confounding factors, alternative interpretations and possible biases (although there is not enough data to judge on all possible biases, such as the socioeconomic levels or geographical/cultural origins of the participants). At first glance, it appears that the methodology (both experimental and statistical analysis) is appropriately conducted within the limits afforded by the fuzziness of the subject under study. However, this is precisely what I would like from people on this forum, who are more familiar with the methodological and statistical norms of studies in the overlap between biology and sociology/psychology: a critique of his methodology and statistical analysis from a purely scientific point of view. (A critique of his conclusions is secondary. Furthermore, in no way do I want this to deteriorate into a discussion about the politics involved -- such a case would be a clearly justifiable reason to the mentors to close the thread.)
  • #5
Thanks, Fredrik aka Fra. Of the two sources you cited, I am granted access to only the first one ("Disgust Sensitivity and the ...") in its entirety.

Looking for this one? https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e82f/2cad364fee947f312be75bdb7d4366bb9a95.pdf

I will add that i didnt read it, I am not really into this stuff. But its indeed generally true that defining precise and objective "measures" in the fields of psychology are more difficult than in physics. Self scoring have various ambigousness, physiological scores are more objective, but the correlation to what one wants to measure are sometimes fuzzy. This isn't necessarily because psychology is an inferior science its simply more difficult. And sometimes evolving and refining the measures goes hand in hand with trying to learn and understand human behaviour. Its a more fuzzy world than physicists are used to, and this can be painful ta handle.

  • #6
I think their are rather more parsimonious answers as to why we see reactions and suspect that links to disgust are simply linked to the value systems of the researchers. If you ever get the chance to play with one of those truth game machines which measure skin resistance, they are good fun, but you can quickly discover that virtually any stimulus that you have opinions about, rapidly change the electrical resistance of your skin, this is because of sweat production. Use any emotionally or sexually charged words and the responses are marked and very rapid. This is a good marker for the range of physiological changes which are taking place and our bodies are highly reactive. Politics is a subject that most people respond to this would lead to physiological changes indicating emotional arousal, I think claims that this arousal is sufficiently different that it could be used to indicate political allegiance is rather more suspect. It is suggested that political allegiance is associated with personality traits and this could lead to different responses to stimuli but this isn't very convincing, there are to many other things that effect what is important to people. Generally using self report measures is just like asking what political party do you support.
  • #7
If you ever get the chance to play with one of those truth game machines which measure skin resistance, they are good fun, but you can quickly discover that virtually any stimulus that you have opinions about, rapidly change the electrical resistance of your skin, this is because of sweat production.

This is correct. Skin conductance is an extremely sensitive measure of symphatetic activation, but a non-specific one! Indeed there are tons of reasons for why symphatetic nervoussystem is activated.

But - to distinguish one cause from another, is the task of exeprimental control. Ie. you have to design your experiment in order to screen out any other stimuli that also activate the symphatetic nervous system, then and only then do you get specific responses. This is what much of the work in design of experimental psychology is about. This is - in principle - no different from physics. You can argue that without strict experimental control of your accelerator there are TONS of reasons why particles bounce all over the detector, reasons that has nothing todo with your inquiry. However one difference is that in psychology you can not screen subjects from their own thoughts, and certain cognitive processes alone can cause symphatetic activate and non specific SCR as well.

(I still haven't read the papers, this was just a general comment in defence of the skin conductance measure.It remains one of the most common ways to measure symphatetic activation in experimental psychology. You measure both the slow SCL rise, as well as the amplitude and frequency of the SCR, which can be both specific (within a physiological response window of 1-4s from stimuli) or non-specifc which appear sponteanously.)

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