Why does it seem many people begin with political preferences and then try to find reasons justifying their inclinations? Why is it so difficult to sway people who care deeply about politics no matter how compelling the facts or persuasive the prose? University of Nebraska--Lincoln research may help to answer these questions. By monitoring people's physical sensitivities to things like sudden noises and threatening visual images, political scientists were able to conclude that physiological reactions help predict variations in political beliefs.
For the first time, political scientists can show that people who are physiologically highly responsive to threat are likely to advocate policies that protect against threats to the social unit, favoring defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. In contrast, people who are less startled by sudden noises and threatening visual images are more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control. Researchers report their discovery in the September 19, 2008, issue of Science.
"What the findings suggest is a different view of the nature of political beliefs than the common understanding that political attitudes are exclusively the result of experiences and the environment," said John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska--Lincoln who was part of the research team. …