We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, April 23, 2012

Is it True that "Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism"??

Below is the abstract for a research article entitled, "Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism," published online 16 March 2012 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Scott Eidelman, Christian S. Crandall, Jeffrey A. Goodman and John C. Blanchar.  If this research becomes more widely known, it is sure to spark controversy and rebuttal (for example [here]).

"The authors test the hypothesis that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism. In Study 1, alcohol intoxication was measured among bar patrons; as blood alcohol level increased, so did political conservatism (controlling for sex, education, and political identification). In Study 2, participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than their no-load counterparts. In Study 3, time pressure increased participants’ endorsement of conservative terms. In Study 4, participants considering political terms in a cursory manner endorsed conservative terms more than those asked to cogitate; an indicator of effortful thought (recognition memory) partially mediated the relationship between processing effort and conservatism. Together these data suggest that political conservatism may be a process consequence of low-effort thought; when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases."

This research raises some questions, and I have to confess that I'm more than a little skeptical about its conclusions.  Is it "conservatism" per se that low effort thinkers gravitate to or, rather, what the majority of people take to be truisms that they jump for?  In a center-right country like the U.S., the superficial, low-effort answers ("Poor people are lazy.") would thus tend to be conservative but in a center-left country it would seem reasonable to expect that pat liberal talking points ("The state has a duty to insure its citizens against personal misfortune.") would be the quick, low-effort answers.  Furthermore, it could well be that the participants in the study tended to be conservative anyway and so went to apparently superficially conservative responses when the situation demanded such.  Would an identifiably liberal test group have tended to go with low-effort, superficially liberal responses in similar test circumstances?  Finally, the conclusion that "low-effort thought promotes political conservatism" does seem too pat and convenient for those of us who prefer progressive thinking.  I remain skeptical about the conclusions of this research.