The less time or mental effort a person puts into thinking about an issue, the more likely they are to espouse a politically conservative perspective. That’s according to a new study by Scott Eidelman and his team, who stress that their point is “not that conservatives rely on low effort thought” but that “low effort thinking promotes political conservatism”.
Across four studies, the researchers examined the effects on political attitudes of four different ways of reducing mental effort. This included: surveying drinkers at varying degrees of intoxication at a local bar; allocating some participants to a dual-task condition where they had to keep track of auditory tones at the same time as registering their political attitudes; allocating some participants to a time-pressured situation, in which they had to rate their agreement with different political statements at fast as possible; and finally, giving some participants the simple instruction to respond to political statements without thinking too hard.
The results were consistent across the studies – being more drunk, being distracted by a secondary task, answering under time pressure and answering without thinking, all led participants to agree more strongly with politically conservative beliefs, such as “A first consideration of any society is the protection of property rights” and “Production and trade should be free of government interference.” Agreement with liberal beliefs were either reduced or unaffected by the measures. The researchers checked and the effects they observed were not due to differences in the complexity of the statements used to measure political conservatism and liberalism, nor were they due to changes in mood or frustration associated with the interventions.
The finding that reduced mental effort encourages more conservative beliefs fits with prior research suggesting that attributions of personal responsibility (versus recognising the influence of situational factors), acceptance of hierarchy and preference for the status quo – all of which may be considered hallmarks of conservative belief – come naturally and automatically to most people, at least in western societies.
“Our findings suggest that conservative ways of thinking are basic, normal, and perhaps natural,” the researchers concluded. “Motivational factors are crucial determinants of ideology, aiding or correcting initial responses depending on one’s goals, beliefs, and values. Our perspective suggests that these initial and uncorrected responses lean conservative.”
Eidelman, S., Crandall, C., Goodman, J., and Blanchar, J. (2012). Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167212439213