It often feels as though political liberals and conservatives are from different planets – whatever the issue, they come at it from a completely different angle. A new study in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology confirms this impression, finding that liberals and conservatives even take a different approach when confronted with non-political word puzzles.
Carola Salvi and her colleagues at Northwestern University asked 22 liberal and 22 conservative students to try to solve several examples of the Remote Associates Task – this simply involves looking at word triplets (e.g. pine/crab/sauce) and identifying the one word that goes with each of them (in this case APPLE). After each problem, the students stated whether they’d arrived at the solution through insight (suddenly realising the answer without knowing how) or analysis (thinking through the problem logically).
The liberal participants solved more problems by insight (29 per cent) than by analysis (15 per cent) whereas there was no statistically significant difference in the proportion of problems that the conservatives solved by insight or analysis (21 per cent by insight vs. 17.9 per cent by analysis). Moreover, the liberals solved more problems by insight than the conservatives did.
“Our study provides novel evidence that political orientation is associated with problem-solving strategy,” the researchers said. “A better understanding of differences in cognitive strategies between individuals holding different social/political orientations may benefit efforts to help them reconcile differences in dealing with social concerns,” they concluded, perhaps a little optimistically.
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