Category: Political

We tend to see our political opponents as stupid rather than evil

By Emily Reynolds

If we have strong political leanings, it’s likely that we’ll have similarly strong feelings about our opponents. We might think they’re misguided or stupid; we might consider them self-serving and selfish; or, worst of all, we may believe they’re actually evil.

A new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explores this question: do we think our opponents are evil or just stupid? While the common understanding is that liberals see conservatives as evil and conservatives see liberals as stupid, the team finds that whatever our political affiliation, we’re more likely to see each other as unintelligent than immoral.

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Women candidates are seen as less electable — which makes voters less likely to support them

By Emily Reynolds

Politics in the UK is becoming increasingly diverse. But there is still a way to go. When it comes to gender, the proportion of women in the House of Commons is at an all time high — but at 35%, is still far from representative of the population. 

A new study, published in PNAS, looks at the barriers to women being elected. And the Stanford University team finds even voters who would prefer a female candidate show a level of “pragmatic bias”: if they believe that women candidates face barriers that make them less electable, they are less likely to vote for them. 

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Prejudice among Trump supporters increased after he became president

By Emily Reynolds

Whether or not Donald Trump’s presidency actively increased prejudice or simply emboldened those who already held bigoted views was frequently debated during his term. A new study looks more closely at prejudicial attitudes during the presidency, exploring the views of over 10,000 American citizens.

The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, finds a complex picture. While prejudicial attitudes decreased among Trump’s opponents, his supporters showed an increase in prejudice — and this seems to be because they believed these views had become more socially acceptable.

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We tend to prefer political candidates with higher levels of education — here’s why

By Emily Reynolds

What makes us vote for particular candidates often goes beyond their politics. Research has suggested that our voting preferences can be influenced by our own self-identity, candidates’ perceived beauty, and even the depth of their voices. A new study looks at another factor that could sway our choices: education.

Writing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Jochem van Noord and team find that people with low or high levels of education both prefer more educated politicians — but the reasons for this preference may be different for each group.

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We feel more disgusted by people who don’t share our political views

By Emily Reynolds

Our politics play a significant role in the way we interact with others. We can be dismissive or intolerant of those with different politics to us — and research from 2020 even found that we prefer strangers who share our politics to actual friends who don’t.

New research, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, finds that this dislike can go beyond mere intolerance: the team finds that we can even feel physical disgust towards members of political outgroups — with potential repercussions to how we treat our political rivals.

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People on the extreme left and right are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories

By Matthew Warren

Belief in conspiracy theories has been linked to various factors, including low levels of critical thinking, a need to feel special, and even a yearning for excitement and thrills. But how does political ideology come into it? Some studies suggest that there is a straightforward association, in which people with more extreme right-wing views are more prone to conspiracy theories. But other work has found a “U-shaped” relationship, where conspiratorial thinking is more common among people on the extremes of both the right and left compared to those with more moderate views.

The latter finding has tended to come from research into a small group of relatively prosperous nations, note the authors of a new study in Nature Human Behaviour. But now, looking at data from more than 100,000 people across 26 countries, the team finds further evidence that conspiracy theories are more common among the far left as well as the right, and provides some suggestions as to why this is the case.

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Conservatives Are More Likely To Share Fake News — But Only If They Are Low In Conscientiousness

By Emma Young

Why do people share fake news? All kinds of studies have looked into what encourages it, and which personal attributes play a role. As the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General point out, multiple studies have found that political conservatives are relatively more likely to disseminate false news than those on the political left. However, their new work finds that this is an over-simplification — that the link is “largely driven” by conservatives who are also low in conscientiousness. This is an important finding for a few reasons. On the upside, it’s a far less politically polarising message. On the downside, this group does not seem to be receptive to the main identified way of stopping fake news from spreading.

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We Generally Prefer Political Allies Who Try To Understand Opponents’ Views

By Emily Reynolds

We often hear that we’re living in an age of polarisation and divisiveness, unable to transcend political boundaries to listen to those who we disagree with. But how do we feel about those people who share our views but who seek to understand opponents anyway?

This is the subject of a new study in Psychological Science, authored by the University of British Columbia’s Gordon Heltzel and Kristin Laurin. They find that while we generally prefer those who seek alternative views, this falters when they appear to be susceptible to changing sides.

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Left-Wing Authoritarianism Is Real And Needs To Be Taken Seriously In Political Psychology, Study Argues

By Emma Young

Authoritarianism has been well-studied by psychologists. Well, right-wing authoritarianism has. In fact, as that’s typically the only type that’s studied, you might be forgiven for thinking that’s what authoritarianism is. The very idea of left-wing authoritarianism (LWA) has received not only little academic attention, but a lot of scepticism from psychologists. “I think I have not found any authoritarians on the left because if there ever were any, most of them have dried up and blown away….” wrote Bob Altemeyer, pioneer of work on right-wing authoritarianism, in 1996.

But as Thomas Costello at Emory University and colleagues write in their new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Processes and Individual Differences, “From Maoist China to the Khmer Rouge (and perhaps even the French Reign of Terror), history abounds with examples of LWA at the broader societal level, rendering psychology’s inability to identify left-wing authoritarians puzzling.”

Puzzling is right. Perhaps predominantly left-leaning researchers have been unwilling to even go there…. But in their new paper, Costello and his colleagues absolutely go there. They conclude that LWA does indeed exist, and they define not only its characteristics but the characteristics of the people who subscribe to it. They also reveal substantial similarities between authoritarians on the political right and the left.

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Negative Media Coverage Of Immigration Leads To Hostility Towards Immigrants And In-Group Favouritism

By Emily Reynolds

The media plays a huge part in shaping our understanding of the world, including how we respond to other people. Coverage of immigration is no different, and previous research has suggested that even subtle changes in language and framing can change the way people think about immigrants.

A new study, published in Scientific Reports, looks at the real life impact of negative media portrayals of immigrants. It finds that negative coverage can increase hostility towards immigrants and favouritism towards members of the non-immigrant in-group — which can have serious financial, emotional and social consequences for communities.

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