Political conservatives in the United States are somewhat like East Asians in the way they think, categorize and perceive. Liberals in the U.S. could be categorized as extreme Americans in thought, categorization and perception. That is the gist of a new University of Virginia cultural psychology study, published recently in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Additionally, the study indicates that thought styles – whether analytical or holistic – can be changed through training, enough so to temporarily change political thought and the way a person might vote.
“We found in our study that liberals and conservatives think as if they were from completely different cultures – almost as different as East and West,” said study leader Thomas Talhelm, a U.Va. doctoral candidate in cultural psychology. “Liberals and conservatives categorize and perceive things differently, just as East Asians and Westerners look differently at the world.”
According to Talhelm, political conservatives in the United States, generally, and East Asians, particularly, are intuitive or “holistic” thinkers, while Westerners, generally, and American liberals, in particular, are more analytical thinkers.
Liberals and conservatives see the world differently and think differently, even across cultures.
Daniel Kahneman has discussed these sorts of thinking, Fast and Slow. Fast is required for making quick decisions needed to survive a threatening environment. It is rules-based, intuitive. But also unable to easily deal with complex systems.
Slow requires deeper analysis, taking more time and energy. It is not something that works well when the tiger is in front of you but absolutely required for dealing with complex systems.
Fast is best for dealing with a dangerous world, but can fall apart when the cultural environment is changing rapidly. Old rules may no longer work.
Slower thinking is better for understanding how to deal with a changing environment But takes much more time to discern the best new rules.
Humans can use either but seem to naturally default to a specific type.
Here we find that supposed political attitudes fall under this, with conservatives being more rules-based, intutiove and users of fast thinking.while liberals are more analytical using System 2.
Now, the study indicates that what we call politics is malleable, which makes sense since what is called a conservative or liberal based on political views changes with time.
They discovered that if they trained holistic thinkers to think analytically, for example, to match scarf with mitten, they would subsequently start viewing the world more liberally (though not on economic policy). Likewise, liberals, if trained to think holistically, would come to form more conservative opinions.
It does support something that people have connected with conservatives and liberals – conservatives generally see the world as a dangerous place, one to be fearful of. Liberals… not so much.
Someone who sees the world as extremely dangerous would use fast, intuitive, System 1 thinking a lot. It would be a survival trait.
But, given the correct approaches, people can be provided the support for using System 2 thinking. And when they do, they see the world as less dangerous, drop into analytical thinking and act more liberally in their actions.
It does not change their views on economic issues but does seem to change their views on social ones.
Which is very hopeful as we emerge into a new era of organizing ourselves to fit the new cultural environment we have created.
In a few years, we will have discovered which rules to maintain and which news ones are useful and settle back into a more stable set of social organizations.