We often treat individuals’ political views, as evidenced by how we have political discussions, as the result of a rational, side-by-side comparison of political party ‘x’ and political party ‘y’. But increasingly, culminating in a new study in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, researchers find that “liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics.” A basic personality difference is illustrative: conservatives tend to have a “negativity bias,” meaning they are more attuned to the threatening stimuli in their environment.
What’s the Big Idea?
A strong negativity bias may roots in our evolutionary past, say researchers, when existential threats were more prevalent in our everyday environment. However, constantly responding to threats against one’s well-being often results in a more contended lifestyle. Matt Motyl of the University of Virginia and Ravi Iyer of the University of Southern California note that “successfully monitoring and attending negative features of the environment, as conservatives tend to do, may be just the sort of tractable task…that is more likely to lead to a fulfilling and happy life than is a constant search for new experience after new experience.”