Why voters value loyalty over honesty in politics

Researchers at Cornell found through new experiments that people will overlook dishonesty if it benefits them and the group they identify with.

Why voters value loyalty over honesty in politics
  • New studies suggest that in competitive settings, group loyalty leads to group members displaying more dishonest tendencies.
  • Research at Cornell found that there is a fundamental link between dishonesty and loyalty when it comes to group think.
  • Dishonesty in politics which is an ever-present and timeless aspect is most likely due to this phenomenon.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you're on, there is bound to be someone complaining about how the other side is horrible or they're slanderous liars. This vitriol and heart felt damnation for the other team is nothing new. In politics we've always tended to group together with other like-minded individuals even in the event that it goes too far.

Recent research out of Cornell proposes that we really aren't that adverse to lying as we proclaim to be. Especially if the lies told benefit our side or whatever group we propose to belong to.

Comedian George Carlin once quipped that, "If honesty were suddenly introduced to politics, it would throw everything off — the whole system would collapse."

Carlin said this during the Clinton administration and as you might have guessed it, things haven't changed much... Lies, untruth or whatever doublespeak the holier-than-thou crowd wants to fling at their opposing side need to realize one thing — they're all liars to some degree.

Merits of the dishonesty study 

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Angus Hildreth, Cornell's management professor, set up an experiment to explore the tumultuous relationship between truthfulness or lackthereof and loyalty. Hildreth and his team selected groups of random students, fraternity brothers and other volunteers then asked them to solve a number of puzzles and word games.

The rules of the game were simple. If the team performed well on these tasks, then the whole team would make more money.

The subjects were able to self report and then lie about puzzles they didn't complete. Though they didn't know that the researchers were able to tell if they were lying. Some failed or incomplete worksheets were dug out of the trash or the researchers intentionally gave them impossible puzzles.

Throughout the study, the team was encouraged and often felt righteous about their lying in the event that it benefitted themselves and their group.

Later on when these subjects pledged loyalty to a group to face off against other teams, it was found that more than 60 percent of people lied. Those who pledged loyalty but weren't inspired by competition against other groups lied less at 15 to 20 percent.

Political takeaways from the study

Researchers felt that loyalty was the cause of a lot of political corruption. They stated that:

Loyalty often drives corruption. Corporate scandals, political machinations, and sports cheating highlight how loyalty's pernicious nature manifests in collusion, conspiracy, cronyism, nepotism, and other forms of cheating.

But at the same time loyalty is a fundamental and ethical principle, which drives a lot of our behavior. Even so, the results and hypotheses proved that it was an implicit factor when it came to lying.

Across nine studies, we found that individuals primed with loyalty cheated less than those not primed (Study 1A and 1B). Members more loyal to their fraternities (Study 2A) and students more loyal to their study groups (Study 2B) also cheated less than their less loyal counterparts due to greater ethical salience when they pledged their loyalty (Studies 3A and 3B). Importantly, competition moderated these effects: when competition was high, members more loyal to their fraternities (Study 4) or individuals primed with loyalty (Studies 5A and 5B) cheated more.

Competition, which is the name of the game in the political realm, will always breed lying discontent between factions.

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Urban foxes self-evolve, exhibiting Darwin’s domestication syndrome

A new study finds surprising evidence of the self-evolution of urban foxes.

A fox at the door of 10 Downing Street on Janurary 13, 2015.

Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A study from the University of Glasgow finds urban foxes evolved differently compared to rural foxes.
  • The skulls of the urban foxes are adapted to scavenging for food rather than hunting it.
  • The evolutionary changes correspond to Charles Darwin's "domestication syndrome."

How much can living in the city change you? If you were an urban fox, you could be evolving yourself to a whole new stage and becoming more like a dog, according to a fascinating new study.

Researchers compared skulls from rural foxes around London with foxes who lived inside the city and found important variations. Rural foxes showed adaptation for speed and hunting after quick, small prey, while urban fox skulls exhibited changes that made it easier for them to scavenge, looking through human refuse for food, rather than chasing it. Their snouts were shorter and stronger, making it easier to open packages and chew up leftovers. They also have smaller brains, not meant for hunting but for interacting with stationary food sources, reports Science magazine.

Interestingly, there was much similarity found between the male and female skulls of the urban foxes.

The observed changes correspond to what Charles Darwin called the "domestication syndrome," comprised of traits that go along with an animal's transition from being wild, to tamed, to domesticated.

The study was led by Kevin Parsons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Glasgow.

"What's really fascinating here is that the foxes are doing this to themselves," Parsons told the BBC. "This is the result of foxes that have decided to live near people, showing these traits that make them look more like domesticated animals."

The researchers are not suggesting you should go out and get a fox as a house-pet just yet. But they are seeing the evolutionary process taking place that's moving the urban foxes along the path towards becoming more like dogs and cats, explained the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London on May 14, 2020.

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

"Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today," said Kitchener. "So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication."

The specimen came from the National Museum Scotland's collection of around 1,500 fox skulls.

You can read the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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A fox at the LV County Championship, Division two match between Surrey and Derbyshire at The Brit Oval on April 9, 2010 in London, England.

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