Political views ‘all in the mind’

Scientists studying voters in the US say our political views may be an integral part of our physical makeup.

Their research, published in the journal Science, indicates that people who are sensitive to fear or threat are likely to support a right wing agenda.

Those who perceived less danger in a series of images and sounds were more inclined to support liberal policies.

The authors believe their findings may help to explain why voters’ minds are so hard to change.

In the study, conducted in Nebraska, 46 volunteers were first asked about their political views on issues ranging from foreign aid and the Iraq war to capital punishment and patriotism.

Those with strong opinions were invited to take part in the second part of the experiment, which involved recording their physiological responses to a series of images and sounds.

The images included pictures of a frightened man with a large spider on his face and an open wound with maggots in it. The subjects were also startled with loud noises on occasion.

Conducting experiments

By measuring the electrical conductance of the volunteers’ skin and their blink responses, the scientists were able to work out the degree of fear they were experiencing – how sensitive they were to the images and sounds.

They found that subjects who were more easily startled tended to have political views that would be classified as more right wing, being more in favour of capital punishment and higher defence spending, but opposed to abortion rights.

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