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Recent Study Suggests Conservatives Are Less Thoughtful

When people use low-effort thought they are more likely to endorse conservative ideology, suggests psychologist Scott Eidelman of the University of Arkansas, author of a newly published four-part study titled "Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism."

"People endorse conservative ideology more when they have to give a first or fast response," Eidelman said in an article published by his university. "This low-effort thinking seems to favor political conservatism, suggesting that it may be our default ideology. To be clear, we are not saying that conservatives think lightly."

Ideology, whether conservative or liberal, is a product of a variety of influences, including goals, values and personal experiences, however, when people have no particular goal in mind, their initial cognitive response seems to be conservative, Eidelman said.

To get to this conclusion researchers analyzed a sample of adults in various settings creating thought distraction -- in the first study, in a bar, alcohol intoxication was measured among bar patrons and "as blood alcohol level increased, so did political conservatism (controlling for sex, education, and political identification)." In the second study, "participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than their no-load counterparts." In the third study, "time pressure increased participants' endorsement of conservative terms," and in the fourth study, "participants considering political terms in a cursory manner endorsed conservative terms more than those" asked to ponder the terms more deeply.

"Together these data suggest that political conservatism may be a process consequence of low-effort thought; when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases," the study briefing reads. Researchers stressed that their results should not be interpreted to suggest that conservatives are not thoughtful.

"Everyone uses low-effort thinking, and this may have ideological consequences," they write. "Motivational factors are crucial determinants of ideology, aiding or correcting initial responses depending on one's goals, beliefs and values. Our perspective suggests that these initial and uncorrected responses lean conservative."

Conservatives who may feel slighted by the study might also consider a 2010 study that suggested conservative thinkers know incomparably more about economics.

For a 2010 Zogby International survey, researchers Zeljka Buturovic and Daniel Klein analyzed 4,835 American adults belonging to various political realms (progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian) by asking them questions about basic economics. Looking at which respondents got their questions wrong, the best-to-worst results turned out to be: Very conservative, 1.30; Libertarian, 1.38; Conservative, 1.67; Moderate, 3.67; Liberal, 4.69; Progressive/very liberal, 5.26., as Klein wrote in a blog for The Wall Street Journal.  

The American left "has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics," the economist wrote. The left did "much worse" on every question. On one of them, about monopoly, "the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (31%) was more than twice that of conservatives (13%) and more than four times that of libertarians (7%). On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61%) was more than four times that of conservatives (13%) and almost three times that of libertarians (21%)."

As far as political affiliation, the Democratic respondents averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect.

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