Over the last few years I've heard about several studies exploring why liberals and conservatives seem to think differently. One study suggested that conservatives are often happier than liberals. My interpretation wa s that conservatives tend to believe that social success is a result of merit, therefore social inequalities show a lack of hard work or ability, while "bleeding heart" liberals fret over such things.
Another recent article that received attention in the media associated uncertainty and threat management with ideological extremism or extreme forms of conservatism. This followed up an an earlier work that showed people traumatized by 9/11 were likely to become more conservative.
A liberal friend of mine forwarded this abstract to me last year:
Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism
David M Amodio, John T Jost, Sarah L Master & Cindy M Yee
Nature Neuroscience 10, 1246 - 1247 (2007)
Political scientists and psychologists have noted that, on average, conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty. We tested the hypothesis that these profiles relate to differences in general neurocognitive functioning using event-related potentials, and found that greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern.
It turns out a lot of the articles over the past few years exploring differences in liberal/conservative thinking were co-authored by John T. Jost. Check out his webpage at: http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/
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