It's Science: Conservatives and Liberals Really Are Pretty Different. Here's How...

| APR 13, 2015 | 6:36 PM

With a presidential election on the horizon, maybe we should try to figure out what makes each side of the political aisle tick. Knowing what someone else cares about, instead of just lobbing insults on message boards, can sometimes help you land on something close to understanding.

A social psychologist named Jonathan Haidt has spent the bulk of his career trying to figure out what motivates both conservatives and liberals. He's uncovered some interesting points, which have been published in a book called “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.”

According to Haidt's research, there are five things people care about:

  1. avoidance of harm
  2. fairness
  3. loyalty
  4. authority
  5. sanctity

Conservatives care about all five in equal measure and liberals care about only the first two. Here is a quote from the book, as transcribed by The American Conservative:

“It’s as though conservatives can hear five octaves of music, but liberals respond to just two, within which they have become particularly discerning."

Image Credit: Twitter / @MedianMerican
Twitter / @MedianMerican

There is also a sixth term, which both sides care about in equal measure: liberty. However, conservatives and liberals see the word as meaning two completely different things, according to the author.

Conservatives tend to view liberty as the notion of being left alone to pursue happiness in whatever way they choose. Liberals tend to view it as the act of creating a level playing field for society's most vulnerable individuals.

There have been dozens of studies that produced similar findings, concluding that conservatives and liberals are different, even apart from their political leanings.

A scientist named John Jost recently published a paper on the subject:

“There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different.”

It’s not all bad, according to Haidt’s research; people on both sides of the political spectrum like their dogs to be clean. We aren’t so different, after all.

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