Why is the media intent on creating false stereotypes?

While there may be psychological differences between liberals and conservatives, don’t expect Paul B. Farrell’s commentary in the Wall Street Journal to provide any worthwhile insight. To help enlighten his readers, Mr. Farrell points to the following examples of new behavioral research which he believes will increase “our understanding of the “differences” between conservative and liberal thinking and their impact on your investing strategies.” Farrell, Market Watch Wall Street Journal (August 28, 2012). The behavioral studies the article references are pretty obviously flawed. Rather than shed light on the cause of our political differences they create fraudulent stereotypes that have little resemblance to reality.

Honestly, it is hard to image anyone taking this stuff seriously.

According to Farrell, “A study by psychologist Michael Dodd and political scientist John Hibbing at the University of Nebraska ‘found that when viewing a collage of photographs, conservatives’ eyes unconsciously lingered 15% longer on repellent images, such as car wrecks and excrement — suggesting that conservatives are more attuned than liberals to assessing potential threats,’ which might also be why they bet on the NRA and Pentagon.

Controlling or curious? In a study of the contents in the dorm rooms of 76 college students, researchers found ‘conservatives possessed more cleaning and organizational items, such as ironing boards and calendars, confirmation that they are orderly and self-disciplined. Liberals owned more books and travel-related memorabilia, which conforms with previous research suggesting that they are open and novelty-seeking.'” –Farrell, Market Watch Wall Street Journal (August 28, 2012).

I am not a conservative but every other member of my immediate family is. That being said, none of us would be inclined to linger on repellent images. Further, each and every one of us is attuned to assessing potential threats. The difference between us lies in how we see and prioritize threats. Conflict generally arises because we are not always in agreement as to what constitutes a threat. For example, I see living a life without health insurance as perilous while my conservative family members see government involvement in providing health insurance as the bigger threat.

As for the dorm room study, only an ill-informed researcher would consider the contents of a teenager’s room a reliable guide to the psychological differences between adults. College students have yet to experience the world. Having spent the first part of their life under the influence of parents the college experience for most kids is about test driving new ideas. At this point, opinions are not etched in stone and since most dorm room possessions are purchased by parents, the only thing an ironing board proves is that that someone’s mother objects to the rumpled look.

Lets Ditch The Hypocrisy

Republican, George Will, used a recent column “Lets stop trying to encourage healthy habits by taxation” to discuss the supposed impropriety of the US government using its power to encourage healthier food choices. To accomplish this nudge toward good nutrition the government is requiring the food industry to educate consumers by listing calories and ingredients and by making consumption of vast quantities of health threatening foods less cost effective by raising taxes on these items. Mr. Will makes the argument that combating an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is not reason enough to justify government intervention. The essence of his position is that for the government to insist on informed consent or to intentionally create an impediment that inhibits the choice of an adult is both unnecessary and paternalistic because adults understand the risks.

What I find ironic is that Mr. Will seems not to notice the glaring hypocrisy of this position when juxtposed with his blessing of Governor Rick Perry’s informed consent abortion legislation in Texas. How can a logical person be dismayed on the one hand that the government requires the food industry to inform consumers about the health implications of its products and at the same time be perfectly fine with a government mandate that requires doctors to recite a scripted speech regarding the implications of a requested medical procedure? If we are to assume that everyone knows the health risks associated with the consumption of certain foods doesn’t it follow that pregnant women also understand the implications of their choice to terminate?

A mandated transvaginal sonogram and 24 hour waiting period are much better examples of government paternalism than a tax on junk food. It’s not like the federal government is demanding that people get on the scales and then wait a day before purchasing a bag of potato chips. I respond viscerally to the horror of abortion. But I am also concerned with the national epidemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes resulting from diets laden with unhealthy foods marketed by food industry executives who would prefer to keep the public in the dark. Education about causation and risks is an excellent way to help people avoid bad outcomes. Anyone who is an inconsistent apologist for government warnings of risks and repercussions should be suspect. So lets ditch the hypocrisy. One is either for informed consent and government involvement in personal decisions or against it.