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).

Every member of my immediate family is conservative and, none of  them would be inclined to linger on repellent images.  I think most humans are 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 the bigger threat. For example, progressives see a lack of socialized medicine as a perilous situation while conservatives see government involvement in health insurance as threat to quality healthcare.

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

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 is requiring the food industry to inform consumers about the health implications of its products and at the same time be perfectly fine with a government mandating a transvaginal sonogram and requiring 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?

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 related to abortion and unhealthy foods are both excellent ways to help people avoid undesirable outcomes.