Lifestyle & Belief

Study: the less you think, the more conservative you get


A visitor looks at the sculpture “The Thinker” by French sculptor Auguste Rodin at Beijing's World Art Museum in May, 2006.

Is being reactionary really a matter of well… being reactionary?

According to a new psychological study, there may be a link between social conservatism and reacting without thinking too much.

The study (PDF) studied the responses of people who were consuming alcohol, who were distracted or who placed under time pressure and found that in each case, burdens on thinking increased conservatism.

The authors conclude that there may be a link between what they call “low-effort thought” and political conservatism.

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“Emphasis on personal responsibility, acceptance of hierarchy, and preference for the status quo are linked to fast and efficient ways of processing information,” the authors write. The study was authored by Scott Eidelman and John Blanchar of the University of Arkansas as well as Christian Crandall of the University of Kansas and Jeffrey Goodman of the University of Wisconsin.

Participants in one test were asked to use a tool known as the Social Attitudes Statement Scale. On a scale of one to seven, with seven meaning “strongly agree,” participants were asked to say how much they agreed with statements such as “Large fortunes should be taxed fairly heavily over and above income taxes” or “A first consideration of any society is the protection of property rights.”

In a written statement, Eidelman, the lead author, said: “People endorse conservative ideology more when they have to give a first or fast response. […] 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.”

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Eidelman reiterated this point when speaking to The Huffington Post.

"Our research shows that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism, not that political conservatives use low-effort thinking,” he was quoted as saying.