Psychology Should Stay Away From Partisan Politics – For About 15 Years

Ben Hayden raises a great cause for concern about the growing literature in political attitude and neuroscience. I’ve written about Liberal vs Conservative studies and the neuroscience associated with them, and I too, feel they have an unfair tone about them.  The question, whether folks with a liberal or conservative attitude have predictable neurological markers, is a brilliant one. Like Dr. Hayden, I think that with the manner these studies have been publicized and sensationalized, there is a risk to the scientific enterprise at large.

For review, the Amodio’s 2007 paper that made the first sensationalist headlines reporte that “greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern”. Liberals are cognitively adaptable, and conservatives are driven by fear and less flexible. 

The problem that Bill Hayden and I have identified, is that these research results have a certain appeal, so they make it to the newspaper all the time. And when they do, they need to be simplified to appeal to readers. The study’s conclusion is simply too sensational, and the casual reader will not achieve an appreciation for what went into validating the science. Then again, the casual reader doesn’t really care about that kind of thing, I guess… The fact of the matter is that people doing this kind of research are playing with live ammunition, and they need to manage the way the research is presented to the public with much more care, and sensitivity. One of my objectives in blogging is to help dissect sensational headlines and tease out the valid science within them. 

Read the original article from Bill Hayden of Psychology Today


In case you have missed it, one of the big fads in academic psychology at the moment is the move to find the psychological predictors of political attitudes.

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