Intolerance of uncertainty modulates brain-to-brain synchrony during politically polarized perception.
ABSTRACT: Political partisans see the world through an ideologically biased lens. What drives political polarization? Although it has been posited that polarization arises because of an inability to tolerate uncertainty and a need to hold predictable beliefs about the world, evidence for this hypothesis remains elusive. We examined the relationship between uncertainty tolerance and political polarization using a combination of brain-to-brain synchrony and intersubject representational similarity analysis, which measured committed liberals' and conservatives' (n = 44) subjective interpretation of naturalistic political video material. Shared ideology between participants increased neural synchrony throughout the brain during a polarizing political debate filled with provocative language but not during a neutrally worded news clip on polarized topics or a nonpolitical documentary. During the political debate, neural synchrony in mentalizing and valuation networks was modulated by one's aversion to uncertainty: Uncertainty-intolerant individuals experienced greater brain-to-brain synchrony with politically like-minded peers and lower synchrony with political opponents-an effect observed for liberals and conservatives alike. Moreover, the greater the neural synchrony between committed partisans, the more likely that two individuals formed similar, polarized attitudes about the debate. These results suggest that uncertainty attitudes gate the shared neural processing of political narratives, thereby fueling polarized attitude formation about hot-button issues.
Project description:People tend to interpret political information in a manner that confirms their prior beliefs, a cognitive bias that contributes to rising political polarization. In this study, we combined functional magnetic resonance imaging with semantic content analyses to investigate the neural mechanisms that underlie the biased processing of real-world political content. We scanned American participants with conservative-leaning or liberal-leaning immigration attitudes while they watched news clips, campaign ads, and public speeches related to immigration policy. We searched for evidence of "neural polarization": activity in the brain that diverges between people who hold liberal versus conservative political attitudes. Neural polarization was observed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), a brain region associated with the interpretation of narrative content. Neural polarization in the DMPFC intensified during moments in the videos that included risk-related and moral-emotional language, highlighting content features most likely to drive divergent interpretations between conservatives and liberals. Finally, participants whose DMPFC activity closely matched that of the average conservative or the average liberal participant were more likely to change their attitudes in the direction of that group's position. Our work introduces a multimethod approach to study the neural basis of political cognition in naturalistic settings. Using this approach, we characterize how political attitudes biased information processing in the brain, the language most likely to drive polarized neural responses, and the consequences of biased processing for attitude change. Together, these results shed light on the psychological and neural underpinnings of how identical information is interpreted differently by conservatives and liberals.
Project description:Moral reframing involves crafting persuasive arguments that appeal to the targets' moral values but argue in favor of something they would typically oppose. Applying this technique to one of the most politically polarizing events-political campaigns-we hypothesized that messages criticizing one's preferred political candidate that also appeal to that person's moral values can decrease support for the candidate. We tested this claim in the context of the 2016 American presidential election. In Study 1, conservatives reading a message opposing Donald Trump grounded in a more conservative value (loyalty) supported him less than conservatives reading a message grounded in more liberal concerns (fairness). In Study 2, liberals reading a message opposing Hillary Clinton appealing to fairness values were less supportive of Clinton than liberals in a loyalty-argument condition. These results highlight how moral reframing can be used to overcome the rigid stances partisans often hold and help develop political acceptance.
Project description:Liberals and conservatives exhibit different cognitive styles and converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs. In particular, a recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure, with liberals showing increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and conservatives showing increased gray matter volume in the in the amygdala. Here, we explore differences in brain function in liberals and conservatives by matching publicly-available voter records to 82 subjects who performed a risk-taking task during functional imaging. Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala. In fact, a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations yields a better fitting model of partisanship than a well-established model based on parental socialization of party identification long thought to be one of the core findings of political science. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.
Project description:The political divide between liberals and conservatives has become quite large and stable, and there appear to be many reasons for disagreements on a wide range of issues. The current research sought to explain these divides and to extend the Uncertainty-Threat Model to intergroup relations, which predicts that more dispositional, perceived-threat and uncertainty-avoidance will be related to more political conservatism. Given that conservatism is also often related to more negativity to low-status groups such as immigrants, the relationship between political ideology and negative attitudes toward immigrants may be mediated by more threat and uncertainty-avoidance. Study 1 tested this mediational hypothesis in a correlational design and showed that both uncertainty-avoidance and perceived realistic and symbolic threat significantly mediated the relationship between political ideology and attitudes toward immigrants, and that perceived threat was the more influential mediator. Study 2 extended threat management to perceived threats from unspecified outgroups, as opposed to the immigrant outgroup, and it replicated all significant mediations. Study 3 replicated the mediations observed in Studies 1 and 2 for political ideology to attitudes toward immigrants with uncertainty-avoidance and perceived threat from immigrants as mediators; it further replicated the mediations to the negative attitudes measure that had been used in Study 2 and it extended it to an objective and indirect bias measure [i.e., Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP)]. Overall, almost all of the results supported the idea that perceived threat and uncertainty-avoidance both mediate the relationship between political ideology and attitudes toward immigrants, and that threat management, as opposed to negativity bias, may be a central concern separating liberals and conservatives. Within all three studies, we also observed more evidence for the Uncertainty-Threat Model predictions than we did for the alternative Extremity Hypothesis, which predicted a quadratic relationship between political ideology and threat and uncertainty, and between political ideology and attitudes toward immigrants.
Project description:Research suggests that liberals and conservatives use different moral foundations to reason about moral issues (moral divide hypothesis). An alternative prediction is that observed ideological differences in moral foundations are instead driven by ingroup-versus-outgroup categorizations of competing political groups (political group conflict hypothesis). In two preregistered experiments (total N = 958), using experimentally manipulated measures of moral foundations, we test strong versions of both hypotheses and find partial support for both. Supporting the moral divide hypothesis, conservatives endorsed the binding foundations more strongly than liberals even when a moderate target group was explicitly specified. Supporting the political group conflict hypothesis, both conservatives and liberals endorsed moral foundations more when moral acts targeted ingroup versus outgroup members. These results have implications for improving measures of moral values and judgments and point to ways to enhance the effectiveness of strategies aimed at building bridges between people from different political camps.
Project description:The tendency to see life as zero-sum exacerbates political conflicts. Six studies (N = 3223) examine the relationship between political ideology and zero-sum thinking: the belief that one party's gains can only be obtained at the expense of another party's losses. We find that both liberals and conservatives view life as zero-sum when it benefits them to do so. Whereas conservatives exhibit zero-sum thinking when the status quo is challenged, liberals do so when the status quo is being upheld. Consequently, conservatives view social inequalities-where the status quo is frequently challenged-as zero-sum, but liberals view economic inequalities-where the status quo has remained relatively unchallenged in past decades-as such. Overall, these findings suggest potentially important ideological differences in perceptions of conflict-differences that are likely to have implications for understanding political divides in the United States and the difficulty of reaching bipartisan legislation.
Project description:Given research revealing conservatives are more sensitive to disease threat, it is curious that U.S. conservatives were less concerned than liberals with the COVID-19 pandemic. Across four studies that spanned almost ten months throughout the pandemic, we evaluated three potential reasons why conservatives were less concerned: (1) Motivated Political reasons (conservatives held COVID-specific political beliefs that motivated them to reduce concern), (2) Experiential reasons (conservatives were less directly affected by the outbreak than liberals), and (3) Conservative Messaging reasons (differential exposure to/trust in partisan conservative messaging). All four studies consistently showed evidence that political (and not experiential or partisan messaging) reasons more strongly mediated conservatives' lack of concern for COVID-19. Additional analyses further suggested that while they did not serve as strong mediators, experiential factors provided a boundary condition for the conservatism➔perceived threat relationship. These data on over 3000 participants are consistent with a new model of the ideology-disease outbreak interface that can be applied to both the ongoing pandemic and future disease outbreaks.
Project description:Conservatives are more sensitive to threatening/anxious situations in perceptual and cognitive levels, experiencing emotional responses and stress, while liberals are more responsive to but tolerant of ambiguous and uncertain information. Interestingly, conservatives have greater psychological well-being and are more satisfied with their lives than liberals despite their psychological vulnerability to stress caused by threat and anxiety sensitivities. We investigated whether conservatives have greater resilience and self-regulation capacity, which are suggested to be psychological buffers that enhance psychological well-being, than liberals and moderates. We also explored associations between intrinsic functional brain organization and these psychological resources to expand our neurobiological understanding of self-regulatory processes in neuropolitics. We found that conservatives, compared to liberals and moderates, had greater psychological resilience and self-regulation capacity that were attributable to greater impulse control and causal reasoning. Stronger intrinsic connectivities between the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and precuneus and between the insula and frontal pole/OFC in conservatives were correlated with greater resilience and self-regulation capacity. These results suggest the neural underpinnings that may allow conservatives to manage the psychological stress and achieve greater life satisfaction. This study provides neuroscientific evidence for the different responses of liberals and conservatives to politically relevant social issues.
Project description:Conservatives and liberals have previously been shown to differ in the propensity to view socially-transmitted information about hazards as more plausible than that concerning benefits. Given differences between conservatives and liberals in threat sensitivity and dangerous-world beliefs, correlations between political orientation and negatively-biased credulity may thus reflect endogenous mindsets. Alternatively, such results may owe to the political hierarchy at the time of previous research, as the tendency to see dark forces at work is thought to be greater among those who are out of political power. Adjudicating between these accounts can inform how societies respond to the challenge of alarmist disinformation campaigns. We exploit the consequences of the 2016 U.S. elections to test these competing explanations of differences in negatively-biased credulity and conspiracism as a function of political orientation. Two studies of Americans reveal continued positive associations between conservatism, negatively-biased credulity, and conspiracism despite changes to the power structure in conservatives' favor.
Project description:The current political discourse in the United States focuses on extreme political polarization as a contributor to ills ranging from government shutdowns to awkward family holidays. And indeed, a large body of research has documented differences between liberals and conservatives-primarily focused on Republicans and Democrats in the United States. We combine large international surveys and more fine-grained surveys of United States citizens to compare differences in opinion between Republicans and Democrats to the full range of world opinion on moral issues (N = 37,653 in 39 countries) and issues of free speech (N = 40,786 in 38 countries). When viewed in the full distribution, polarization between Democrats and Republicans appears relatively small, even on divisive issues such as abortion, sexual preference, and freedom of religious speech. The average Democrat-Republic overlap is greater than 70% of the country pair overlaps across eight moral issues, meaning that 70% of the country pairs are more dissimilar from each other than Democrats and Republicans are dissimilar; similarly, the average Democrat-Republic overlap is greater than 79% of the country pair overlaps across five freedom of speech issues. These results suggest that cross-cultural comparisons are useful for putting differences between political partisans within the same country in context.