jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

The Yale Political Experiment

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Yale asked participants in the study to imagine a magic genie and being given either the power to fly, or complete physical invulnerability.

But if they had instead just imagined being completely physically safe, the Republicans became significantly more liberal — their positions on social attitudes were much more like the Democratic respondents. And on the issue of social change in general, the Republicans’ attitudes were now indistinguishable from the Democrats. Imagining being completely safe from physical harm had done what no experiment had done before — it had turned conservatives into liberals.

In both instances, we had manipulated a deeper underlying reason for political attitudes, the strength of the basic motivation of safety and survival. The boiling water of our social and political attitudes, it seems, can be turned up or down by changing how physically safe we feel.

I haven’t read the study, so I can’t vouch for it completely, but this rings true to me. Why do they need guns? Because they are afraid of being harmed. Why do they not want immigrants? Because they are afraid of their way of life changing. Why do they not want social change? Because they are afraid of the unknown. Understandable, given the sources of information.