This is fascinating stuff. In a new article published in Science this month, researchers from Rice University concluded that political attitudes are predicted by physiological traits. Political Science professor John Alford and his colleagues studied 46 adult individuals with strong political beliefs from Lincoln, Nebraska. Initially, subjects were asked to fill out questionnaires tracking their beliefs, personality traits, and demographic information. Later, they were brought into the lab where they were hooked up to physiological measuring equipment and given a series of tests. In the first test, they were shown photos of threatening images (spiders, bloody faces, and maggots) interspersed with a sequence of other images. They were then shown non-threatening images (bunny, child, bowl of fruit). Their physiological reactions to these stimuli were recorded. The second test involved measuring involuntary responses to startling noises.
The researchers found that strong negative reactions to the threatening images and startling noises correlated with political beliefs characterized by a preference for “socially protective policies” including defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, opposition to pacifism, obedience, warrentless searches, and the Iraq War. On the other hand, people who experienced only mild reactions to the threatening visual and auditory stimuli were much more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control. They concluded, “Political attitudes vary with physiological traits linked to divergent manners of experiencing and processing environmental threats." This may help to explain "both the lack of malleability in the beliefs of individuals with strong political convictions and the associated ubiquity of political conflict.”
Rice University (2008, September 22). Political Attitudes Are Predicted By Physiological Traits, Research Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 09/22/08.