If there is one subject which fascinates academics more than any other, it is why are they so smart and the rest of the populace not. Although there is no research to back this up—which there must be, because according to academic custom research is the only path to knowledge (research says this must be so)—academics do not so much question their own superiority (which is a given) but they wonder why others do.
Our latest peer-reviewed story comes from Scott Eidelman and others who penned the article, “Low-Effort thought promotes political conservatism” in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Eidelman wondered wondered, well he wondered just what the title says, whether “low-effort thought promotes political conservatism.” The unstated, but surely clear, implication is that high-effort thought, such as the kind of deep pondering that courses through the minds of academics like Eidelman, promotes political leftism.
Our researchers conducted three plus one experiments:
In Study 1, alcohol intoxication was measured among bar patrons; as blood alcohol level increased, so did political conservatism (controlling for sex, education, and political identification). In Study 2, participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than their no-load counterparts. In Study 3, time pressure increased participantsâ€™ endorsement of conservative terms. In Study 4 participants considering political terms in a cursory manner endorsed conservative terms more than those asked to cogitate; an indicator of effortful thought (recognition memory) partially mediated the relationship between processing effort and conservatism. Together these data suggest that political conservatism may be a process consequence of low-effort thought; when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases.
To summarize: drunks are more likely to vote for Mitt Romney, as are the stressed and the unreflective.
Conservatism they define as “Emphasis on personal responsibility, acceptance of hierarchy, and preference for the status quo.” Sharp political observers (of any party) will understand that personal responsibility is one thing with which progressives are not comfortable. Better to let those who know better (and know more) decide matters of real importance. By “acceptance of hierarchy” they mean whatever is customary: adherence to the hierarchy progressives wish to impose would not count towards conservatism. And the same for the status quo.
For their first study, they went to a bar and watched people drink and get drunk. Eighty-five folks “participated without remuneration” (they had to pay for their own drinks!). Now, although none of the authors is from there, the bar chosen was in New England. Why is that? One has the idea that this “research” was conducted during a visit to a conference, sponsored perhaps by some Massachusetts college. This is important when we attempt to understand the prevailing attitudes of the citizenry before alcohol loosened their lips.
Hold that in mind (use high-effort thinking) and consider that the imbibers were asked to answer ten questions on a “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” scale like “Production and trade should be free of government interference” and “Ultimately, privately property should be abolished.”
Eidelman never tells us the ages of the drinkers, though we do learn they are college educated. In New England. Eidelman did not ask people the ten questions then get them drunk and then ask them the questions again. No, sir. Instead, he asked people to puff into a breathalyzer and then answer the questions: their degree of drunkenness was taken as their blood alcohol content (BAC).
To determine whether BAC was related to political conservatism, we regressed the 10-item conservatism index on participants’ self-identification as liberal/conservative, sex (0 = male; 1 = female), level of education, and BAC. Consistent with predictions, BAC was a significant predictor of political conservatism, beta = .21, t(82) = 2.40, p < .02…
Because alcohol limits cognitive capacity and disrupts controlled responding, while leaving automatic thinking largely intact (e.g., Bartholow et al., 2006), these data are consistent with our claim that low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism.
Well, the p-value has it, of course. The “conservatism index” was a sum of the ten questions. Limitations? The only one Eidelman admits is “the possibility of reverse causality remains—political conservatives may drink more alcohol.” And well they might, too, especially in New England.
The real meat is in Eidelman’s admission, “As BAC increased and capacity for deliberative thought decreased, liberal and conservative participants shifted toward conservatism.” Now our researchers interpreted this to mean that mental incapacity induces conservatism. But it’s also possible, and surely more likely, that his casual, non-methodological sample of drunk bar patrons is useless; that is, that it misleads him.
And even more possible is the theory that alcohol reduces inhibitions. A student crawling to a morning Harvard class might well intone that private property should be abolished; she might even be a member of the LGBT-(add letters to suit your tastes) Alliance. But get her down to the bar and pour some Tennessee sippin’ whiskey down her gullet and then you start to hear what she really believes.
The other three studies are all subject to the same criticism. That when drunk, stressed, etc. people tell you what they truly think. Our researchers do admit that “It is quite likely that well-rehearsed, habitual political positions are unaffected by load, alcohol, or distraction” but they do not recognize what this implies for their results.
However, and in a generous tone, they close with
Low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism. This claim provides a counterweight to early psychological perspectives on political ideology that tended to see conservatism in somewhat pathological terms (Adorno et al., 1950).
Admitting to liking private property thus might not be a pathology. Conservatives rejoice.