Conservatives and liberals have similar physiological responses to threats

Abstract

About a decade ago, a study documented that conservatives have stronger physiological responses to threatening stimuli than liberals. This work launched an approach aimed at uncovering the biological roots of ideology. Despite wide-ranging scientific and popular impact, independent laboratories have not replicated the study. We conducted a pre-registered direct replication (n = 202) and conceptual replications in the United States (n = 352) and the Netherlands (n = 81). Our analyses do not support the conclusions of the original study, nor do we find evidence for broader claims regarding the effect of disgust and the existence of a physiological trait. Rather than studying unconscious responses as the real predispositions, alignment between conscious and unconscious responses promises deeper insights into the emotional roots of ideology.

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Fig. 1: Assessment of a latent threat sensitivity dimension.
Fig. 2: Associations between threat sensitivity and social and economic conservatism.

Data availability

The data reported in this paper and in the Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Results can be found on our public OSF page at https://osf.io/d5g72/.

Code availability

The analysis codes for both the aggregate data and each individual replication, as well as the results reported in the Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Results can be found on our public OSF page at https://osf.io/d5g72/.

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Acknowledgements

We thank K. Smith, J. Hibbing, M. Hibbing and the other authors of Oxley et al.1 for support of this project and for providing the original stimuli used in direct replication. We also thank N. Anspach, M. Boyer, J. Jennings, S. Kunst, A. M. Alvarez, E. Fried, I. Rebasso and D. van de Wetering for assistance during the data collection. M. Brandt, J. Bullock, J. Crawford, C. Dawes, C. Federico, S. Feldman, J. Fowler, C. Johnston, J. Jost, L. Laustsen, Y. Lelkes, M. Bang Petersen, J. Mansell, M. Osmundsen, V. Parma, K. Smith, S. Soroka, B. Spruyt, M. Tessler and J. Tybur, as well as panellists at the American Political Science Association meeting (2018), Midwest Political Science Association meeting (2017), Dutch Political Psychology meeting, University of Mannheim, Free University Amsterdam, Politicologenetmaal (2018), Amsterdam School of Communication Research, Amsterdam Interdisciplinary Centre for Emotion and Hot Politics Lab, provided helpful comments and suggestions during this project. This research was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 750443 (B.N.B.), the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 759079 (G.S.), the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (B.N.B.) and the Behavioral Foundations Laboratory at Temple University (K.A.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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B.N.B. and K.A. designed the study and contributed to data collection, analyses and write-up. G.S. contributed to the analyses and write-up. C.G. contributed to the data collection and write-up.

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Correspondence to Bert N. Bakker.

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Bakker, B.N., Schumacher, G., Gothreau, C. et al. Conservatives and liberals have similar physiological responses to threats. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0823-z

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