February 10, 2013

Conservatives fear minorities

Tendency to fear is strong political influence

Fear can play a role in influencing political attitudes on hot-button issues like immigration, according to new research co-authored by Brown political scientist Rose McDermott. The study, published in the American Journal of Political Science, shows that individuals who are genetically predisposed to fear tend to have more negative out-group opinions, which play out politically as support for policies like anti-immigration and segregation.The research indicates a strong correlation between social fear and anti-immigration, pro-segregation attitudes. While those individuals with higher levels of social fear exhibited the strongest negative out-group attitudes, even the lowest amount of social phobia was related to substantially less positive out-group attitudes.

“It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative. People who are scared of novelty, uncertainty, people they don’t know, and things they don’t understand, are more supportive of policies that provide them with a sense of surety and security,” McDermott said.

The researchers make clear, however, that genetics plays only part of the role in influencing political preferences. Education, they found, had an equally large influence on out-group attitudes, with more highly educated people displaying more supportive attitudes toward out-groups and education having a substantial mediating influence on the correlation between parental fear and child out-group attitudes.

“In this way, the definition of unfamiliar may shift across time and location based on experience and education, and a genetically informed fear disposition is hardly permanent or fixed,” the researchers wrote.
Comment:  I'm not sure it matters which came first: the conservative beliefs or the fear of minorities ("out-groups"). The fact is that there's a "strong correlation" between the two.

In other words, the research confirms what many of us have been saying for years. Namely, that conservative antipathy toward blacks, Latinos, Indians, Muslims, gays, et al. is motivated by fear.

For more on conservative racism, see Whiteness Defines Others as Outsiders and White Men Lose to Demographic Change.

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:


Are Republican brains different?

For Democrats, the region of the brain with the most activity was the left posterior insula, a region that is associated with processing emotions and understanding what other people are thinking or feeling. The region is sometimes called the “theory of the mind,” and it’s the part of one’s brain that allows you to estimate, for example, what your friend, partner or even a stranger may be thinking by imagining yourself in their shoes, so to speak.

For Republicans, the region of the brain that was most active during risky behavior was the right amygdala. This region of the brain is primarily responsible for producing fear, although it can also create anticipation of reward. It’s the part of the brain that teenagers often rely on to make decisions, one of the reasons that teens are more impulsive and aggressive than adults.