The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

37° Stony Brook, NY
The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Weird Science: Of Politics and Physiology

    We reintroduce ‘Weird Science’ with some political infusion in wake of the upcoming elections. A recent study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) has found a novel link between physiology and politics.

    The researchers, whose work was featured in the Sept. 19 issue of Science, found that subjects who felt most threatened by certain visual images were more likely to have strong political opinions. The 46 individuals studied were controlled for their age, gender and income.

    The study found that those who were exposed to images of a dazed, bloody face, an open maggot-filled wound and spiders crawling on someone’s eyeballs, generated the most electrical conductivity. This indicated emotion, arousal and attention among other factors. These individuals held support for public policies that were willing to forego individual privacy for social protection.

    Another study tested for audible reactions by measuring the startling and blinking response to spontaneous, jarring sounds.

    John Hibbing, one of the researchers and a professor of political science at UNL, defined the ‘protective policies’ in a National Science Foundation (NSF) review as ‘more defense spending, more government resources directed at fighting terrorism and tighter controls on immigration.’

    He further explained that ‘[p]eople in this group are more willing to sacrifice a little of their privacy to protect the social unit. On the other hand, the subjects who reacted less strongly to the stimuli were more likely to favor policies that protect privacy and encourage gun control.’

    Those who reacted more strongly to the audio-visual stimuli consider their proximate humans to pose the greatest threat to the community. Thus, they seek to arm themselves against these individuals and to persuade the government to take a proactive role in dealing with this.

    On the other hand, those who reacted less strongly to the audio-visual stimuli feel more threatened by technology and inanimate objects, such as guns. Thus, they prefer to enact policies that protect the individual’s right to privacy and safety, by opposing death penalty and favoring gun control.

    Hibbing probably put it best when he explained the gist of the purpose: ‘Maybe liberals and conservatives have difficulty understanding the views of the other side in part because they experience threats differently. Perhaps by recognizing these differences, tolerance of diverse political opinions could be facilitated.’

    Besides shedding light on the recent civic reaction politics, the study’s significance comes through in the words of NSF Program Officer, Brian Humes, who claims that the discovery of the link between the sources of political preferences to biological mechanisms was performed ‘in a nuanced sense by stressing both the importance of environment and genetics. This linkage is one that could easily transform the manner in which political scientists and social scientists see the origins of preferences.’

    Hibbing, among his fellow researchers, recognizes that environmental factors among others could dictate the results. But the clearly observable difference in reactions to the treated stimuli was inriguing enough to warrant the study. In fact, NSF has provided his team with additional funding to increase the scope so as to include those with little to no opinion on protective policies.

    Leave a Comment
    Donate to The Statesman

    Your donation will support the student journalists of Stony Brook University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The Statesman

    Comments (0)

    All The Statesman Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *