A Yale psychologist claims that new research provides additional insight into why people hold the political stances that they do. Previously, researchers only had a strong understanding of how to sway liberals into being more conservative during their experiments. Now, John Bargh, a Yale psychology professor, believes he knows how to make conservatives more liberal too.
As reported by Business Insider, Bargh’s new book, “Before You Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do,” outlines what he’s discovered.
Bargh wrote, “Research has shown that you can make liberals more conservative by threatening them and making them somewhat afraid.”
Multiple studies have demonstrated that when social scientists take individuals with liberal-leaning tendencies and have them think about their own death or have them consider situations where they would feel threatened, some of the subjects adopt a more conservative mindset.
This concept was demonstrated after 9/11 when researchers identified a “very strong conservative shift” in the mindset of Americans after the attack. This includes more liberals being in support of Republican President George W. Bush and being in favor of increased military spending, a viewpoint typically associated with conservatives.
A 2003 review of research associated with the shift stated, “People embrace political conservatism (at least in part) because it serves to reduce fear, anxiety, and uncertainty; to avoid change, disruption, and ambiguity; and to explain, order, and justify inequality among groups and individuals.”
Researchers have typically found that it is more challenging to sway self-identified conservatives to assume a more liberal stance during experiments. However, Bargh identified two such research ventures that appeared to make conservatives more liberal, at least temporarily.
Research participants were asked to imagine they were invincible, similar to having the powers of Superman. This included the assertion that bullets would bounce off of them, that they couldn’t be burned in a fire, and “a fall from a cliff wouldn’t hurt at all.” The control group was told to imagine they had the power of flight, but nothing more.
After assuming this new viewpoint, the participants were asked to weigh in on various political statements, such as whether they “would be reluctant to make any large-scale changes to social order” or if “it’s okay if some groups have more of a chance in life than others.”
While liberals’ views on the issues remained unchanged, the conservatives who were told to imagine being invincible began displaying more liberal tendencies in regards to social issues, though not on economic ones. The control group, who was only told they could fly, exhibited no such changes in stance.
Participants in Bargh’s research didn’t necessarily maintain their new viewpoints after the experiments were complete.
Bargh asserts that various unconscious influences play a prominent role in how the mind “responds to modern life” including “who you vote for.” He also wrote that people “don’t fully understand why we do what we do all of the time.”
“We have one mind, and it can operate consciously and unconsciously,” said Bargh, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He believes that our unconscious mind is generally “on our side” and helps people get through each day without having to reason one’s way through every decision.
Bargh states that the research outlined in his book is the first experiment that shows when people are made to feel entirely safe, their political views become more liberal.