Understanding Conservative vs Liberal Brains to Better Understand the Election

So the election is done, and a lot of liberals (okay, ALL of them) are sitting here wondering how it happened, and how to do we move forward.

I think some of the answers lie in moral psychology – and the work of Dr. Jonathan Haidt.

In order to build up the new Democratic party – we are going to have to gain a better understanding of what makes both conservatives and liberals’ brains tick and how they respond to stimuli. Dr. Haidt has done much work on illustrating the six moral pillars in our personalities – and how liberals favor some very highly and some very low, and conservatives favor most about evenly. This is sure to shock liberals who really have never given this much thought, but please read on.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt

Dr. Jonathan Haidt

I’ve been following Dr. Haidt’s work for a while, since I first came across a TED talk he did back in 2008. The talk details the moral pillars and how they affect our decision making. Later I read his book – The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. It’s dry – but it is indeed more like a psychology textbook, presenting evidence and drawing conclusions from it.

This cartoon humorously details how conservative and liberal brains – wired a certain way from birth – and then nurtured due to that wiring, come to be.

There are two pieces to moral psychology – the notion that we are to a certain point born with a “first draft” brain, and then that our upbringing both writes along those guidelines and rewrites through our experiences.

So – where does that leave us now? If we start to understand the brains of conservatives and their moral pillars – we can more accurately predict their voting tendencies – and what activates them. This piece from Bloomberg attempts to analyze it, and this article takes a look from a conservative perspective.

I’ll leave you with this new TED talk from Dr. Haidt – below. I’m purposely not drawing too many conclusions – merely want to point liberals to some tools to better understand conservatives. I hope all read these, watch them, and start to understand that many conservatives in our country – MANY more than we thought, were ripe for the picking. And not all of them are bad people – they just have different needs based on how their brains are wired.


Comments (4)

  1. Erik Preuss

    I disagree with the idea there are many more conservatives than we thought. If anything, I would argue that Trump’s election is a pretty clear indicator that there are fewer conservatives than we think.

    Trump is many things, a radical, nationalist, xenophobe, and authoritarian could all be said of him. But calling him a conservative isn’t quite accurate. Aside from immigration and lower taxes virtually all of his stances break the mold of the conventional conservative we’ve become accustomed too. He’s pro-isolationist, pro-Russia, anti-globalization, and anti-trade, all things that are major pillars of the conservative movement.

    If anything, I would say his election speaks to the fact that a large swathe of the population really doesn’t care at all about “conservatism” but rather only care about specific issues. Some I’m sure voted for him, because of his discrimantory views toward minorities, some because they just hate Washington, and some (perhaps the majority in areas like the rust belt) because he preaches a type of economic populism that they haven’t heard from either side in near 30 years; regardless of whether it has merit.

    Sorry for the rant. And if you just mean Republican that makes some sense. But trump is no more a “true conservative” than me or anyone else reads this site, and 47% of the population didn’t care.

    1. robusdin (Post author)

      I wasn’t really debating results, I wanted to give liberals/Dems some tools to come to better understanding of themselves and their opposition. I hope you and others take the time to read all my links and watch all the videos. There is much psychology that explains in part why people voted the way they do and did. Psychology is a science and its research is showing us many things about how the brains make decisions. Marketing is related and Trump tapped into something that psychology also explains.

      I didn’t include some links to other research that shows that conservatives have enlarged amygdala, which precipitates greater fear response, and also affects decision making. That fear response is what leads them to want guns, respect authority, etc……. I didn’t include it because I wanted to focus on Haidt. But maybe if liberals start paying attention to their marketing and activating what liberals DO stand for instead of what they are NOT we can get the results we want.

      Because the Republicans pushed every single button in their base this time around.

  2. marshwren

    I rather disagree: the only ‘brains’ that need adjusting are those of the raving geniuses who devised Clinton’s campaign strategy, chose her issues, and unleashed David #milliondollartrolls Brock on an unsuspecting internet.
    The ‘liberal’ elite of the DP suffers from what i call (social and intellectual) “mono-culture”–rich, mostly white, like-minded people who spend most of their time congratulating themselves for being smart and successful. So much so they’ve convinced themselves they know than everyone else, know better than anyone else, and there’s no one they have to take seriously that disagrees with them.
    This is one small and trivial illustration of the problem, but it does speak volumes to the disconnect from readily observable reality: Sanders won over millennials with pragmatic policies that addressed their concerns–college, jobs, health care, and (entirely overlooked by everyone except the Sanders campaign) the environment and issues of social justice. Clinton? She had outreach staff drive around to IA college campuses to campaign in a Scoobie Doo van.
    Which i’m personally convinced was ditched by an intern in an abandoned grain silo or dilapidated barn in Clinton County, up on blocks, the tags and VIN number removed, with a handwritten message taped to the vanity mirror that reads, “It’s still the economy, stupid.”

  3. robusdin (Post author)

    I hope you will take the time to go,through the videos and links here to better understand psychologically why we are guided to particular candidates. I think these tools are valuable.


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