Originally published February 28 2015
Liberals analyze situations 'divorced from context'; conservatives 'think holistically,' study claims
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Do American liberals and conservatives look at political, social and ethical issues as if they are from different cultures? Yes, according to a new landmark study that examined the differences.
The cultural psychology study, conducted by the University of Virginia, found that, essentially, political conservatives in the U.S. are somewhat like East Asians in the manner in which they categorize, think and perceive. Meanwhile, "liberals in the U.S. could be categorized as extreme Americans in thought, categorization and perception," said a press release describing the study's findings, which have been published recently in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
In addition, researchers found evidence that styles of thought -- whether holistic or analytical -- can be altered through training, and enough so that temporary changes in political thought and the way a person votes could occur.
"We found in our study that liberals and conservatives think as if they were from completely different cultures -- almost as different as East and West," said study leader Thomas Talhelm, a Ph.D. candidate in cultural psychology.
Conservative thinking dominates the world
"Liberals and conservatives categorize and perceive things differently, just as East Asians and Westerners look differently at the world," he continued.
Talhelm said that, according to study findings, American conservatives, generally speaking, and East Asians in particular, are intuitive, or "holistic," thinkers, though Westerners, generally, and American liberals in particular, think in a more analytical manner.
That said, the term culture war is thought to be an accurate, though dramatic, description of the clear cultural differences in thought processes between conservatives and liberals
"On psychological tests, Westerners tend to view scenes, explain behavior and categorize objects analytically," Talhelm said, according to the press release. "But the vast majority of people around the world -- about 85 percent -- more often think intuitively -- what psychologists call holistic thought, and we found that's how conservative Americans tend to think."
The Ph.D candidate said holistic thought uses intention and the perception of whole objects or situations most often, instead of dissecting them into their individual parts -- like having a general feeling about a given situation involving intuition or tact.
Meanwhile, he added, the study results indicated that analytical thinkers tend to examine parts of a situation and how they may work in tandem, toward the whole. This process involves "slicing up the world and analyzing objects individually, divorced from context," Talhelm said.
The press release further stated:
Studies show that analytical thinkers predominate in Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic societies (termed "WEIRD" societies in 2010 by a team of cultural psychologists at the University of British Columbia). But they make up only about 15 percent of the world's population.
So, in other words, in a WEIRD society like that found in the United States, analytical-thinking liberals are considered "extreme Americans," said Talhelm, in the manner that they are disinclined to think like the vast majority of the rest of the world, and that includes holistically thinking conservatives in their own country.
Liberal thinking must be learned
But, the researcher noted, there is some value in both ways of thinking. Intuitive thinking, Talhelm said, is likely the "default" style that most people are born with. Analytical thinking, he continued, must necessarily be learned through training -- as in Western-style school systems (Writer's note: The term indoctrination comes immediately to mind).
In testing thought styles, psychologists give study participants a short series of tests to determine what manner of thinker they happen to be -- holistic or analytic.
"One such test asks participants to choose two of three items to categorize together, such as a mitten, a scarf, and a hand," said the press release. "Analytic thinkers usually match the scarf and mitten because they belong to the same abstract category -- items of winter clothing. Holistic thinkers usually match the mitten and hand because the hand wears a mitten."
Researchers found, however, that political thought could be manipulated. Holistic thinkers could be trained to think analytically, for instance, to match scarf with mitten; in doing so, they would begin to view the world more liberally (except on economic policy). Likewise, in reverse, for liberal thinkers.
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