Eidelman’s study~

Dr. Scott Eidelman of University Arkansas recently did a study on the mental processes of conservatives vs liberals.

Before you read further, please consider: If you wanted to know something about the intelligence of conservatives vs liberals, how would you choose participants? Would the participants selected affect the outcome? Should questions and terms used be published with the outcome? How would you undertake such a task if you wanted honest, ethical results?

My first knee jerk response was that this study, perhaps, should have been entitled, “Do Liberals and Conservatives Frequent the Same Bars”. Of course the researchers have an explanation for doing the ‘alcohol’ study and it is given in the report.

Here is how the  study was conducted. Facts below were given by the research staff in the study:

In Study 1, we took advantage of alcohol consumption as a common and powerful means of disrupting deliberative thought.

Eighty-five community members (29% female) who were patrons of a local New England bar participated without remuneration. (We are not told if this is a gay bar, a straight bar, a bar in a high socio-economic area or a low socio-economic area, near a college or location, or any other kind of information concerning the bar.)  Mixed-sex groups of 3 to 4 experimenters obtained permission to stand outside the bar’s busiest exit and approach potential participants…(As far as readers know these experimenters had no training, could have been completely biased on their selection of participants, could have selected the drunkest people leaving the bar or the soberest people leaving the bar. At best, qualifications were not noted in the study.)

Participants were asked to complete a short survey about social attitudes in exchange for learning their BAC, (blood alcohol content).

The second phase of this study was a follow-up where the participants responded to ‘statements’ made by researchers.

In Study 2, we manipulated reliance on low-effort thought.
Participants indicated their political attitudes by responding to several statements; half did so while their cognitive resources were depleted by working on a second task concurrently (e.g., Gilbert et al., 1988; Wegner & Erber, 1992).

In Study 3, it appeared to me that these researchers set out with a Hypothesis to prove:

Time pressure also disrupts effortful thinking, forcing
responses that are quick and efficient (e.g., Bargh & Thein,
1985; Strack, Erber, & Wicklund, 1982; Wegner & Erber,
1992). We predicted that these conditions would promote
conservative ideology. We operationalized conservative
ideology in Study 3 as the endorsement of conservative
words and phrases.

For this phase of the study, thirty-six undergraduates from the University of Maine (53% female) who were enrolled in introductory psychology courses were chosen to participate.  In a nutshell, the subjects were questioned under time-pressure and again without time pressure. When under low time pressure, more tested out as liberal and under high time pressure more tested out as conservative. This is basically why the researchers decided that those who do not think, tend to choose conservative answers. (I keep remembering that I was taught in Test and Measurements that your first and quickest response is almost always the correct one.) Psychology students may not be exactly a broad base from which to select participants, in my opinion.

To give some insight into the study, consider this statement in Study 4 by the research “scientists”:

We also sought direct evidence that low-effort processing was responsible for increases in political conservatism.

In order to prove their hypothesis, the researchers “manipulated reliance on low-effort thought as simply and directly as possible.”

Study 4 – Thirty-four undergraduates from the University
of Arkansas (66% female) enrolled in introductory psychology courses participated in exchange for extra credit.

Once again there was a response based test. This time it was based on terms that were flashed on a monitor to which participants were told to respond.

These studies were conducted by the following researchers:

Scott Eidelman, an assistant professor in psychology at the University of Arkansas.
Christian S. Crandall is author of The Psychological Foundations of Culture. Jeffrey A. Goodman was difficult to research. My only finds were a Jeffrey Goodman clinic and a Jeffrey A. Goodman MD. I have no idea if either are the same person as the one in the study. John C. Blanchar had no information available that I could find.

The authors test the hypothesis that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism. In Study 1, alcohol intoxication was measured among bar patrons; as blood alcohol level increased, so did political conservatism (controlling for sex, education, and political identification). In Study 2, participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than their no-load counterparts. In Study 3, time pressure increased participants’ endorsement of conservative terms. In Study 4, participants considering political terms in a cursory manner endorsed conservative terms more than those asked to cogitate; an indicator of effortful thought (recognition memory) partially mediated the relationship between processing effort and conservatism. Together these data suggest that political conservatism may be a process consequence of low-effort thought; when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases.

My conclusion is that this was not the most thorough research done by what really does seem to be a politically motivated group. Dr. Eidelman denies that the researchers had a preferred outcome.

A link to the PDF report can be found at the web-site given above for the study.


About jlue

I am a grandmother of seven and I like to garden, read, study the Bible, and spend time with family. I am not very politically active, but very interested in who is elected to lead our country.
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4 Responses to Eidelman’s study~

  1. RJ Miller says:

    Out of all the commentary I could find on this study, this seems to be the most insightful. Thanks for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nick Norris says:

    Great analysis……possibly more statistically valid, than the study ITSELF!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chris Crandall says:

    Hi, stumbled on to this. I am an author of the study you’re responding to. The fundamental idea is simply that conservatism is “natural” and very well-learned, and that any deviation from it (whether libertarian or liberal) requires mental effort and some concentration to achieve. When we take away that ability, people shift back toward a fairly simply version of conservative ideology (liberals would shift “right” and doctrinaire libertarians would shift “left.”

    Really, what our motives are, it’s not that important. And to be honest, it’s “not the most thorough research done” in that it only took us two years, and only four of us worked on it, and we only report four independent studies. Other research programs use more people, study larger samples, and stick at it for longer. But I think you’d find that it’s pretty good research, if you asked an expert on social psychological research (liberal, conservative, moderate, or disinterested) about whether or not we did it right. It did go through a rigorous peer review process.

    But thanks for reading and commenting! Disagreement and dissent are essential to democracy, and you’re contributing.


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