Does this picture make you clench your anus in horror, sweat and dart your eyes around wildly? If so, you might be arachnophobic! Or a Republican, especially if it also makes you want to nuke Iran, force-march illegal immigrants back to Mexico, firebomb abortion clinics and do... something with gay people (yeah, I ran out of absurdist ideas there). Anyway, so, there's this study of a whole 46 Nebraksans in the journal Science that suggests that people with strong, self-identified conservative views react more strongly with fear to pictures like this (and of a bloody face, and of a maggot-filled wound) than do those with self-identified liberal views. In fact, liberals looked at pictures like this and had no more reaction than looking at a fuzzy bunny. Who's wrong? Everyone!First off, I participated in a study like this once in college (I sold my body for science pretty regularly; I was poor). The scientists wanted to see whether actual fear or just worry had an impact on sexual arousal, so they set me up with a sensor in my cooter and a randomly-rotating series of film clips that including porn, nature videos that did not show animals fucking, and a "scary" scene from the movie. That scene, unfortunately for them, was the dental-torture scene from Marathon Man. I say "unfortunately" because I am not scared of dentists and so I just busted out laughing and probably skewed their results. The same standard applies here: pictures can or can not be frightening to people, depending on their phobias or preconceived notions. One could just as easily say that conservatives are more prone to being afraid of bugs, or that liberal have more exposure to bugs since they're "outdoorsy" or something and thus aren't scared. Like, you want to get that enormous spider crawling on my face, I think I'd react with plenty of fear, but looking at it once removed it totally fine. I could also argue with the sample size and homogenous population of the study, but at least the author, John Alford, acknowledges that as a flaw. Look, it's a brilliant study for an election year because it allows people to spin it anyway they want — and if the Newsweek article and the one in the National Geographic News are any indication, people have already started. Conservatives are scared of every little shadow! Liberals aren't scared enough! Politics has its roots in biology! The red state-blue state divide cannot be overcome! Like any survey, you can pull out the conclusions that you like best — and most people will. Ummm, oh, and Alford thinks that Mark Penn is has "a sort of folk wisdom that exceeds the general knowledge, and even the academic knowledge." Okay, now, that's some scary shit right there. Are You More Likely To Be Politically Left Or Right If You Scare Easily? [Scientific American] Spiders, Maggots, Politics [Newsweek] Conservatives Have Stronger Startle Reflexes? [National Geographic News]
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