February 6, 2023

CRUEL TRUTH: Scientific study says conservatives lack empathy and love authoritarianism

CRUEL TRUTH: Scientific study says conservatives lack empathy and love authoritarianism

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A new study linking political conservatism to pandemic lifestyle choices also finds that conservatives lack empathy and support authoritarianism. Questioning participants on who they voted for and how they behaved during the pandemic, the correlating data confirmed what was already suspected, “political conservatism is associated with lower rates of social distancing, mask usage, sanitizing, and vaccination.”

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But why?

In August 2022, research published by Discover Social Science and Health used data from the 2021 Crime, Health, and Politics Survey to develop and explain why anti-Covid-19 mandate and lockdown behaviors were typically associated with those on the conservative side of the political aisle.

Formally test the indirect effects of political conservatism (an index of Republican party identification, conservative political orientation, right-wing news media consumption, and 2020 Trump vote) on pandemic lifestyles (an index of social distancing, hand sanitizing, mask usage, and vaccination) through the mechanisms of empathy (concern about the welfare of others), authoritarian beliefs (authoritarian aggressiveness and acquiescence to authority), and pandemic threat perceptions (threats to self and to the broader society).

With culture wars raging, the connection, or disconnect, to empathy, social and societal norms were neglected in finding the underlying cause of why tens of millions would rail against life-saving solutions and mitigations to a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus.

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In a recent PBS interview, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), lamented that the NIH has “underinvested in research on human behavior” and that he “never imagined” that “we would still have 60 million people who had not taken advantage of [safe and effective vaccines] because of misinformation and disinformation…” [20]. In this paper, we contribute to the social epidemiology of infectious disease behavior by developing and testing a mediation model to help explain why political conservatism is often associated with riskier pandemic lifestyles.

Scientists gauged the participants’ leanings with a series of non-partisan questions, asking whether they’d been vaccinated, used mask or hand sanitizer to mitigate the virus, and, on an empathetic to authoritarian leaning scale:

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To measure empathic concern, the researchers asked the participants to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with the statements: “I am often concerned about people less fortunate than me,” “I often feel sorry for people when they are having problems in their lives,” and “I often feel protective towards people who are being taken advantage of.”

To measure authoritarian beliefs, the participants reported their level of agreement or disagreement with the statements: “What our country really needs is a tough, harsh dose of law and order,” The government would be justified in using violence to eliminate the troublemakers in this country to get us back on track,” “Our country would be better off with a strong leader who did not have to bother with democracy and elections.”

“Political conservatives tend to engage in riskier pandemic lifestyles, in part, because they are less likely to care less about the welfare of others (a motivation for engaging in healthy pandemic lifestyles in the service of public health), more likely to hold authoritarian beliefs (which emphasize the perspectives of one charismatic leader who happens to disagree with public health recommendations), and less likely to perceive the pandemic as threatening to themselves and to the broader society,” Hill told PsyPost.

The study by no means counts conservatives out of the humanity game but seeks to understand why so many of them have bucked the science and gone against humanity’s grain. Rather telling in today’s culture wars that have seen those on the other side of the aisle due the exact opposite.

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Original reporting by Eric W. Dolan at PsyPost

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

Ty Ross

News journalist for Washington Press and Occupy Democrats.

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