Sunday, August 08, 2021

Hard problems, fear and solutions: Pick two

 Just the other day Eli was innocently pushing the search engine, coming across this article in the Washington Post from 2017. BTW, there are two published papers on the subjects that the diligent might care to read, "Immunizing against prejudice: Effects of disease protection on outgroup attitudes" Julie Y. Huang  Alexandra Sedlovskaya, Joshua M. Ackerman and John Bargh and  "Superheroes for change: Physical safety promotes socially (but not economically) progressive attitudes among conservatives", Jaime L. Napier , Julie Huang, Andrew J. Vonasch and John A. Bargh again.  Both are open, so never fear.

Now the Bunny is not so innocent in the wiles of psych papers that every word is to be believed, but the direction the article and the papers take is a useful one to ponder. Bargh writes about the roots of political orientation.

For example, over a decade now of research in political psychology consistently shows that how physically threatened or fearful a person feels is a key factor — although clearly not the only one — in whether he or she holds conservative or liberal attitudes.

 At this point a bit more reading and Eli became cautious about assigning political parties to conservative and liberal, but rather thinking of these as states of mind which are loosely correlated (a lesson taught by observing relatives). Bargh goes on 

Conservatives, it turns out, react more strongly to physical threat than liberals do. In fact, their greater concern with physical safety seems to be determined early in life: In one University of California study, the more fear a 4-year-old showed in a laboratory situation, the more conservative his or her political attitudes were found to be 20 years later. Brain imaging studies have even shown that the fear center of the brain, the amygdala, is actually larger in conservatives than in liberals. And many other laboratory studies have found that when adult liberals experienced physical threat, their political and social attitudes became more conservative (temporarily, of course). 
But, of course, politicians, at least the ones who succeed, are at a deep level aware of this, may have even read these papers, and certainly find it in life's lessons
This is why it makes sense that liberal politicians intuitively portray danger as manageable
and why  the other side is
instead likely to emphasize the dangers of terrorism and immigration, relying on fear as a motivator to gain votes.
There is something missing here, perhaps the description of one of the experiments will help
In fact, anti-immigration attitudes are also linked directly to the underlying basic drive for physical safety. For centuries, arch-conservative leaders have often referred to scapegoated minority groups as “germs” or “bacteria” that seek to invade and destroy their country from within. . . .

“Immigrants are like viruses” is a powerful metaphor, because in comparing immigrants entering a country to germs entering a human body, it speaks directly to our powerful innate motivation to avoid contamination and disease. Until very recently in human history, not only did we not have antibiotics, we did not even know how infections occurred or diseases transmitted, and cuts and open wounds were quite dangerous. . .

Therefore, we reasoned, making people feel safer about a dangerous flu virus should serve to calm their fears about immigrants — and making them feel more threatened by the flu virus should cause them to be more against immigration than they were before. In a 2011 study, my colleagues and I showed just that. First, we reminded our nationwide sample of liberals and conservatives about the threat of the flu virus (during the H1N1 epidemic), and then measured their attitudes toward immigration. Afterward we simply asked them if they’d already gotten their flu shot or not. It turned out that those who had not gotten a flu shot (feeling threatened) expressed more negative attitudes toward immigration, while those who had received the vaccination (feeling safe) had more positive attitudes about immigration.

In the context of today's mess, about COVID, climate change and more, this says that the way to conservatives' agreement is to emphasize solutions. The opposition will take the other track and seek to vilify outgoups. Denial of solutions is a tactic to increase fear, if there are no solutions, then fear is unavoidable.

Sound familiar?

So with the anti-vaxxers, the climate change deniers and yes the no-hopers, emphasize progress and solutions.

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