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Inside the Tea Party Brain: Can Science Explain Their Seemingly Irrational Rage?

Research suggests we may be a nation divided by different cognitive styles.

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But an interesting question is this: if you get something that liberals feel really strongly about, something about equality or something about harm, are they equally biased? And I think that we still need more research on this, but I’m suspecting that we’re going to see real differences. And I think that there’s some evidence which points that way already.

Holland: One of the things that I think does point that way is the tendency of people with authoritarian personalities to be really sensitive to cognitive dissonance. That would seem to lead to a more fervent desire to ignore contradictory evidence that causes kind of a psychic pain, if you will.

Mooney: Right. There was the recent study — and this can show you both why I suspect you’re right, but also why these researchers are unsure — there was a recent study that actually showed that conservatives were less willing to entertain cognitive dissonance than liberals were. It was by some political psychologists at NYU, and what they did was they asked people, ‘would you be willing to write an essay talking about how the  president you dislike did a good job?’ So in other words, would liberals write an essay on the good things about George W.  Bush and would conservatives write an essay on good things about Barack Obama—and the liberals were more willing to write that essay. It required them to entertain cognitive dissonance for a time.

But what’s difficult when you break it down is this: what if liberals just don’t hate George W. Bush as much as conservatives hate Barack Obama? I mean, what if the emotions are not as raw anymore? After all, a lot of time has passed. What if this isn’t the perfect apples to apples comparison? And that’s why these kinds of studies are hard to conduct.

Joshua Holland is Senior Digital Producer at BillMoyers.com, and host of Politics and Reality Radio. He's the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter

 
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