“Non-partisan brains differ from those of partisans | Non-partisans are real, and their lack of partisanship has a cognitive element” [Big Think]

“Non-partisan brains differ from those of partisans

Non-partisans are real, and their lack of partisanship has a cognitive element.

21 August, 2020

https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/non-partisan-brain

A new study suggests that the brains of non-partisans function differently than those of partisans.
Blood flow to regions associated with problem solving differed between the two groups.
The findings may lead to further research in how differences in brain activity affect personality.
Despite the repeated claims of those without party affiliations, the belief that non-partisans don’t actually exist is widespread. Proponents of this stance argue that those who claim to be non-partisans are merely partisans who don’t want to be outed.

A new study offers a strong counterpoint to these commentators; it suggests that the brains of non-partisans function differently than the brains of partisans.

Some people just really don’t want to join political clubs. Go figure.

The study, published in The Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties as “Neural Nonpartisans,” looked at blood flow in the brains of partisans and non-partisans as they played a betting game. The test subjects, all of which were from San Diego County, had their brains scanned as they decided between options with guaranteed payoffs or ones with the chance to lose or gain money. The results were later compared to their voter registrations to confirm their partisanship or lack thereof.

The brain scans demonstrated that blood flow to the right medial temporal pole, orbitofrontal/medial prefrontal cortex, and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex differs between partisans and non-partisans as they made decisions in the previously mentioned game. These regions are associated with socially relevant memory, decision making, and goal-related responses. Previous studies have also shown them to be essential for social connections.

This demonstrates that the brains of non-partisans approach non-political problems differently than the brains of partisans. Future studies may go further, and see if other brain functions differ between the two groups.

The study is not without limitations; there were a mere 110 test subjects overall. However, given the general lack of research on non-partisans, the study is still an excellent starting point for further research.

What does this mean for politics?

Lead author Dr. Darren Schreiber laid out his interpretation of the data and offered takeaways:

“There is skepticism about the existence of non-partisan voters, that they are just people who don’t want to state their preferences. But we have shown their brain activity is different, even aside from politics. We think this has important implications for political campaigning – non-partisans need to be considered a third voter group. In the USA 40 percent of people are thought to be non-partisan voters. Previous research shows negative campaigning deters them from voting. This exploratory study suggests US politicians need to treat swing voters differently, and positive campaigning may be important in winning their support. While heated rhetoric may appeal to a party’s base, it can drive non-partisans away from politics all together.”

He references a variety of studies on the effects of negative campaigning. It is widely agreed that it drives down turnout.

A variety of studies suggest that differences in political opinion relate to the differences in the brain. While these studies can’t tell us how to solve our various political problems, they can offer us ways to help bridge the gap. People who don’t leap at the opportunity to join political clubs must be interreacted with differently than those who do to encourage their involvement. While this may come as a shock to seasoned political junkies, it may also come with benefits to our political discourse.”

“Our Big Fight Over Nothing: The Political Spectrum Does Not Exist” By Hyrum Lewis

“Our Big Fight Over Nothing: The Political Spectrum Does Not Exist

Hyrum Lewis

Hyrum Lewis is a professor of history at Brigham Young University-Idaho and has held visiting positions at Stanford University and Skidmore College. He has previously published books and articles on the history of ideology and the philosophy of religion.

June 12, 2020

https://heterodoxacademy.org/social-science-political-spectrum/?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-science-political-spectrum

One of the real tragedies of contemporary politics is that our most bitter disagreements are about something that doesn’t even exist—the political spectrum. Left and right are entirely tribal designations and have no unifying philosophy or principle behind them that can be represented on a unidimensional spectrum.

This may sound like an absurd claim, but before rejecting out of hand, consider that the political spectrum rests on an essentialist theory of ideology that has been soundly falsified. The essentialist theory says that, although it may seem that there are many distinct political issues in politics, there is actually just one big issue—an underlying essence that ties them all together (e.g., change vs. preservation, equality vs. freedom, order vs. liberty, realism vs. idealism, etc.). If politics is unidimensional (about one essential issue), then a unidimensional political spectrum is adequate to represent politics.

An alternative to this essentialist theory is the “social theory” of ideology, which says that distinct political positions correlate because they are bound by a unifying tribe. If the right-wing team is currently in favor of tax cuts and opposed to abortion, then those who identify with that team will adopt those positions as a matter of social conformity, not because both are expressions of some underlying principle. If the social theory is correct, the political spectrum is of little use because there is no single essence; instead there are many unrelated political issues and therefore many political dimensions.

(…)

I understand why so many of us want to believe in the political spectrum—it makes politics simple and gives us the illusion that our party’s beliefs have an underlying (and righteous) philosophical coherence—but it’s time to face up to the facts. “Right-wing” and “left-wing” are little more than tribal designations. Shedding our jerseys might help us become more rational, more humble, less tribal, and ultimately, more open-minded when it comes to public issues.”

“Estudo mostra que pessoas com viés político são mais suscetíveis a fake news” [O Globo]

“Estudo mostra que pessoas com viés político são mais suscetíveis a fake news

05/07/2020 • 07:00

https://blogs.oglobo.globo.com/sonar-a-escuta-das-redes/post/estudo-mostra-que-pessoas-com-vies-politico-sao-mais-suscetiveis-fake-news.html

Suzana Correa

Um estudo brasileiro inédito que será publicado no Journal of American Politics, a partir de experimento realizado nas eleições presidenciais de 2018, pode acabar com o mito de que quem acredita em fake news é a “tia do zap”. Os pesquisadores mostram que quem mais confia em boato falso são os que já têm time definido no jogo político. E o desejo de eleitores de concluir aquilo que é sugerido por suas filiações partidárias reduz a eficácia da checagem de informações.

— Escolaridade, nível intelectual, sexo e idade não têm relação com o quanto se acredita em fake news. Mais que mexer com eleitor médio, elas reforçam crenças de quem já tem posição política e intensificam preconceitos, opiniões e valores — diz Felipe Nunes, um dos autores da pesquisa, professor da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) e diretor da consultoria Quaest.

O experimento indica que expor os eleitores a esclarecimentos da própria vítima do falso rumor não funciona. Apresentar a checagem de veículo de grande porte é mais eficaz. O estudo, chamado “Raciocínio motivado sem partidarismo? Fake news nas eleições brasileiras de 2018”, mostrou petistas e anti-petistas como os mais suscetíveis a acreditarem em fake news sobre o PT, negativas ou positivas.

A boa notícia é que apenas cerca de 30% dos entrevistados no experimento brasileiro acreditavam nas fake news. A proporção é menor do que os 43% observados em estudos nos Estados Unidos e outros países. Os pesquisadores acreditam que a identificação partidária no Brasil, considerada fraca e instável, pode contribuir para limitar a disseminação de fake news no país.

— Esse é o principal efeito que produzem numa eleição. É também um mecanismo de reforço da coesão e de mobilização daquele próprio grupo — diz Nunes.

O estudo confirma os impactos do já conhecido “viés de confirmação”, segundo o qual interpretamos ou pesquisamos informações para confirmar crenças e hipóteses que já temos. O fenômeno é investigado pela psicologia social e ciência política desde 1970, mas voltou à moda com o surgimento das redes sociais e fake news.

É este viés que forma nas redes o que os estudiosos chamam de “bolhas” ou “câmaras de eco” partidárias: ao seguir e curtir apenas conteúdo que confirma suas preferências políticas ou morais, o usuário de redes sociais como Facebook ou Twitter “treina”, involuntariamente, os algoritmos da rede a mostrarem cada vez mais informações que corroboram suas crenças.

Nestes ambientes, as fake news são mais aceitas como verdade e compartilhadas, porque confirmam a visão positiva sobre o partido do usuário — ou negativa sobre aquele que odeia — e que se torna predominante ali.

— O experimento mostra que o senso comum de que os menos escolarizados seriam os mais propensos a serem afetados por fake news é mentira. O que realmente afeta é a posição política da pessoa e isso só acontece porque hoje quase ninguém usa informação para atualizar o que sabe, mas para confirmar o que já acredita — conclui Nunes.”

“How Our Ancient Brains Are Coping in the Age of Digital Distraction” [Discover Magazine]

“How Our Ancient Brains Are Coping in the Age of Digital Distraction

Our species invented the internet. Can we handle the consequences?

By Kenneth Miller

April 20, 2020 10:00 AM

https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/how-our-ancient-brains-are-coping-in-the-age-of-digital-distraction

(…)

In the public arena, online filters generate bubbles that reinforce our preconceptions and amplify our anger. Brandishing tweets like pitchforks, we’re swept into virtual mobs; some of us move on to violence IRL. Our digitally enhanced tribalism upends political norms and sways elections.

(…)

A growing body of research suggests that this conundrum arises from a feature etched into our DNA: our unparalleled hunger to know stuff. “This is an ancient drive that leads to all sorts of complexities in how we interact with the world around us,” says Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.

(…)

Yet this wonder’s origins were strikingly humble. About 7 million years ago, hominins — our branch of the primate family tree — began the long transition to walking upright. Bipedalism, or walking on two legs, freed our hands for making and manipulating tools. It also allowed us to walk longer distances, key to our spread beyond Africa’s forests and savannas. “If you look at nonhuman primates, it’s like they have another set of hands down there,” notes Dean Falk, a professor of anthropology at Florida State University and senior scholar at Santa Fe’s School for Advanced Research, who specializes in brain evolution. “When our feet became weight-bearing instruments, that kicked everything off — no pun intended.”

Not that the effects were immediate. More than 3 million years ago, the braincase of Australopithecus afarensis, likely the first fully bipedal hominin, was only slightly larger than a chimpanzee’s. But by the time Homo sapiens emerged at least 300,000 years ago, brain volume had tripled. Our brain-to-body ratio is six times that of other mammals, and the neurons in our cerebral cortex (the brain’s outer layer, responsible for cognition) are more densely packed than those of any other creature on Earth.

In recent years, scientists have identified about two dozen genetic changes that might have helped make our brains not only bigger but incomparably capable. “It’s not just one quantum leap,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison paleoanthropologist John Hawks. “A lot of adaptations are at play, from metabolic regulation to neuron formation to timing of development.” A stretch of gene-regulating DNA called HARE5, for example, differs slightly between chimps and humans; when a team at Duke University introduced both versions into mouse embryos, the ones that got the human type developed brains that were 12 percent larger. Meanwhile, mutations in a gene called NOTCH2 increase our production of neural stem cells and delay their maturation into cortical neurons, which may be part of the reason our brains keep growing far longer than those of other primates. The FOXP2 gene, crucial for verbal communication in many species, diverges by two base pairs in humans and our nearest living ape relatives. Our mutation may explain why we can talk and chimps can’t.

Our brains were also shaped by external forces, which increased the odds of smarter hominins passing on their genes. Experts debate which factors mattered most. Falk, for one, hypothesizes that the loss of grasping feet was crucial: When infants could no longer cling to their mothers, as nonhuman primates do, the need to soothe them from a distance led to the development of language, which revolutionized our neural organization. Other researchers believe that dietary shifts, such as eating meat or cooking food in general, enabled us to get by with a shorter digestive tract, which freed up more energy for a calorie-hogging brain. Still others credit our cerebral evolution to growing social complexity or intensifying environmental challenges.

What’s clear is that our neural hardware took shape under conditions radically different from those it must contend with today. For millennia, we had to be on the alert for dangerous predators, hostile clans, potential sources of food and shelter — and that was about it. As McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin put it in his book The Organized Mind: “Our brains evolved to focus on one thing at a time.”

Our digital devices, by design, make that almost impossible.

Tech vs. Brain

The part of the brain that enables us to make elaborate plans and carry them through — the part, arguably, that makes us most human — is the prefrontal cortex. This region is only slightly larger in H. sapiens than in chimps or gorillas, but its connections with other brain regions are more extensive and intricate. Despite this advanced network, our planning ability is far stronger than our ability to remain focused on a given task.

One reason is that, like all animals, we evolved to switch attention instantly when we sense danger: the snapping twig that might signal an approaching predator, the shadow that could indicate an enemy behind a tree. Our goal-directed, or top-down, mental activities stand little chance against these bottom-up forces of novelty and saliency — stimuli that are unexpected, sudden or dramatic, or that evoke memories of important experiences.

(…)

When the animal finds a ripe mango in the jungle — or solves a problem in the lab — brain cells in what’s called the dopaminergic system light up, creating a sensation of pleasure. These cells also build durable connections with the brain circuits that helped earn the reward. By triggering positive feelings whenever these circuits are activated, the system promotes learning.

Humans, of course, forage for data more voraciously than any other animal. And, like most foragers, we follow instinctive strategies for optimizing our search. Behavioral ecologists who study animals seeking nourishment have developed various models to predict their likely course of action. One of these, the marginal value theorem (MVT), applies to foragers in areas where food is found in patches, with resource-poor areas in between. The MVT can predict, for example, when a squirrel will quit gathering acorns in one tree and move on to the next, based on a formula assessing the costs and benefits of staying put — the number of nuts acquired per minute versus the time required for travel, and so on. Gazzaley sees the digital landscape as a similar environment, in which the patches are sources of information — a website, a smartphone, an email program. He believes an MVT-like formula may govern our online foraging: Each data patch provides diminishing returns over time as we use up information available there, or as we start to worry that better data might be available elsewhere.

The call of the next data patch may keep us hopping from Facebook to Twitter to Google to YouTube; it can also interfere with the fulfillment of goals — meeting a work deadline, paying attention in class, connecting face-to-face with a loved one. It does this, Gazzaley says, in two basic ways. One is distraction, which he defines as “pieces of goal-irrelevant information that we either encounter in our external surroundings or generate internally within our own minds.” We try to ignore our phone’s pings and buzzes (or our fear of missing out on the data they signify), only to find our focus undermined by the effort.

The other goal-killer is interruption: We take a break from top-down activity to feed our information munchies. The common term for this is multitasking, which sounds as if we’re accomplishing several things at once — working on the quarterly report, answering client emails, staying on top of the politician’s gaffe count, taking a peek at that aardvark. In truth, it means we’re doing nothing well.

(…)

It also wreaks havoc on working memory, the function that allows us to hold a few key bits of data in our heads just long enough to apply them to a task. Multiple studies have shown that “media multitasking” (the scientific term for toggling between digital data sources) overloads this mental compartment, making us less focused and more prone to mistakes. In 2012, for instance, Canadian researchers found that multitasking on a laptop hindered classroom learning not only for the user but for students sitting nearby. Heavy media multitasking has been associated with diminished cognitive control, higher levels of impulsivity and reduced volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region linked with error detection and emotional regulation.

Us vs. Them

Emotional regulation is central to another of tech’s disruptive effects on our ancient brains: exacerbation of tribal tendencies. Our distant ancestors lived in small nomadic bands, the basic social unit for most of human history. “Groups that were competing for resources and space didn’t always do so peacefully,” says paleoanthropologist Hawks. “We’re a product of that process.”

These days, many analysts see tribalism asserting itself in the resurgence of nationalist movements worldwide and the sharp rise in political polarization in the U.S., with both trends playing out prominently online. A study published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015 found that party affiliation had become a basic component of identity for Republicans and Democrats. Social media, which spurs us to publicly declare our passions and convictions, helps fuel what the authors call “the gradual encroachment of party preference into nonpolitical and hitherto personal domains.”

And we’re hardwired to excel at telling “us” from “them.” When we interact with in-group members, a release of dopamine gives us a rush of pleasure, while out-group members may trigger a negative response. Getting online “likes” only intensifies the experience.

Our retreat into tribal mode may also be a reaction to the data explosion that the web has ignited. In 2018, in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, psychologist Thomas T. Hills reviewed an array of earlier studies on the proliferation of information. He found that the upsurge in digitally mediated extremism and polarization may be a response to cognitive overload. Amid the onslaught, he suggested, we rely on ingrained biases to decide which data deserve our attention (see “Tribal Tech” sidebar). The result: herd thinking, echo chambers and conspiracy theories. “Finding information that’s consistent with what I already believe makes me a better member of my in-group,” Hills says. “I can go to my allies and say, ‘Look, here’s the evidence that we’re right!’ ”

(…)

For example, when Red Sox and Yankees fans watch their rival team fail to score, even against a third team, they show heightened activity in the ventral striatum, a brain region associated with reward response.

It’s surely no coincidence that during the 2016 presidential election, Russian hackers focused largely on convincing various groups of Americans that another group was out to get them. But foreign agents are hardly the top promoters of tribalism online. As anyone who’s spent time on social media knows, there’s plenty of homegrown schadenfreude on the web.

(…)

Faced with tech’s cognitive overload, humans determine what’s worthy of attention by relying on biases shaped by evolution, says Thomas T. Hills, a professor of psychology at England’s University of Warwick. Those tendencies may have helped our ancestors survive, but they’re not always in our best interests today, Hills says. He identifies four types of “cognitive selection” that fuel digital tribalism.

Selection for belief-consistent information. Also called confirmation bias, it inclines us to prefer data that align with what we already think. In prehistoric times, this might have led people to see a rainstorm as proof of a shaman’s power over the weather — an interpretation that strengthened social cohesion, even if it was wrong. Today, confirmation bias can lead to more consequential errors, such as seeing a cold snap as proof that climate change is a hoax.

Selection for negative information. This tendency, also known as negativity bias, primed our ancestors’ brains to prioritize alertness for predators over other, less threatening types of attention. Today, it can lead us to privilege bad news over good — for example, by taking a single horrific crime by an out-group member more seriously than data showing that the group as a whole is law-abiding.

Selection for predictive information. Pattern-recognition bias, as it’s often called, helps us discern order in chaos. Noticing that large prey animals tended to arrive in the savanna after the first summer rains would have given early humans an evolutionary advantage. Today, however, a predilection for patterns can lead us to detect conspiracies where none exist.

Selection for social information. This “herd bias” prompts us, in uncertain environments, to follow the crowd. Back in the day, “if everyone else in your tribe was running toward the river, they probably had a good reason,” says Hills. But if everyone in your Reddit community says a famous politician is running a child-sex ring from the basement of a pizzeria, well, it would be wise to visit a fact-checking website before making up your mind.”

“Hydroxychloroquine and the Political Polarization of Science” by Cailin O’Connor & James Owen Weatherall [Boston Review]

“Hydroxychloroquine and the Political Polarization of Science

How a drug became an object lesson in political tribalism.

CAILIN O’CONNOR, JAMES OWEN WEATHERALL

https://bostonreview.net/science-nature-politics/cailin-oconnor-james-owen-weatherall-hydroxychloroquine-and-political

(…)

In particular, people become misinformed because they tend to trust those they identify with, meaning they are more likely to listen to those who share their social and political identities. When public figures such as Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh make claims about hydroxychloroquine, Republicans are more likely to be swayed, while Democrats are not. The two groups then start sharing different sorts of information about hydroxychloroquine, and stop trusting what they see from the other side.

People also like to conform with those in their social networks. It is often psychologically uncomfortable to disagree with our closest friends and family members. But different clusters or cliques can end up conforming to different claims. Some people fit in by rolling their eyes about hydroxychloroquine, while others fit in by praising Trump for supporting it.

These social factors can lead to belief factions: groups of people who share a number of polarized beliefs. As philosophers of science, we’ve used models to argue that when these factions form, there need not be any underlying logic to the beliefs that get lumped together. Beliefs about the safety of gun ownership, for example, can start to correlate with beliefs about whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When this happens, beliefs can become signals of group membership—even for something as dangerous as an emerging pandemic. One person might show which tribe they belong to by sewing their own face mask. Another by throwing a barbeque, despite stay at home orders.

And yet another might signal group membership by posting a screed about hydroxychloroquine.  There is nothing about hydroxychloroquine in particular that makes it a natural talking point for Republicans. It could just as easily have been remdesivir, or one of a half dozen other potential miracle drugs, that was picked up by Fox News, and then by Trump. The process by which Trump settled on hydroxychloroquine was essentially random—and yet, once he began touting it, it became associated with political identity in just the way we have described. (That is not to say that Trump and his media defenders were not on the lookout for an easy out from a growing crisis. Political leaders around the world would love to see this all disappear, irrespective of ideology.)

(…)

This bias toward extremes means that once opposing camps have formed, there is a lot of fodder for each side to appeal to as evidence of bias. Furthermore, with COVID-19, it is often the case that the different groups only trust one of the extremes. Extremity bias can thus amplify polarization, especially in an already factionalized environment.

The end result is that even without misinformation, or with relatively little of it, we can end up misinformed. And misinformed decision makers—from patients, to physicians, to public health experts and politicians—will not be able to act judiciously. In the present crisis, this is a matter of life and death.”

“Political Beliefs affect Compliance with COVID-19 Social Distancing Orders” By Marcus Painter & Tian Qiu

“Political Beliefs affect Compliance with COVID-19 Social Distancing Orders

Marcus Painter
Saint Louis University – Department of Finance

Tian Qiu
University of Kentucky – Gatton College of Business and Economics

Date Written: April 8, 2020

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3569098

Abstract

Social distancing is vital to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. We use geolocation data to document that political beliefs present a significant limitation to the effectiveness of state-level social distancing orders. Residents in Republican counties are less likely to completely stay at home after a state order has been implemented relative to those in Democratic counties. We also find that Democrats are less likely to respond to a state-level order when it is issued by a Republican governor relative to one issued by a Democratic governor. These results are robust to controlling for other factors including time, geography, local COVID-19 cases and deaths, and other social distancing orders. We conclude that bipartisan support is essential to maximize the effectiveness of social distancing orders.

(…)

Potentially due to the recent increase in political polarization in the US (Boxell, Gentzkow, and Shapiro, 2020), there are concerns regarding how political beliefs would heterogeneously affect compliance with social distancing orders. For instance, a pastor from Arkansas told the Washington Post that “in your more politically conservative regions, closing is not interpreted as caring for you. It’s interpreted as liberalism, or buying into the hype.” The same report also documents that people from more liberal areas show more distrust in President Trump’s initial message and are more proactive about social distancing.1 The press has also highlighted that President Trump initially downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that Republicans may not take social distancing orders seriously.

(…)

Next, analyzing differential responses to state policies, we find that Republican counties respond less to social distancing orders relative to Democratic counties. A one standard deviation increase in the county-level share of votes for Donald Trump in the 2016 election is associated with a 3pps lower percentage of people who stay at home after a state social distancing order relative to the average county. This finding is robust to subsample tests designed to adjust for county population and density.

Our final tests focus on whether the political affiliation of the governor announcing a state-level social distancing order affects compliance. If Republican’s lower response to social distancing orders is due to President Trump’s early dismissal of the pandemic, we may likewise find that Democrats’ response to orders may vary based on the political affiliation of who gives the order. We identify “aligned” counties as those with the same political affiliation as the governor and “misaligned” counties as those with conflicting political identities. We find that misaligned counties have a 2.9pps lower response to state policy social distancing orders relative to aligned counties. This difference is driven by misaligned democratic counties. These results suggest that the difference in compliance to social distancing orders based on partisanship is likely due to how credible residents find government officials and not an information transmission channel. Taken together, our results suggest that political polarization is a major roadblock on the path to full compliance with social distance measures. Republicans and misaligned Democrats are less likely to adhere to these orders, suggesting that bipartisan support for social distancing measures is a key factor in how quickly we can mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.”