How to tell liberals from conservatives: check out their rooms

Is there no human behaviour that neuroscientists can’t claim as their own? The latest issue of Scientific American reports that they can tell a person’s political affiliation by examining the tidiness of their room. Liberals love loud colours and their dwellings are full of books about travel, ethnicity, feminism and music. Conservatives are more boring and like to have laundry baskets, postage stamps, bright lights and American flags.

"It's pleasurable for liberals to think more. They gravitate toward art, to things that are not as concrete," says a co-author of a recent study in the journal Political Psychology. "Conservatives have a need for order, for there not to be ambiguity. There you see that expressed by being more orderly, having more cleaning supplies, needing to have everything lined up and organized so that one feels one's environment is predictable and therefore safe."

Conservatives tend to scare more easily, too. According to research in a September issue of Science, conservatives were startled by images of a spider sitting on a person's face or a maggot-infested wound. Liberals responded reacted the same to these as they did when they looked at images of a bowl of fruit, a rabbit or a happy child.

These are just two of a torrent of studies which attribute our political proclivities to neurology and genetics. However, not all scientists think that these are sound. "There's a lot of bad science here," says Evan Charney, of Duke University. The studies "take the most value-laden language and treat it as if you're talking about a left-spinning or right-spinning neutron. They are invariably going to reflect the value assumptions of a society—in this case, academic liberals," he told Scientific American. ~ Scientific American, September

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