What Do Your Politics Say About You? Conservatives & Liberals Literally Think Differently, Study Shows

Have you ever wondered what your politics say about you aside from, well, politics? The policy differences between liberals and conservatives speak for themselves; needless to say, someone who supports Donald Trump and someone who supports Bernie Sanders are probably going to clash on more subjects than the way to handle the skyrocketing cost of college tuition. That being said, liberals and conservatives with more moderate views are probably more alike than not — right?

Not so fast. According to research from Northwestern University, our political views may be indicative of larger differences in thought processes. In a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 130 undergraduates were divided into three groups based on their responses to a survey: Liberal, conservative, and neutral. The liberal and conservative groups were then asked to complete a series of problem-solving tasks designed to analyze their cognitive styles — that is, their ways of approaching a problem. Afterward, participants reported how they arrived at their solution. In the past, research has shown that these mental processes boil down to two categories: Analysis- or sudden-insight-based.

Although both groups were able to solve roughly the same number of problems, the results indicated a difference in how they did so. Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found that conservatives were more likely to use a methodical approach, in which participants gradually arrive at a solution, fully aware of the steps they took to get there.

In contrast, liberal participants tended to solve the problems through sudden insight, aka the "aha!" moment — that is, liberals were likely to work on the problem for a while, get stumped, and suddenly come up with a solution without necessarily realizing how they got there.

Researchers were careful to note that this doesn't speak to any differences in intellectual ability; rather, it indicates that liberals are simply more likely to employ creative solutions, while conservatives tend to stick to methodical ways of thinking. In real life situations, most problems can be solved either way. "It's not that there's a different capacity to solve problems... It's more about which processes people end up engaging in to solve the problem," lead author Mark Beeman said, according to Science Daily.

This is hardly the first study to look at the difference between political groups; a fairly large body of previous research has shown that our political leanings are reflections of larger differences in the way we think, even if we don't realize it. For instance, a 2012 study found that conservatives are more likely to linger on disturbing images, suggesting a tendency to be more attuned to potential threats. Furthermore, research has consistently shown that conservatives are more anxious, while liberals may be more tolerant of uncertainty. (On the other hand, a 2015 study found that Republicans are happier in their marriages than Democrats, so it's not like being conservative dooms you to a life of misery and terror.)

In short, political ideology really does speak volumes about our personalities — but that doesn't mean we can't compromise. Although liberals and conservatives differ on some pretty big issues, we all want the same thing in the end: For everyone to get an opportunity to live a happy, full life. And maybe for Donald Trump to put down the fake tanner.

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