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See Inside May / June 2011

What Are You Looking At?

Conservatives may be less sensitive to certain social cues

Liberals might be more likely than conservatives to check out what you are looking at, according to a study published online November 4 in Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. Experiments show that people take longer to notice when an object appears if they have first seen a face looking in the other direction. Now a team of psychologists and poli­tical scientists at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln report that whereas liberals do just that, conservatives do not. The researchers asked 72 undergraduates to look at a drawing of a face that looked to the left or right of a computer screen and then press a key when a black dot appeared. Despite being told the face would not predict the dot’s location, liberals took 10 to 20 milliseconds longer—about 5 percent—to notice the dot when the face looked away from it instead of toward it, indicating that they had followed the face’s gaze. Conservatives did not—they took the same amount of time regardless of where the face looked.

Study co-author Kevin Smith says one possible explanation is that “liberals are more sensitive
to social cues,” such as where someone looks, whereas conservatives value individual indepen­dence. Whatever the explanation, the results bolster the idea that political dispositions depend in part on differences in how people use social information.

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