New Study Says Conservatives React More Strongly to Insults Than Liberals

| Mon Oct. 7, 2013 8:16 PM EDT

Via Henry Farrell, here's something that won't surprise you at all. Lafayette College professor Elizabeth Suhay ran an experiment recently that tested the effect of incendiary blog comments. As you can see in the chart below, when the test included obnoxious liberal comments, it didn't have much effect on liberals compared to a control group. But conservatives reacted pretty strongly. The comments pissed them off and their views became even more conservative than before:

Like I said, this is no surprise. You'd expect conservatives to react more strongly than liberals to liberal insults.

But here's the surprise: Another version of the test included obnoxious conservative comments. And the results were the same. Liberals pretty much shrugged off the insults, but conservatives reacted strongly compared to a control group. When they read nasty comments from their fellow conservatives, it fired them up to be even more conservative than before:

Now, there are a few reasons to take this with a grain of salt. First, it's only one study. There may be problems with methodology or question wording or a dozen other things. Second, this is pretty much what we liberals would like to believe, isn't it? That should give us pause before we get too self-righteous over this. Third, the study was done using volunteers recruited via Mechanical Turk, and I've had some pretty uncomplimentary things to say about MT before.

Still, it's intriguing and certainly deserves some follow-up. I presume this result is related in some way to the fact that conservatives tend to have higher in-group loyalty than liberals, but that's just an armchair guess. Maybe further research could dig into that.

From a political point of view, I guess the big question this study raises is: What fires up liberals? We have a pretty good idea of what fires up conservatives, but what gets us lefties going?