New Study Says Conservatives React More Strongly to Insults Than Liberals


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?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.