Pandemic politics

What kind of person is liberal? What constitutes being a conservative? Can we derive political conception based on personality traits? With the powers of social media, knowing the answers to these questions can be a gamechanger, which it supposedly was for Trump in 2016. Although later the influence of this psychometric targeting on the results of the election was heavily debated, even a small measurable influence can definitely tip the scales in the end.

Before researching the correlation between psychometrics and political views, it was generally believed that conservatives are afraid of change. Thus fear, an emotion that maps onto the big fives “neuroticism”, should be relatively high in people who have conservative views, right? Strangely however, it turns out that liberals are generally higher in neuroticism than conservatives.[1] The fact that neuroticism is not correlated, means that fear is not the right neurological circuit to explain apprehension toward change.

A disgusting scientific discovery.

Finding a hair in your soup can make you lose your appetite (even when it was once attached to your own head), yet you don’t run away from the dinner table in a screaming panic. Also, even though you’re not afraid of moldy food, you certainly don’t like being around it. Thanks to the insular cortex of your brain, these kinds of things give you a direct emotional response of rejection or revulsion to something potentially offensive, distasteful or contagious[2] (keep this one in mind).

A little digging through articles will teach you; Conservatives are actually more easily disgusted than liberals.[3] Even though that is a mind-blowing discovery in itself, the fact that emotions like disgust may influence political views can also tell us something about where we are heading during a pandemic in an already stormy and heavy polarized political climate.

Pathogens and Politics

Amid this COVID-19 pandemic it seems trivial to discuss the correlation between someone reacting to a cockroach and the color of their tie. However, research that tests the so called “parasite stress” hypothesis shows us that being mindful of how health crises influence our political priorities is probably a good idea. This study revealed that parasite prevalence strongly predicted cross-national differences on measures assessing individuals’ authoritarian personalities, and this effect statistically mediated the relationship between parasite prevalence and authoritarian governance.[4]

In other words, the presence of highly contagious viruses in a region makes it more likely for authoritarian governments to emerge there. Something to think of next time we’re standing in that voting booth.

Be safe!



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Tijs van der Velden

Tijs van der Velden

Solution Architect, Microsoft technology enthusiast