KU News Release

April 11, 2012
Contact: Brendan Lynch, KU News Service, 785-864-8855

Distractions, quick thinking lead to conservative thoughts, research finds

More Information

LAWRENCE — Could knocking back a few beers influence a person’s views on property rights or the role of government in production and trade?

By asking bargoers to take a political survey and blow into a Breathalyzer, a scholarly investigator at the University of Kansas has found that as blood alcohol levels rise, people become increasingly intoxicated with conservative policies, too.

In fact, the more alcohol downed by participants in the study, the further to the political right their views leaned.

“Alcohol did not make the patrons lose track of their identity as liberals or conservatives, but when it came time to think about actual policies, the higher their blood alcohol, the more they endorsed conservative positions,” said Chris Crandall, professor of psychology at KU.

Crandall and colleagues also found that distractions, time pressure and instructions to think quickly and give first reactions boost approval of conservative policies or ideology.

“When you make it difficult to think, conservative ideas are more appealing — but that doesn’t mean you need to be stupid to be conservative,” said the KU researcher. “Rather it means conservative positions are more natural to the way we think. Our first thoughts are conservative. Other politics, be they liberal or libertarian, are harder to think about and endorse.”

Their findings will appear in the forthcoming issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The researchers compared people who were given an opportunity to think clearly and carefully to those who were barred from deep thought. Studying drinkers was only one facet of the study.

In another experiment, some subjects had to respond speedily to political ideas, while others had plenty of time. In another, some people had to devote attention to another task while answering political questions, while others could focus fully. In both cases, the people with less chance for deliberation endorsed conservative ideas more readily than those with ample opportunity for contemplation.

In a fourth study, the researchers instructed participants either to “give a careful and thoughtful response” or to “give your first, immediate response” when responding to political terms. Those instructed to give a quick response endorsed conservative terms (for example, authority, tradition, private property) more than those who were instructed to be thoughtful.

Crandall stressed that the results should not be interpreted to mean that a person couldn’t be thoughtful, smart, or deliberative and also conservative. Instead, when people are forced to rely on quick and easy thinking, conservative ideology tends to emerge.

“For both self-identified conservatives and liberals, more conservative reactions seemed to be a default setting, a first reaction,” he said.

Crandall co-authored the study with Scott Eidelman and John C. Blanchar of the University of Arkansas and Jeffrey A. Goodman of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The full article, “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism,” is available here.


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