Study Ties Political Leanings to Hidden Biases

The field of social psychology has long been focused on how social environments affect the way people behave. But social psychologists are people, too, and as the United States has become increasingly politically polarized, they have grown increasingly interested in examining what drives these sharp divides: red states vs. blue states; pro-Iraq war vs. anti-Iraq war; pro-same-sex marriage vs. anti-same-sex marriage. And they have begun to study political behavior using such specialized tools as sophisticated psychological tests and brain scans.

Emory University psychologist Drew Westen put self-identified Democratic and Republican partisans in brain scanners and asked them to evaluate negative information about various candidates. Both groups were quick to spot inconsistency and hypocrisy — but only in candidates they opposed.


  • When presented with negative information about the candidates they liked, partisans of all stripes found ways to discount it.
  • Supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did.
  • Substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces and districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.
  • Volunteers shown visual images of blacks in contexts that implied they were getting welfare benefits were far more receptive to Republican political ads decrying government waste than volunteers shown ads with the same message but without images of black people.

The full article can be found on The Washington Post

What are your views on this study?  Do you think it’s credible or hogwash?

As much as I don’t like to admit it, I know there is some bias that exists.  However, I do believe it takes both sides to fuel bias – whether it’s racial, political or whatever.

This post written Jan., 2006 on

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