The test criterion was to see whether a person’s political views could color the way they process data about a group trait. In the study, volunteers at New York University and the University of Toronto were asked to look at photographs of the faces of 30 men. They were then asked what they perceived this person’s sexual orientation to be.
Conservatives, it was found, rely more on “gender inversion” clues to determine a person’s orientation. In other words, people who identified as conservative in later interviews with researchers tended to find that men with more slender, “feminine” faces registered as gay. This is considered a highly stereotypical way of making up one’s mind about a stranger’s orientation. Men who look masculine must be heterosexual and men who look feminine must be homosexual, according to this type of thinking.
Conservatives also made up their minds about the men’s orientations much more quickly than liberals, meaning their decisions may be taking place on a more unconscious level. Interestingly, conservatives actually had a higher percentage of correct guesses when it came to subjects who fit more into the stereotypical mold of having more feminine traits. Liberals fared better at guessing orientations of men who looked less stereotypically “gay.”
Overall, neither group proved to be more proficient than the other. However, when liberal volunteers were given a task requiring them to focus, they performed more like conservatives. Subjects were asked to type in a series of letters, numbers and symbols — “7T4$RF%” — after every five faces they saw.
The new task required concentration, and as they performed it, they began to answer more like conservatives, falling back on stereotypical facial traits to determine orientation.
Study authors said the results suggest that both conservatives and liberals make snap judgments about orientation based on gender stereotypes, but then liberals go on to engage in a more elaborate thinking process. Unless, that is, they’re distracted, in which case they tend to go with snap assumptions like more conservative volunteers.
“Specifically,” read the study abstract, “liberals were less likely than conservatives to endorse stereotypes about gender inversion and sexual orientation, and this difference in stereotype endorsement was partially explained by liberals’ greater need for cognition.”
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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