Belief in inherent hierarchy differentiates liberals and conservatives, study finds
Brain image (Shutterstock)

A new study on what makes conservative brains tick suggests it may come down to a proclivity to view reality as "inherently hierarchical," according to researchers.

Initial research indicated that conservatives tend to view the world as more dangerous, but subsequent studies have failed to replicate that finding.

Now, psychologists Nick Kerry and Jer Clifton at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered in their research that the "main difference between the left and right is the belief that the world is inherently hierarchical," Clifton writes in Scientific American. "Conservatives, our work shows, tend to have a higher belief than liberals in a hierarchical world," he notes.

People "high in hierarchical world belief see the world as full of differences that matter because they usually reflect something inherent, real and significant." Such individuals tend to separate and rank things of "greater value from things of less value," Clifton explains. The "opposite view ... tends to perceive differences as superficial," with lots of "gray area" when it comes to value or value ranking, he adds.

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Clifton argues that the discovery hints at tactic help bridge the gap between the right and the left. Rather than attempting to assuage right-wing fears about people typically not high in a social or political hierarchy, for example, progressives could instead emphasis smudged lines between rigid, ranked categories in conservatives' hierarchies.

"Consider debates around LGBTQ+ topics," he writes. "Conservatives may feel the line separating men and women is natural and innate — a big, bold line — whereas liberals may see that distinction as more superficial and culturally based—a gray area."

It may be helpful, he suggests, to "blur" the lines for conservatives by noting that a "small but consistent number of babies are born with ambiguous genitalia and arbitrarily assigned a gender at birth, which suggests the line between male and female is not always extremely clear."