UNL professors research the biology of political differences

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Updated: Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:38:09 CST

The death penalty, abortion, immigration and Obamacare, a short list of many divisive issues between liberals and conservatives.

Topics that can stall Congress, maybe even turn a family reunion sour.

Have you ever wondered where your political beliefs come from?

"Common perception is that they all come from what our parents have told us." Said Dr. John Hibbing, professor of Political Science at UNL.

It turns out your parents' political views play just a small role in yours.

Researchers held a skin conductance test on a student subject Monday. His hands, eyes and legs were connected to monitor's, sensing any physical response.

"This is his skin conductance, it will move out of the frame as he becomes more excited by what's going on." Explained one of the researchers of the results.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska Lincoln say political ideology stems from biology.

"We know that when people are presented with a stimulus, something in their environment that they see or hear or smell, that there are changes, their nervous system goes into action." Said Dr. Hibbing.

The same student subject was then hooked up to an eye detector.

"The little blue represents his pupil, the camera locks into that and then we calibrate it as he looks around the screen to see if the pupil is tracking everywhere on the screen." Said Mike Dodd, Professor of Psychology at UNL.

From skin conductor tests, to eye tracking tests, researchers at UNL are looking at how physiology plays a role in political beliefs.

"The people who pay attention to negative things are also the ones that tend to respond more to negative things" Said Dr. Hibbing.

Subjects are shown both positive and negative images, like a house on fire or two people hugging.

How they react to those images tells researchers more than the eye can see.

The eye tracking device can determine if someone is liberal or conservative.

"Conservatives do pay more attention to things that are concerning or upsetting." Said Dr. Hibbing.

So what does this tell us about those that lean left or those that lean right?

"People experience the world very differently," explained Hibbing.

It may not seem surprising that societal factors affect who you are as a person.

"Whether it's genetics or environmental influences, what our research is stressing" Explained Dr. Hibbing, "It's at a richer and in some respects a more concerning biological level."

Dr. Hibbing and his colleagues inside UNL's Political Physiology Lab say that by understanding the root of another's differences, "it might actually help to make the political system a little bit better, in the sense that people are very intolerant of those who disagree with them politically." Said Hibbing.

If you're interested in learning more about the research being done at UNL, Professor Hibbing recently co-authored, Predisposed: Liberals, conservatives and the Biology of Political Differences.

It's available in many local bookstores and online.