- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Wiley; 1st edition (April 1, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1118094514
- ISBN-13: 978-1118094518
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (219 customer reviews)
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#305,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #282 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Elections & Political Process > Political Parties
- #286 in Books > Textbooks > Social Sciences > Political Science > Political Ideologies
- #941 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Conservatism & Liberalism
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The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality 1st Edition
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From the Inside Flap
Why do so many Republicans believe man-made climate change is a hoax? The two most common explanations are that the deniers are uninformed or that they have been bought off by corporate money. Bestselling author Chris Mooney isn't buying either of those arguments. In fact, as he points out, the better educated a conservative is, the more likely he is to dismiss climate change concerns. How can that be?
Part of the answer lies with motivated reasoning—the psychological phenomenon of preferring only evidence that backs up your belief—but in The Republican Brain, Mooney explains that is just the tip of the cognitive iceberg. There is a growing body of evidence that conservatives and liberals don't just have differing ideologies; they have different psychologies. How could the rejection of mainstream science be growing among Republicans, along with the denial of expert consensus on the economy, American history, foreign policy, and much more? Why won't Republicans accept things that most experts agree on? Why are they constantly fighting against the facts? Increasingly, the answer appears to be: it's just part of who they are.
Mooney explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things; appear more likely than Democrats to oppose new ideas; are less likely to change their beliefs in the face of new facts; and sometimes respond to compelling evidence by doubling down on their current beliefs.
The answer begins with some measurable personality traits that strongly correspond with political preferences. For instance, people more wedded to certainty tend to become conservatives; people craving novelty, liberals. Surprisingly, openness to new experiences and fastidiousness are better predictors of political preference than income or education. If you like to keep your house neat and see the world in a relatively black and white way, you're probably going to vote Republican. If you've recently moved to a big city to see what else life has to offer, you're probably going to vote Democrat. These basic differences in openness and curiosity, Mooney argues, fuel an "expertise gap" between left and right that explains much of the battle today over what is true.
Being a good liberal, Mooney also has to explore the implications of these findings for Democrats as well. Are they really wishy-washy flip-floppers? Well, sometimes. Can't they be just as dogmatic about issues close to their hearts, like autism and vaccines, or nuclear power? His research leads to some surprising conclusions.
While the evolutionary advantages of both liberal and conservative psychologies seem obvious, clashes between them in modern life have led to a crisis in our politics. A significant chunk of the electorate, it seems, will never accept the facts as they are, no matter how strong the evidence. Understanding the psychology of the left and the right, Mooney argues, should therefore fundamentally alter the way we approach the he-said-he-said of public debates.
Certain to spark discussion and debate, The Republican Brain also promises to add to the lengthy list of persuasive scientific findings that Republicans reject and deny.
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Top Customer Reviews
That said, the work would be unobjectionable. However, Mooney uses the literature surveyed to derogate conservatives as antiscientific and so on. Obviously, that is one obvious interpretation of the research summarized. However, it renders the entire tone of the book as highly critical and skeptical of conservatives. While he does note that liberals have their own issues with science, it is clear that he is much more supportive of the liberal perspective on science.
This is unfortunate, in one sense, because conservatives will turn off to the thesis of the book and results of research and not attend to a fascinating body of work. There is a recent work that uses a similar approach but does not adopt a hypercritical tone and even tries to explain the differences between conservatives and liberals--Hibbing and colleagues' book, Predisposed. The tone of that work is much more objective and, I think, persuasive.
He includes several views of personality traits from various researchers with novel ways at looking at politically active or inactive voters and party supporters. He has made it possible for a reader to use these views of political perspectives to categorize all of us who have entered comments here and have an appreciation of what other traits are co-related.
It has been a fascinating journey through discussions of brain development, neurological research, social psychology, and political science with just enough detail about supporting experiments to keep the writing interesting and not become bogged down. I am pleased by how much I have learned.
For those who want more details of experiments or his sources he has an extensive Notes section laid out in a format that makes it pleasant to use. I really liked this work.
1. How does it happen? How can intelligent people, including myself, fall for an ideology, and political platform, that is built on a foundation of ideas that sound good, but are not true?
2. How we can reach the many Republicans that are more reasonable than the ideologues on the party fringe?
3. How can I help others like me escape? How many millions of conservatives don't really believe in the conservative platform, but were sucked in by the hard-wired need for social conformity, even when it is against their own economic best interests?
I'd give Mooney an "A" on #1 and #2, and a "unanswered" on #3. The book overall though, is definitely worthy of a 5 rating for its clarity of message and effort at being objective and seeking truth over partisanship.
Even before I read Mooney's book I had some pretty good ideas about how I became conservative. The pulls of social conformity, i.e. tribalism, the appeal of certainty and simple message is extremely strong, especially when one is surrounded in nearly all areas of life by conservatives and conservative messaging (propaganda?).
Fortunately I have a brother and sister in-law, both of whom having training in science, that were able to get through to me - "to show me the light", as it were. I am incredibly thankful to them for enabling my escape from the lies and deceit that is conservatism - despite the comfort that those lies provided.
Mooney's book confirmed my assumptions and findings from prior reading with overwhelming scientific evidence. One might think that he used some of the conservative "truth confirming" tricks of motivated reasoning and selection and confirmation bias, but he genuinely seems to have bent over backwards to present the data with honesty and objectivity - as true "truth seeking" liberals generally do.
Mooney also had some good ideas about how to reach conservatives - find common ground, don't attack their beliefs head on and use conservative techniques of appealing to authority and emotion while telling a story. Don't deluge them in facts - which will ultimately backfire and reinforce the incorrect belief. Engaging with conservatives is an art-form and Mooney provides some helpful techniques.
To my dismay, he did not address my third question. I'm not sure if this question, how to reach conservatives that are not REALLY conservative, is lacking data, or is just not worth the effort due to the small numbers (or large? Do we even know?) of people that fall into this category. My own unscientific perspective is that the ratio of conservatives who don't "believe" is probably similar to the number of people in church each Sunday who don't really believe in God or in the doctrine of their religion. Why would it be any different?
I don't think many true Republicans will read "The Republican Brain" as they are not typically "open to experience", hence the reason why they are Republican. That is unfortunate as they are in most need of its message. I fear that GOP insistence on ideological conformity on topics that are blatantly wrong will be the death of their party - which is a shame given the benefit we all receive from having two strong, and well-informed, political parties.
It is my hope, however, that the vast middle of reasonable, open-minded and politically independent people that want to understand the psychology of today's political mind will READ THIS BOOK.
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