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The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality Hardcover – April 1, 2012
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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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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Overall, it left me with the depressing impression that no amount of fact-based, or evidence-based argument with the right will ever change anything. When you can't argue with people on these fundamental bases, then what? Well, read the book. Libs can learn a lot here, too (about the right as well as themselves). The problem is, the people who most need to read this book will just dismiss it outright or reject it's conclusions.
The Closing of the Liberal Mind has an excellent review of the history of the whole concept of “liberal” starting with the French Revolution, and only starts to lay on some questionable right wing ideology midway through chapter 3. If you are discerning enough to see through the very types of bias the author is arguing against (like George W Bush’s falsehoods after 9/11 being largely a liberal phenomena, like the “sexual revolution” being portrayed via Woodstock hippies rather than Comstock Law and pre contraception pill sexual repression) – the book’s historical review, and lists of who stood on which side of which interpretation of “liberal” is hard to find anywhere else.
The Republican Brain takes a different tack and reviews modern psychology and neuroscience for why people tend to think and act as they do. One good thing about Republicans: they tend to keep their lawns and yards neater than Democrats (and therefore for me – make better neighbors). As in “The Closing of the Liberal Mind” – you have to dismiss a few things (like the case against capital punishment for murders as being a “bias”), but overall (for me) I found it had fewer things to dismiss than “Closing of the Liberal Mind”.
Finally – if you want to try to mediate between the two explanations of moderate to hard core ideology – try Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart”. Take the test in chapter 4 to find out what shapes your world view.
I identify as a liberal on most political issues and ironically this book gave me a newfound respect for the people on the other side of the aisle. Good book for those who are ready to put in some time to understand better the polarization in modern american politics.
He endlessly sights statistical tests of with accuracy to better than 1:10,000, based on ONE study of around 150 college students as the sample population, showing a 20% difference between the way liberals and conservatives think. He then extrapolates these the all conservatives in general. This is complete nonsense. The idea that such a small sample could be extrapolated to the populace at large is completely wrong. Small differences in how a question is phrased can cause the results to vary by over 50%. One would have to do many different trials (different phrasing) of thousands of individuals to make such claims and even then it would be a stretch. Using one study is just false. In the end, the author reaches far beyond his data, which is just what he accuses Conservatives of doing. Very disappointing!
Note: There has been some work that shows conservatives tend to have higher aversion to ambiguous conditions, which then leads them to have a more black & white view of the world, but its not well quantified, and will take years of more study to better define the neurological and social causes. Also, B&W thinking is not confined to conservatives.