Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Biological Vote.

As mentioned in our previous post, most people tend to be Cognitive Misers. i.e. System 1 thinkers. It's important to point out, however, that it's a mistake however to think that System 1 responses  constitute actual thought.  Rather, they're pre-established cognitive solutions (heuristics)--both genetic and learned--which are summoned under the appropriate circumstances.  It's more a higher order reflex than actual cognition. The thing about System 1 thinking, though, is that it is not only a response mechanism but also an interpretive one; the brain tries to fit novel stimuli into "best fit" patterns that correspond to previous experience.

It is this type of thinking is also the cognitive basis for stereotypes. When President Obama bemoaned the fact that women would clutch their handbags when he entered a lift, he really was arguing against human nature. Women, who had previously had negative experiences with black males, will upon meeting an unfamiliar black man, take a defensive posture. It's not racism it's System 1 thought.  System 1 judges a book by its cover.

The whole thing about System 1 is that its operations tend to be pragmatic and its solutions "good enough". Understanding is less valued than just simply getting by. The problem is, though, that getting by is not good enough when you actually have to understand what is going on.

Take, for example, the phenomenon of stalling in flight.  The natural instinct of a pilot, in response to a failure of lift by the wings, is to pull the nose of the aircraft up. This, however, is precisely the wrong thing to do and pilots are therefore trained to act counter-intuitively (against System 1) and push the nose down in order to regain lift. System 1 thinking can thus lead to tragic situations where it is inappropriately applied and is inadequate in complex situations

Which brings us back to democracy and its constituent element; the voter. There is convincing sociological research to show that the average voter is factually clueless when it comes to being informed about politics.There is also  convincing evidence that he is a cognitive miser. So, how then does our basic unit of enlighten democracy make his decisions on the great questions of the day?

Emotion is the overriding influence in System 1 thought Action and interpretation is orientated around emotional congruence. If it feels intuitively right, it is right.  The party, or policy, that most aligns with the emotional state is the one that earns our miser's vote. The neuroscience of emotion is thus fundamental in understanding mass political orientation.

For instance, there is convincing evidence that political orientation has a strong heritable component.
Lots of studies have consistently demonstrated differences in personality between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives being more anxious prone and order focused whilst liberals tend to be more carefree and threat ignorant. Conservative cognitive misers will therefore find emotional congruence with strong definitive leaders with definite goals and plans, i.e authoritarian figures, liberals on the other hand, will find congruence in those whose policies push their neurobiological buttons.

For the cognitive miser, it is the superficial emotional appeal that determines his vote, not an analysis of the content of party policy and its long term effects. If we take a look at German voting patterns between the wars.

Chart Reichstag Election Returns, 1919-1933

NSDAP = National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei); the Nazis
DNVP = German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei); the nationalists
DVP = German People's Party (Deutsche Volkspartei); an increasingly right-wing bourgeois party
BVP = Bavarian People's Party (Bayerische Volkspartei); a center-right party of Bavarian regional interests
Z = Center Party (Zentrumspartei); the party of Roman Catholics
DDP = German Democratic Party (Deutsche Demokratische Partei); a center-left liberal party
SPD = Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands); the majority socialist party
USPD = Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (Unabhängoge Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands); the independent socialists
KPD = Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands

A huge amount of the Nazi vote is gained by taking it away from the conservative parties in Germany. Hitler, despite a manifestly left-wing political ideology, was able to dress up his policy in a convincingly right-wing cover. The cognitive misers who were "biologically wired conservatives" joined his party in droves. (Part of Hitler's success can also be attributed to the effects of the economic depression. Cognitive misers, when placed in stressful situations tend to adopt clear cut positions. Notice the rise in the communist vote --Left wing cognitive misers.)

When I put up my post on alpha socialism, some people may have thought that it was an interpretation of politics through the lens of "Game". It was nothing of the sort. Rather, the political phenomenon of Nazism ( and communism) could be be better explained by recognising it as being an ideology in biological synchronicity with the alpha cognitive miser. Note, even being a Nobel Laureate (paging Johannes Stark ) protected one from embracing its stupidity.  But it needs to be remembered for every Rudolf Hess there was an Alger Hiss Nazism appealed to conservative instinct just a communism appeals to the liberal, and the American liberals spying for Stalin were just as contemptible as their Nazi contemporaries.

The problem for the right, as illustrated by the Nazi experience, is that the many of the "biological righties" can be won over to the left through an appeal to their instinct rather than reason. Nice agreeable white people, embracing the sexual and political revolution slowly, still embrace the sexual and political revolution in the end. Biological conservatism is not conservatism, and in the end the only thing that stops us sliding towards Gommorah is faith, logic and fact---not feelings.


Ingemar said...

I can barely see the lettering on your chart. Can you get a bigger version?

The Social Pathologist said...

Here's the link to the original image,

ElectricAngel said...

This recalls Satoshi Kanazawa's The
Intelligence Paradox.
In a nutshell, the emotional method of connection is longstanding in man; fear of being "outgroup" trumps even rational calculation. This he calls the Savannah Principle, where people who were banished on the Savannah did not survive, putting a strong herd/norming instinct in humans as default program.

The human brain is a thin scum of high-energy-consumptive tissue on top of the mammalian and reptilian brains. Let your blood sugar drop and you lose access to it, one of the lessons of the book Willpower. Libertarians most often fail to understand this dynamic of how people really are, and so they wind up like those evolutionary theorists who tell women that they will be much better off giving up their children for adoption so they can focus their limited energies and time on having more.

David Foster said...

Note also that System 1 thinking can be protected for a indefinite period, systems which compensate for the limitations of particular a System 1 cognitive model. If you regularly fly an airliner with the autothrottles engaged on approach, for example, then when you raise the nose the engine power will automatically increase in order to maintain the constant selected airspeed. This is by no means the inherent behavior of the airplane...raising the nose will cost you airspeed unless you increase power, and at a certain point even that won't help...and hence a pilot who regularly flies with authothrottle may face the risk of un-learning the basic lessons he learned as a student pilot and fall into the trap of subconsciously regarding the yoke or stick as a simple up-down control.

David Foster said...

I meant to include in my last comment: Karlene Petitt, a highly experienced airline pilot, has suggested that it would be beneficial to allow/encourage pilots to get a significant portion of their required flight much as half...flying gliders. I think she makes a good argument:

The Social Pathologist said...


I don't think outgroup fear trumps calculation, it's just that it is very difficult to overcome it.

Which raises the interesting point, why do we have innate preferences, which manifest themselves as agreeable and disagreeable sensations, in the first place?
What are their implications.

It seems to me that if people are cognitive misers by nature, then is continual override of our biological preferences good for us.
? It would appear to me that continual suppression is just as bad as continue acceptance.


If I had to make one generalisation about 20th Century social policy it would be that its aim was to separate action from consequence. System 1 override seems only to happen when people are forced to think. I think the modern welfare state is one of those mechanisms which protects System 1 thinking.

The whole "autothrottle" problem is a big problem in medicine as well. People become deskilled because of automation. I totally agree with Karlene Petitt's proposal.

It's interesting how the design philosphies of Boeing and Airbus seem to differ. Airbus seems to design its planes on the assumption that pilots are average in ability and hence automates quite a lot of the flight control whilst Boeing seems to give more control to the pilot. There seems to be less system 2 decoupling in the Boeing design approach.

I think all pilots should be made to do regular glider flying as part of their certification. There needs to be a continual refreshing of skills, since they are easily lost.

Aircraft safety seems to be one of those areas where and understanding of cognitive/circumstance interface is vital. Apparently, there is a standard protocol to take when airpseed information is lost on an Airbus; if I remember correctly fly at 70% throttle and at a certain angle of attack and keep it there. It appears that when the autopilot automatically disengaged on flight 447, the pilots became cognitively panicked and were unable to "engage" their brain. Fear, of course, inhibits system 2 thinking. That's why drill is so important in the military.

Höllenhund said...

Link to the image ain't working.

The Social Pathologist said...


Just tested it and it worked fine.

Valkea said...

First, psychologist have a huge liberal bias, so their studies concerning conservatives are often not reliable. E.g:

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: "While there is big debate about how much of the working and lower classes supported the Nazis, it is now largely settled that very significant chunks of both constituted the Nazi base. Nazism and Fascism were both popular movements with support from every stratum of society."

SP: "Conservative cognitive misers will therefore find emotional congruence with strong definitive leaders with definite goals and plans, i.e authoritarian figures ..."

- On the contrary. Liberals are prototypical authoritarians, conformists. Conservative weigh *proper, legitimate and traditional* authority. This is an anti-authoritarian stance. The conservative authority is bind and limited by conservative tradition, so that he doesn't become authoritarian. One of the conservative authority's most important task is to be a symbolic leader who doesn't have much or any real power, but who occupies the top position, so that it doesn't wind up to power hungry tyrannical hands etc. Conservative tradition and conservatives have always supported distributed, local and community power (like small town communities in 19th century America), not centralized power, like liberals. Liberal atomised and personal little individualism is not only congruent with totalitarianism and tyranny, but crucial component of them. Totalitarian authority (state or large bureaucratic organizations in general, both public and private) must always dissolve competing social organizations, and carve a artificial small little personal spaces to individuals in such a way that it becomes as difficult as possible to build local communities etc. middle level and self-ruled independent organizations. Thus when individual faces the state, he is alone and powerless. The state has total and/or tyrannical power.

Anonymous said...

"A huge amount of the Nazi vote is gained by taking it away from the conservative parties in Germany. Hitler, despite a manifestly left-wing political ideology, was able to dress up his policy in a convincingly right-wing cover."

this is precisely backwards lol

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon @2:01

his is precisely backwards lol

Facts to back up your statement?


I know the psychologists are left wing. But their bias begins at the interpretation of the data not the data itself, unless the experiment is "rigged".

I'm not sure what you're trying so say by quoting Goldberg, but it appears to support my position. Goldberg clearly shows social class does not protect against System 1 thinking, the only quibble I have with his quote is that he failed to include large segments of Germany's ruling class.

Conservatives may be anti-authoritarian but is doesn't stop them from being stupid. System 1 thinking is a feature of human nature, not necessarily political orientation.

Valkea said...

Data is, we can say faulty, if e.g. the test doesn't measure properly the intended quality, although the data is properly collected.

Goldberg says that Germany's ruling classes came late to support Hitler, as a normal (normal to them) pragmatic measure to protect their interests.

Conservatives may behave in non-conservative ways, but it should be mentioned they are behaving thus.

The Social Pathologist said...

Conservatives may behave in non-conservative ways, but it should be mentioned they are behaving thus.

A conservative behaving in a non-conservative way is not conservative.

Alfried Krupp or Sophie Scholl?

Tom said...

I don't think that everything works on a neat left-right spectrum, and the Nazis are an example.

Calling the Nazis left or right wing is mostly a game of cherry picking a few elements of their ideology to "prove" that they're closer to the other side.

It was probably covered before, but I consider Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast & Slow" perhaps the most interesting psychology book I've read in the last few years. The whole Type I/II thinking really beautifully explains much of how humans think.

I suppose if "the proles" are "cognitive misers", that makes many of us here "cognitive wastrels" :-).

Valkea said...


the discussion here concerns conservatives behaving abnormally in catastrophic economic and social situation of 1929 --->.

They are conservatives, who exceptionally behave like non-conservatives.

ElectricAngel said...


It seems to me that if people are cognitive misers by nature, then is continual override of our biological preferences good for us.
? It would appear to me that continual suppression is just as bad as continue acceptance.

A good overview of the ideas in Willpower is here. "Continual suppression" IS as bad as continual acceptance; it requires the exertion of the power of free won't (see especially the section on "Why Game Works"), which is energetically and cognitively expensive. Making decisions can leave you so exhausted you agree to anything, even things you would never do under System 1.

We are NOT, however, cognitive misers by nature: at least, that's not what Genesis tells me. Almost all of us have System 2, and the ability to use it to create programs that will be incorporated in System 1. When a society's time preference is shifted to short-term gains and thinking (think Federal Reserve, and alpha sex and beta checks), the preeminence of System 2 is diminished; only a Remnant continue to use it to program System 1 and improve automatic functioning.

If you look at the painting of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, you'll notice that God is on the background of a human brain. The Creation of Man is thus the imparting of System 2.

Anonymous said...

Hi All,

Here is a link that works. It is a bit more in depth though.

A♠ said...


You are correct.

The political spectrum, in reality/practice is not a line.

It is a circle.

Or, to make things easy, a crosshairs.

The bottom of the vertical line is where democracies/republics fall, generally speaking.

The left and right points of the horizontal line are what the uninitiated believe to be the "far left" and "far right".

The top of the vertical line is totalitarianism [Nazism, Soviet Russia].

I do hope that helps.

The Social Pathologist said...


Not a good paper, since it discusses party level politics which I do not feel adequately represents invididual political choices.

It's interesting to note that paper makes mention of the ideological split within the Zentrum party with regard to supporting Hitler.

It appears to me, that in all political parties or ideologies there seems to be a split between the conservative and more liberal elements; wets and drys, hawks and doves, hardliners vs flexible.

The "clear cut" vs "fuzzy wuzzy" axis seems to be a recurring theme in human affairs and I think has a biological basis.

The Social Pathologist said...


Cognitive miserliness is intrinsically short term orientated.

The overwhelming scientific evidence points towards the average man being a cognitive miser.

ElectricAngel said...


Cognitive miserliness is intrinsically short term orientated.

Well, yes and no. The book Willpower points out the scientific basis for why decision-making is so hard (it burns a lot of glucose), and that restoring glucose restores willpower (this is a particularly cruel matter to dieters, who must use willpower to resist sweets, which willpower is best restored by eating sweets.) It also points out that the "lone wolf" is less likely to succeed than one secure in a pack of fellow believers. In this sense, religion is an evolutionary adaptation to conserve willpower for the times when it is needed: a woman doesn't need to decide if this man is attractive enough to mate with, her religion tells her it is wrong, and she goes with System 1 on that. If the System 1 thinking, iow, is paired with a social organization or Church that reinforces long-term beneficial behavior, it is not short-term oriented.

Of course, we have System 2, pretty much unique among animals, to deal with those situations where the cognitively cheap System 1 behavior leads to a suboptimal result. Pre-Vatican II Catholicism treated most of the faithful (all, maybe) like they were all and only System 1 thinkers. As a result, it was disarmed in dealing with newer threats, and when it did try to deal with them, a somnolent laity could not engage with the arguments.

The overwhelming scientific evidence points towards the average man being a cognitive miser.
All men are; System 2 thinking is the equivalent of marathon running in place of simple walking in the energy consumption it uses. Higher-level men use System 2 a lot. Exceptional men know how and when to use System 1; they use System 2 to train themselves, running System 1 programs at most times, so that their use of System 2 is saved for those times when mental exertion can bring better results; this happens not as often as you might think.