Kevin B. Smith is a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is an award-winning teacher and author of nine previous books, including The Ideology of Education: The Market, The Commonwealth, and America’s Schools and Analyzing American Democracy.
John R. Alford is an associate professor of political science at Rice University. He has published in areas as diverse as coal mine safety, pro-natalist policies in Eastern Europe, and congressional elections. He has also been active as a consultant and expert witness in the area of redistricting and election law.
Together they are leaders in a growing group of political scientists and psychologists who are utilizing biological techniques to better understand the reasons people’s political views are so diverse and often held so intensely. In 2007 they established the Political Physiology Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the first such lab dedicated exclusively to the analysis of politics. Their articles connecting biology and politics have appeared in scholarly outlets such as Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the American Political Science Review, and Science, and their research has attracted the attention of media outlets ranging from NPR to Fox News, from Spain’s Tiempo magazine to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, and from the New York Times to The Daily Show.
The authors applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, and reported the following:
In Predisposed we explore the biological basis for differences in temperament on the right and left. What really makes some people conservative and others liberal? On page 99 we are discussing mid-1900s work in social psychology that grounded political temperament in the concept of personality. Interestingly this was the basic stratagem of both the work of Erich Jaensch, cited by the far right in support of German Fascism, and the later work of Theodor Adorno, cited by the left in attempts to explain how so many people could have been lured into Fascism.Learn more about the book and authors at the publisher's website.
We try to avoid being drawn into this endless and wildly popular bloodsport of using every new social science finding to bludgeon ideological opponents. Instead we provide an informative, and politically neutral, introduction to the fascinating new science of political predispositions. Along the way the book offers an accessible window into research showing that liberals and conservatives have different tastes not just in politics, but in art, humor, food, life accoutrements, and leisure pursuits; they differ in how they collect information, how they think, and how they view other people and events; they have different neural architecture and display distinct brain waves in certain circumstances; they have different personalities and psychological tendencies; they differ in what their autonomic nervous systems are attuned to; they are aroused by and pay attention to different stimuli; they might even be different genetically.
Ultimately we want to temper the emotional response to ideological adversaries that dominates today’s political conversation. We make no pretense that conservatives and liberals can be led to agree on everything, or even anything. We simply want liberals and conservatives to understand why they are different from each other and why those differences frequently seem so unbridgeable. The now widely established fact that left-handedness is a biological predisposition, rather than the work of Satan or at best a willful defiance of majority sentiment, has allowed left and right handed people to live together without the need for one to convert the other, and without the need for us all to meet together in ambidexterity. Could the future hold a similar world where left and right minded people accept their own political predispositions, as well as those of others, as simply a fact of nature, neither remarkable nor despicable? We say the left and the right are just born that way – and vive la différence.