[Paleopsych] Meme 046: Liberals and Conservatives in Practice

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Mon Oct 24 00:44:12 UTC 2005

Meme 046: Liberals and Conservatives in Practice
sent 5.10.20

Unconventional Wisdom column 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A47307-2004Aug7 (excerpt)
By Richard Morin, morinr at washpost.com

Forget what you've heard about bleeding heart liberals or compassionate 
conservatives. When it comes to trusting others and acting for the common good, 
neither political party or ideology has a corner on generosity.

That's what Jeff Milyo of the University of Missouri and his two co-authors 
found in a survey of college students, using two experimental "games" that are 
frequently used by economists and political scientists to test altruism and 
trust. The researchers also discovered that political liberals may talk the 
compassionate talk but don't walk the walk, at least any more than 
conservatives do. Self-described liberals were more likely to support increased 
public spending and redistributive programs. But when asked to put their faith 
in others or contribute money to the larger good, lefties were no more 
munificent or trusting than right-thinkers.

"Some would argue that liberals are indeed generous, albeit with others' 
money," the researchers noted wryly in a just-published working paper 
provocatively titled "Do Liberals Play Nice?"

Milyo and his co-authors, Lisa Anderson and Jennifer Mellor of the College of 
William & Mary, surveyed a total of 196 William and Mary students to determine, 
among other things, which political party they supported and how politically 
liberal or conservative they were. Then the researchers instructed the students 
to play the two games.

In the "trust game," test subjects were paired up, and one person from each 
pair was given $10. This person could keep all the money, send only a portion 
of it to his or her partner, or send it all. Any amount that was sent was 
tripled -- an incentive to pass on the money. Then the second person could pass 
all, some or none of the money back. (The game was played repeatedly, and after 
the experiment was over, the actual dollar winnings from one of the rounds, 
chosen at random, were distributed to the pair. That kept the players trying 
hard each time to maximize their returns while keeping down the cost of the 
experiment, Milyo said.)

So what has this got to do with trusting others? "The payoff was the greatest 
if players trusted each other to repeatedly send along the full amount," Milyo 

The second game was called the "public goods experiment." The students were 
divided into teams of four. Each individual was given $10. Again, they could 
keep all or any portion of the money and contribute the rest to a pot that 
would be divided equally among all the players at the end of the game, whether 
or not they contributed anything to the pot. As an incentive for the 
participants to donate more to the group fund, the researchers upped the ante 
and increased the pot by 25 percent, meaning the four players would each earn 
more if they gave the full amount to the group fund than if they took the 
money. The game was repeated multiple times, and once again one play was chosen 
as the payoff round.

What did they find? "Bottom line: There was absolutely no difference in either 
game between levels of trust or desire to put money into the public account 
between self-described liberals or conservatives, or whether you lean 
Republican [or] lean toward the Democratic Party," Milyo said.

James Carville, Ann Coulter and other fire-breathing political partisans should 
take heed . "Partisans tend to explain differences in policy and partisanship 
as reflecting character flaws of their opponents: Republicans are mean-spirited 
while Democrats lack intelligence," Milyo said. "These results suggest that 
both groups really behave alike and something other than character explains 
these [partisan or ideological] differences."

More information about the paleopsych mailing list