Friday, November 14, 2008

Conservatives have a better sense of humour

The article below starts out with the claim -- popular among Leftist psychologists -- that conservatives are dogmatic and rigid and less flexible and less open to new ideas. There was never any good evidence for that, just some methodologically very weak research among college students. See here and here, for instance. It is a very common finding that conservatives are happier though. Whining is basic to Leftism. It is interesting that the findings below seem to have been based on an adult sample. The findings should therefore be more generalizable than the findings from college students -- whom psychologists normally study

In strict accordance with experimental protocol, we begin by asking you to rate, on a scale of 1 (not funny at all) to 9 (hilarious) the following three attempts at humor:

A) Jake is about to chip onto the green at his local golf course when a long funeral procession passes by. He stops in midswing, doffs his cap, closes his eyes and bows in prayer. His playing companion is deeply impressed. "That's the most thoughtful and touching thing I've ever seen," he says. Jake replies, "Yeah, well, we were married 35 years."

B) I think there should be something in science called the "reindeer effect." I don't know what it would be, but I think it'd be good to hear someone say, "Gentlemen, what we have here is a terrifying example of the reindeer effect."

C) If you saw two guys named Hambone and Flippy, which one would you think liked dolphins the most? I'd say Flippy, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong, though. It's Hambone.

Those were some of the jokes rated by nearly 300 people in Boston in a recent study. (You can rate some of the others at TierneyLab, The researchers picked out a variety of jokes - good, bad, conventional, absurdist - to look for differences in reactions between self-described liberals and conservatives.

They expected conservatives to like traditional jokes, like the one about the golfing widower, that reinforce racial and gender stereotypes. And because liberals had previously been reported to be more flexible and open to new ideas, the researchers expected them to get a bigger laugh out of unconventional humor, like Jack Handey's "Deep Thoughts" about the reindeer effect and Hambone.

Indeed, the conservatives did rate the traditional golf and marriage jokes as significantly funnier than the liberals did. But they also gave higher ratings to the absurdist "Deep Thoughts." In fact, they enjoyed all kinds of humor more.

"I was surprised," said Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke University, who collaborated on the study with Elisabeth Malin, a student at Mount Holyoke College. "Conservatives are supposed to be more rigid and less sophisticated, but they liked even the more complex humor."

Do conservatives have more fun? Should liberals start describing themselves as humor-challenged? To investigate these questions, we need to delve into the science of humor (not a funny enterprise), starting with two basic kinds of humor identified in the 1980s by Willibald Ruch, a psychologist who now teaches at the University of Zurich.

The first category is incongruity-resolution humor, or INC-RES in humor jargon. It covers traditional jokes and cartoons in which the incongruity of the punch line (the husband who misses his wife's funeral) can be resolved by other information (he's playing golf). You can clearly get the joke, and it often reinforces stereotypes (the golf-obsessed husband).

Dr. Ruch and other researchers reported that this humor, with its orderly structure and reinforcement of stereotypes, appealed most to conservatives who shunned ambiguity and complicated new ideas, and who were more repressed and conformist than liberals.

The second category, nonsense humor, covers many "Far Side" cartoons, Monty Python sketches and "Deep Thoughts." The punch line's incongruity isn't neatly resolved - you're left to enjoy the ambiguity and absurdity of the reindeer effect or Hambone's affection for dolphins. This humor was reported to appeal to liberals because of their "openness to ideas" and their tendency to "seek new experiences."

But then why didn't the liberals in the Boston experiment like the nonsense humor of "Deep Thoughts" as much as the conservatives did? One possible explanation is that conservatives' rigidity mattered less than another aspect of their personality. Rod Martin, the author of "The Psychology of Humor," said the results of the Boston study might reflect another trait that has been shown to correlate with a taste for jokes: cheerfulness.

"Conservatives tend to be happier than liberals in general," said Dr. Martin, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario. "A conservative outlook rationalizes social inequality, accepting the world as it is, and making it less of a threat to one's well-being, whereas a liberal outlook leads to dissatisfaction with the world as it is, and a sense that things need to change before one can be really happy."

Another possible explanation is that conservatives, or at least the ones in Boston, really aren't the stiffs they're made out to be by social scientists. When these scientists analyze conservatives, they can sound like Victorians describing headhunters in Borneo. They try to be objective, but it's an alien culture.

The studies hailing liberals' nonconformity and "openness to ideas" have been done by social scientists working in a culture that's remarkably homogenous politically. Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one on social science and humanities faculties, according to studies by Daniel Klein, an economist at George Mason University. If you're a professor who truly "seeks new experiences," try going into a faculty club today and passing out McCain-Palin buttons.

Could it be that the image of conservatives as humorless, dogmatic neurotics is based more on political bias than sound social science? Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who reviews the evidence of cognitive differences in his 2005 book, "Expert Political Judgment," said that while there were valid differences, "liberals and conservatives are roughly equally closed-minded in dealing with dissonant real-world evidence."

So perhaps conservatives don't have a monopoly on humorless dogmatism. Maybe the stereotype of the dour, rigid conservative has more to do with social scientists' groupthink and wariness of outsiders - which, come to think of it, resembles the herding behavior of certain hoofed animals. Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is a terrifying example of the reindeer effect.




PayGo is now PayWent: "As Congress gears up to pass another spending "stimulus" bill, there's one political silver lining: Democrats are being forced to abandon the pretense of fiscal conservatism known as "pay as you go" budgeting. Late last week the leader of the House Blue Dog Coalition, Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper, announced that with Barack Obama about to enter the White House, "I'm not sure the old rules are relevant anymore." Why not? Because, Mr. Cooper said, "It would be unfair to the new President to put him in a budget straitjacket." Democrats ran on "paygo" in 2006, promising to offset any new spending increases or tax cuts with comparable tax increases or spending cuts. Once in charge on Capitol Hill they quickly made exceptions, waiving paygo no fewer than 12 times to accommodate some $398 billion in new deficit spending -- not that the press corps bothered to notice. That didn't stop Majority Leader Steny Hoyer from announcing in May that "We're absolutely committed to paygo. Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] is committed to paygo. I'm very committed to paygo. Our caucus is committed to paygo." Yet now Mr. Cooper is delivering official last rites, as the Washington spending machinery powers up in earnest. Paygo was always a big con"

The next Palin run is beginning: "As she seeks to recover politically from her failed election bid on Senator John McCain's ticket, the big question for Gov. Sarah Palin has been whether her backers would remain enthusiastic over the long run. As it turns out, over the past few days, about 1,000 people have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Our Country Deserves Better, a political action committee that is planning a pro-Palin advertisement later this month. "We thought it would be appropriate to have the thank-you ad run around Thanksgiving," said Joe Wiezbicki, the PAC's coordinator. The group expects to shoot on Monday and raise "a couple hundred thousand dollars" to buy airtime nationally."

Anti-science appointment to the EPA? "But what is no laughing matter is the lack of reason and the total disregard for science in what may be the imminent appointment of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head the EPA. I keep seeing his name bandied about among lists of potential cabinet members, but he must be barred in the name of science and reason. In short, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has proved himself little better than Jenny McCarthy, that detestable mouthpiece of the anti-vaccine crowd who has directly contributed to declining health among children, has deluded countless parents, and has supported dubious, unscientific methods. This would be a disaster and an appointment anything but reality-based. You can read much, much more from Steven Novella at NeuroLogica Blog or from David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine, or from the many, many science bloggers and skeptics who have blogged in opposition. Notable among these is Orac who goes into very great depth on Kennedy and why he's such a terrible choice"

So General Motors is struggling. How come nobody is saying much about one of the major reasons? : "Unbelievably, at its assembly plant in Oklahoma City, GM is actually obliged by its UAW contract to pay 2,300 workers full salary and benefits for doing absolutely nothing. As The New York Times describes it, "Each day, workers report for duty at the plant and pass their time reading, watching television, playing dominoes or chatting. Since G.M. shut down production there last month, these workers have entered the Jobs Bank, industry's best form of job insurance. It pays idled workers a full salary and benefits even when there is no work for them to do."

What a mockery! Saudi Arabia to Lead U.N. Faith Forum: "Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Islamic kingdom that forbids the public practice of other religious faiths, will preside Wednesday over a two-day U.N. conference on religious tolerance that will draw more than a dozen world leaders, including President Bush, Israeli President Shimon Peres and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown."

Obama likely to escape campaign audit: "The Federal Election Commission is unlikely to conduct a potentially embarrassing audit of how Barack Obama raised and spent his presidential campaign's record-shattering windfall, despite allegations of questionable donations and accounting that had the McCain campaign crying foul. Adding insult to injury for Republicans: The FEC is obligated to complete a rigorous audit of McCain's campaign coffers, which will take months, if not years, and cost McCain millions of dollars to defend. Obama is expected to escape that level of scrutiny mostly because he declined an $84 million public grant for his campaign that automatically triggers an audit and because the sheer volume of cash he raised and spent minimizes the significance of his errors"

A brilliant American military rescue that the media have "overlooked": "The American businessman lay shackled in a mud hut 8,000 feet up a remote mountain in Afghanistan, armed captors posted inside and outside to prevent any escape attempt... he said. "In my mind I'd given a military intervention a one out of a hundred chance. Not that they couldn't do it, but they're busy and I'm not that important a fellow." On an airstrip many miles away, however, several twin sets of Chinook helicopter rotor blades were starting to turn as about 60 of America's most elite troops prepared to prove him wrong. Members of a task force that Military Times agreed not to name, the commandos had been hunting for the businessman since soon after he went missing. Now they were ready to act. This is the story of one of the most daring and successful U.S. hostage-rescue missions in years."

Obama's 'Change': Appointing Beltway Has-Beens: "What's with Obama's choice of old-time Clinton cronies and recycled Washington insiders to run the transition to his new politics of change? Can't the anti-Washington-insiders and the president-elect find anyone who isn't a Beltway has-been? Judging by the appointments to his transition committee and leaks about possible top staff and Cabinet choices, Obama appears to be practicing the politics of status quo, not the politics of change. Obama based his innovative campaign on an emphatic and convincing commitment to change the culture of Washington and bring in new people, new ideas, and new ways of doing business. But now, Obama has definitely changed his tune. As president-elect, he's brought back the old Washington hacks, party regulars, and Clinton sycophants that he so frequently disparaged"


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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