The difference between conservative and liberal ideology could be as simple as noting the difference between a triangle and a vaguely triangle-like blob. A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that conservatives are more rigid about classifying shapes than liberals.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland and the University of Pennsylvania, explores the hypothesis that conservatives are more sensitive to deviance than liberals. In three different experiments, researchers asked people to differentiate between perfect and imperfect shapes. The study subjects also filled out questionnaires regarding their political beliefs and their sense of moral outrage over groups of people who deviate from social norms or rules.
They found that the more conservative views a person endorsed, the more likely they were to differentiate between perfect shapes and their ambiguously imperfect counterparts—like a triangle that’s just a little rounded or a slightly wobbly circle. In other words, conservatives were more sensitive to deviance from the visual standard, just as they might be more sensitive to deviance from social norms.
This is not the first study to tie political ideology to people’s reactions to seemingly unrelated visuals. A 2014 study found that conservatives react more strongly to disgusting images than liberals. And there’s a whole body of research that attempts to tie political beliefs with differences in the brain. MRI scans of liberals and conservatives have shown that the latter tend to have larger amygdalas, a region of the brain that plays a role in fear and threat recognition. One 2014 study found that conservatives have a greater bias toward negativity. A 2015 study found that conservatives have more self-control than liberals.