Church attendance, dirt and politics (what we don’t know about ourselves)
We’ve written before about how what we say is not what we do. That is, our expressed values are not reflected in our behavior. And a new study points that (somewhat depressing) reality out yet again.
Americans lie (breaking the 9th Commandment) about how often we attend church services. This has likely skewed the data on American religiosity reported by social scientists, and is probably a reflection of the greater perceived social desirability attached to church-going by Americans than by those from other countries. Additionally, it reinforces the idea that we should remind ourselves to not believe everything we hear from our friends, family, and the potential jurors in the jury box. Self-reports are not accurate. And often, we simply do not realize we are not reporting accurately. We simply want to appear to be ‘good’ people.
And it isn’t just self-reports where we report things about ourselves that are not true. We are swayed by both external situations and internal attitudes. And it happens all the time in multiple different situations. This time we’ll talk about two: dirt and politics.
Most of us would say that our values and attitudes are the same no matter where we are. We might be on a flying airplane, a crowded bus, asleep in our own beds. What we think is acceptable or moral for ourselves stays the same. And in believing thus, we would be in error. The field of moral psychology has been garnering increasing attention—most often in the area of disgust.
The flip side of disgust is cleanliness, purity, or the desire to feel pure and clean. Simone Schnall conducts research on the desire to feel clean and pure. She tells us that our value judgments are strongly affected by our surroundings. If you sit at a disgusting table or in a room with a bad odor—you are more likely to say that telling white lies to get a job is wrong than is someone sitting at a clean table or in a sweet-smelling room!
A sour environment breeds less tolerance for misconduct.
You may be quite sure that your own political outlook (conservative or liberal) sets you apart from those on the opposite end of the continuum from you— e.g., ‘I am different in politics, so I am different in all ways’. And we are not about to tell you it isn’t true. Liberals and conservatives ‘see the world’ differently. We know that subjectively to be true. It is also apparently literally true. Researchers from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln found this:
In a new study, UNL researchers measured both liberals’ and conservatives’ reaction to “gaze cues” – a person’s tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person’s eye movements, even if it’s irrelevant to their current task – and found big differences between the two groups.
Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.
Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives’ value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts.
Liberals may have followed the “gaze cues,” meanwhile, because they tend to be more responsive to others, the study suggests.
In other words, the conclusion of the researchers is that liberals are more attuned to others, more responsive and more likely to become involved in interactions with others. Ultimately, this may be a voir dire tip—not for liberalism/conservatism per se but for a window into the likelihood of the individual juror to engage with your story.
The point of all this is simple. We are strongly swayed by factors of which we have little to no awareness. We lie to look good. Dirty or clean surroundings make our report of what we think about behavior vary. And our political perspective influences how we engage with others (or maybe our engagement style determines our politics…).