Buy Generic Food Or Psychologists Will Call You A Republican
    By Hank Campbell | February 14th 2013 03:30 AM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Some controversial modern psychologists claim that conservatives and liberals don't just differ in political ideology, correlation and causation is inferred in actual personality templates and even genetics - yes, that would mean Americans are evolving into two distinct species separate from the rest of the planet. So in that odd framework they have decided American liberals are conscientious, conservatives are reactionary, conservatives are afraid of uncertainty, liberals are open to new experiences, etc. 

    You can guess the political skew of psychologists by knowing which fuzzy-wuzzy positive and negative terms are identified with which parts of the left-right graph. And it's all left-right simplicity so they can try to get in the New York Times. Knowing their idea of data is just surveys of college undergraduate students means you might not take psychology claims on conservativism and liberalism seriously - but mainstream media does, and the lack of distrust that has brought on  has become a real problem for science acceptance in the last decade.  

    Scientists are immune to that simplistic thinking. Peer review is, after all, a conservative endeavor, and such vague claims and the love affair with survey statistics would never pass peer review in actual science.  

    But if modern social psychology is mostly made up, there is no reason it has to be limited to psychologists - anyone can do it.  And so business scholars have taken the next logical step and claim political differences can be determined by - and maybe even determine, in social science land - what people buy in a grocery store. 

    If you are a rigid, fearful, un-conscientious conservative, well, you inexplicably give time and money to charity and help your fellow man a lot more, it seems, but that is beside the point - when it comes to shopping, you are so afraid of anything new and different you will pay more for an expensive name brand rather than buy a cheaper store brand version of creamed corn.

    This is in defiance of the usual one-dimensional stereotypes we are handed about conservatives; they are greedy, hate people, drink oil and worship vampire babies, etc. Since all conservatives are supposed to be some version of Old Man Potter from "It's A Wonderful Life", wouldn't they buy everything as cheaply as they can? Reason checks itself at the door in these papers and there is a better way to insult people on the right - by claiming that conservative people are so repressed and stupid that they dupe themselves into believing generic food companies are building brand new factories to produce inferior, generic corn flakes, while super-smart liberals know that the generic brand uses the exact same factory and the corn flakes are the same. 

    But that is in defiance of reality. Who is more educated by advertising and buys organic food, despite the fact that it is in no way better for anyone?  The left. Who is predominantly anti-vaccine, despite the miraculous levels of good modern medicine has accomplished?  Not fearful, close-minded, religious conservative people; overwhelmingly religious Alabama has an extremely high vaccination rate while overwhelmingly left-wing Washington and California are trying to bring back every crippling childhood disease they can.

    These people are young, pretty and smiling because they just overspent on name brands rather than buying generic. They must be conservatives. Credit: Shutterstock

    The fact that mainstream media is going to lovingly coo about this study is why the public rightfully does not trust journalism any more. Well, that and the fact that the somewhat shoddy Knight Foundation paid known plagiarist and 'psychology science' writer Jonah Lehrer $20,000 to humblebrag to them about why he is intellectually representative of a lot of science journalism (revolting) and simply needs progressive social authoritarianism to tell him to not make stuff up - $20K sounds like a lot, but that's only a mortgage payment on the $2.25 million house he bought with all those sales to the gullible people who bought his book on creativity, which was all woo-based psychology claims.

    Back to business: How did these business scholars make their determination? They sifted through sales results for supermarkets during the years 2001-2006, in a selection of counties across the USA. Then they matched the sales results to the voting history and religious belief in those counties. If they voted Republican and claimed to be religious, they must be conservatives.

    Fair enough. And in those conservative counties, they found generic products sold less well and new products took longer to catch on.  Let's use correlation to hint about marketing!

    Subtle supposition: conservatives are as afraid to buy generic food as liberals are afraid of science (expect global warming - they trust science on that one).

    Now, there are a few ways their result can also be interpreted. Maybe conservative counties are richer and don't care about value, that would be in line with the greedy, conservative stereotype.  Well, no, that doesn't work. Counties that have a Whole Foods store overwhelmingly vote Democrat, for example, while counties with a Cracker Barrel restaurant vote Republican - and Whole Foods only opens in rich places while Cracker Barrel appeals more to people with less wealth.  8 of the 10 richest counties in America voted for President Obama in 2012 so it can't be that conservatives are richer and don't have to buy generic the way poor people might.  

    Surveys - sorry, 'studies' - have also shown that when liberals get drunk their politically correct inhibitions go down and they get more conservative, not more liberal, so the premise itself could be flawed.  But, no, the scholars stick with the belief that voting is linked to fearfulness, conservatives are afraid to try anything new and that includes generic green beans.  Yet we know that despite what psychologists want to believe, it is just the opposite. It is the left who wants to send us back to the 13th century and are afraid of the present and future. Except for a slight difference in evolution acceptance and the difference regarding climate change, the right wing is far more accepting of science. On food, energy and medicine, the three biggest crises the world faces this century, the right wing wants to embrace the future while the left is afraid of uncertainty and not open to new experiences.
    Almost anything can be subjected to cultural spin by partisans and this is no exception. In the case of drunk college students, the rationalization was that super-smart liberals needed to get away from their super-smart brains and so alcohol made them respond to surveys like dumb conservatives would.  In the case of buying habits in more conservative counties,  the claim is that ideological differences are controlling daily behavior at the unconscious level. It's a "you can't prove that isn't happening" feel-good fallacy.

    They write "These tendencies are consistent with traits typically associated with conservatism, such as aversion to risk, skepticism about new experiences, and a general preference for tradition, convention, and the status quo", which would be all well and good, except those are actually descriptions of progressives when it comes to food.

    What about me?  Since comments about me currently show 'You Are A Neo-Con Nazi Shill For The Right' leads 'You Are A Commie Fag Liberal Pinko Junkie' 52% to 48%, I have to confess this paper won't clear up anything.  I buy generic whenever I can, I know which food is just as good as a name brand by now, which makes me a super-smart liberal,  but I also hunt and kill my own food, which makes me a fearful, gun-toting conservative. 

    Citation: Romana Khan, Kanishka Misra and Vishal Singh, 'Ideology and Brand Consumption', Psychological Science doi: 10.1177/0956797612457379


    You just love poking thems in the eye, don't you :)
    Never is a long time.
    It's a modern phenomenon, they used to be reasonable and will be again. Both misunderstanding epigenetics and being overrun by charlatans has ruined the field but all of the young researchers outing the frauds has shown there is hope.

    Until then, if they'd stop inspiring this kind of goofiness, I'd stop writing about it. There is value in applied psychology - marketing - and if marketing for cost and quality appeals to conservative people, so be it; food in pouches applies to young Democrats, that is just the way it is. But claiming it is because they are psychologically unable to do X and that causes it is silly.
    Let me take almost no data and pontificate a conclusion, this is pretend science done (mostly) by people to stupid to be real scientists.
    Never is a long time.
    Yeah, business scholars, not even psychologists. I make fun of Jonah Lehrer because he is exactly the kind of 'science' journalist that the social sciences like - he will believe anything that affirms his belief.  It wasn't biologists buying his book, nor was it Republicans, it was people who want to believe woo. Like the people who will believe this study says anything meaningful.
    It's sad, really.
    Never is a long time.
    Thanks for your comments.

    Just to clear up a couple of points:
    1. Your point on demographics (e.g., income) and differences in retail chains is well taken. To be clear we control for demographics in our regressions. We control for differences in retail chains - you can think of our results coming from the variation in shares between stores in the same chain. For example, consider Kroger has stores in county A and county B, we consider the differences in shares between these two stores.

    2. Your point about the survey based research with a small sample of undergraduates was one of our motivations to do this research. In this study we consider a large scale dataset of 1,860 stores with real purchase decisions in 26 product categories.

    3. Our results show the following - Across 26 categories and 2 measures of conservatism, shares for store brand products and shares for new products are lower in more conservative counties. Since in such field studies, one cannot randomly vary levels of conservatism, inference is necessarily correlational. In the online supplement I recommend you read, we discuss how robust this finding is and how we can rule out alternative explanations (e.g., store brand availability, prices, definitions of each of our main variables). As you correctly quoted we conclude that our results are "consistent with traits typically associated with conservatism".

    I am all for science, so if you have other alternative testable explanations I would be curious to hear what they are.

    I have no issue with the method, it is actually more rigorous than psychology surveys, it is the implied correlation that is a non-starter. Because it is just implied.  If you want me to attribute the Arab spring riots in the Mid-East to the price of steel, well, I can do that - the curves match. Is that really telling anyone anything meaningful about what Arab young people believe and do, no matter how regression is done?  Absolutely not.

    It's just inference - and therefore not science.
    Knight Foundation, ridiculed in the article above, now says it regrets paying Jonah Lehrer $20K to talk about himself and how modern journalism didn't show him 'the rules' about not making stuff up.  They claim they wanted to 'teach the controversy' and that they wanted to show they could address controversies.  In modern, politically activist journalism, that is not possible - the masses have spoken.  Because so many people in journalism agree, my old position must be wrong so I now have to look for ways to defend them.