Progressives follow eye movements more than conservatives, the authors contend. That means that progressives (also, liberals, if you don't know what the word liberal means) and conservatives quite literally do not see the world in the same way. The researchers measured reaction to 'gaze cues' - the tendency to shift attention based on another person's eye movements. Essentially, they wanted to find out who looked more at what distracted someone else.
They put 72 people in front of a white computer screen and were told to focus on a small black cross in the center. The cross then disappeared and was replaced by a face, but with eyes that were missing their pupils. When pupils appeared in the eyes they were looking either left or right and then a small target would appear either on the left or right side of the face . When the target appeared, participants would tap the space bar on their keyboard, giving researchers information on their susceptibility to the "gaze cues." Each sequence, which lasted milliseconds and was repeated hundreds of times.
An example of a gaze-cuing sequence in the study. Credit: UNL
Afterward they surveyed respondents on their political leanings and found that left-wing people responded strongly to those gaze cues but right-wing people did not. The good news; if you're a conservative, it means liberals are distracted easily and always off on something new. If you're a liberal, it means conservatives aren't thinking about other peoples' needs. Or it may mean that conservatives have better manual dexterity or think faster or any other cultural position you want to map to a biological topology, because social scientists are convinced liberals and conservatives are biologically different whereas the rest of us simply believe a conservative is a liberal who got mugged. America is, at its core, a liberal country, even if 50% of the voters are not modern-day progressives.
What is the interpretation of the researchers? The researchers suggest conservatives' belief in personal autonomy make them less likely to be influenced by others and so less responsive to gaze cues.
Citation: Michael Dodd, Kevin Smith and John R. Hibbing, Attention, Perception&Psychophysics (no online citation yet)