A sneeze is a sneeze: conservative disgust sensitivity not at odds with Coronavirus

By Stephen, 21 May, 2020

Ezra Klien's asks Why are liberals more afraid of the coronavirus than conservatives? Covid-19 and the complex politics of fear.

What does it mean that conservatives think about politics using the part of their brain that evolved to give us a sense of disgust around possible infections — yet don't fear this virus as much as liberals?

To take a step back from politics, someone might be a "visual thinker" who usually thinks in images, such as using the same neurons that process images to process a math equation.

Parts of our brain are wired to tell us when something is disgusting. Conservatism is hypothesized to involve using the same parts of the brain that we evolved for disease avoidance when thinking about something else.

(1) By that theory, they are no more or less likely to think more about disease itself. Everyone is a visual thinker when they are processing an image. Everyone has intuitions about what is icky when they see something icky. A sneeze is a sneeze.

For example, imagine there is a neighboring country threatening yours militarily. A visual-thinker might have a mental map of where both countries armies are. A disgust-thinker may have an intuition about those armies that feels like being sneezed on, or might feel like it is their body and not just their country being invaded. A sneeze is a sneeze for everyone — but is a foreign military a sneeze, is an immigrant a sneeze?

(2) Media framings are huge. We've been told this is just a flu, told it is a threat from China as if that is relevant and sheltering in place is not relevant. It would be interesting to study conservatives who've been in the room with patients showing symptoms. As we are likely to see millions of cases in the months ahead, Democrats should think carefully about how messaging will be heard by people who hold a moral foundation based on disease avoidance, who've been in the room with someone showing those symptoms thanks to their president. In what direction will those fears be turned?

Read more in Cognitive Politics.