Will Bunnett

Politics • Branding • Psychology

The Conservative News Bubble Is Psychological

Charlie Cook rightly points out that the conservative news bubble isn’t just differences of opinion or predictions gone a little wrong: What we’ve seen are “astonishing miscalculations on hugely consequential matters.”

Imminent fail

Now imagine making this kind of miscalculation for your entire political party.

For my part, I’ve already explained why I think this bubble — the bubble that caused presidential loser Mitt Romney not to even bother writing a concession speech, the bubble that caused an actual member of Congress to assert that catastrophic debt default would stabilize markets — is the most dangerous political force in the country today. But if you’re curious about why this bubble is so strong, check the psychology.

That’s what Cook did. Really. He consulted the sort of professional help many liberals wish right-wingers would:

I consulted a psychiatrist and a psychologist on this question. Both said there is no formal term for the behavior some Republicans are exhibiting, but one described the groupthink as “hysterical delusional affirmation,” and the other named it “delusional synergy.” One said, “It entails suspension of logical intellectual processes with a selective consideration of only confirmatory input. Paranoid people typically experience ideas of influence and control where they believe that they see things that others cannot. This process is often propelled by delusions of grandeur, quite often messianic in nature.”

“Delusional synergy.” “Selective consideration of only confirmatory input.” Also known as “information bubble.” Makes sense. But I don’t think Cook’s experts quite get to the psychological heart of why this issue is so intractable.

When psychologists test people on personality traits, “liberals tend to score much higher on Openness (interest in novel experiences and ideas), while conservatives score much higher on Conscientiousness (preference for order, stability, and structure in your life).” Incidentally, those tests sometimes go into much more creative territory than normal questionnaires:

[E]xamining the contents of 76 college students’ bedrooms, as one group did in a 2008 study, revealed that conservatives possessed more cleaning and organizational items, such as ironing boards and calendars, confirmation that they are orderly and self-disciplined. Liberals owned more books and travel-related memorabilia, which conforms with previous research suggesting that they are open and novelty-seeking.

It’s OK to have a different balance of these traits from person to person. You enjoy your ironing boards; I’ll be over here digging on my travel books. But when they get out of whack in a conservative, that turns into a political pathology. When Conscientiousness dominates, a conservative will seek the order and stability of opinions that confirm his existing viewpoint — and the Openness that would ordinarily help him seek out novel experiences and ideas to break the bubble instead withers and atrophies.

When you live in a bubble, it can be hard to accept facts that don’t fit with
what you think you already know.

With right-wingers now so deep in their bubble that they’ve essentially cut themselves off from any easy retreat, the only possible outcome is for the bubble to pop eventually. And when that pop comes, it’s going to be very painful for conservatives. Of course, just like the pop of the conservative economic bubble in 2008, it’s likely to be very painful for the rest of us, too — especially if it comes in the form of a debt default.

If only there were some way we could warn them.



Comments are closed.