Friday, November 13, 2015

The BeanFest Video Game: for Liberals & Conservatives

Can Science Explain? 
Curious what science is learning about the difference between liberals and conservatives? Somewhat surprisingly, their differences appear to precede their politics. I.e., they perhaps choose their ideological leanings based on their personal, pre-established dispositions, rather than on the issues. At least, that's one interpretation of the evidence.

One of several experiments that illustrates the deep-seated differences between liberals and conservatives is BeanFest, a simple video game. The single player is offered a variety of cartoon beans in different shapes and sizes, with different numbers of dots on them. As each new bean type enters the game, the player must choose to accept it or not without knowing in advance what will happen. Some beans give you points, and others take them away. You don't know until after you try them.
"In a recent experiment by psychologists Russell Fazio and Natalie Shook, a group of self-identified liberals and conservatives played BeanFest.  And their strategies of play tended to be quite different. Liberals tried out all sorts of beans.  They racked up big point gains as a result, but also big point losses—and they learned a lot about different kinds of beans and what they did.  Conservatives, though, tended to play more defensively. They tested out fewer beans. They were risk averse, losing less but also gathering less information."
The BeanFest game and associated experiment have no connection to politics, only to simple point counting. There's risk, decisions, and lessons learned but nothing more. Each player plays against himself alone. It's an incredibly simple game that incidentally reflects the mindset and disposition of the player.
"The BeanFest experiment is just one of dozens summarized in two new additions to the growing science-of-politics book genre:
  • Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, by political scientists John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford 
  • Our Political Nature, by evolutionary anthropologist Avi Tuschman. 
The two books agree almost perfectly on what science is now finding about the psychological, biological, and even genetic differences between those who opt for the political left and those who tilt toward the right. However, what they’re willing to make of these differences, and how far they are willing to run with it, varies greatly."  
Excerpts are from The Origin of Ideology by Chris Mooney

One might infer, for example, that at the two distant ends of this ideological spectrum, we would discover that conservatives are cowards, and that liberals are idiots.  Or that conservatives are narrow-minded, and that liberals recognize no reasonable standards.  Or that holding too closely to either position defeats the purpose of having a brain in the first place.  
What we do know is that these are difficult times.  What's next?   What are the issues of conscience and conviction that citizens need to tackle?
Perhaps the greatest challenge we face as a nation is the
 extraordinary degree of polarization we see in ourselves

 and in Congress.