In a new study, UNL researchers measured both liberals' and conservatives' reaction to “gaze cues” – a person's tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person's eye movements, even if it's irrelevant to their current task – and found big differences between the two groups. Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not. Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives' value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts.
“We thought that political temperament may moderate the magnitude of gaze-cuing effects, but we did not expect conservatives to be completely immune to these cues,” said Michael Dodd, a UNL assistant professor of psychology and the lead author of the study. Liberals may have followed the “gaze cues,” meanwhile, because they tend to be more responsive to others, the study suggests. “This study basically provides one more piece of evidence that liberals and conservatives perceive the world, and process information taken in from that world, in different ways,” said Kevin Smith, UNL professor of political science and one of the study's authors.