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Irreconcilable differences links

Posted by Robin Abrahams  February 2, 2012 02:06 PM

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Additional reading (and listening) on the "irreconcilable differences" of politics, football, and Tweet seats, for those who are interested. This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education explores the research of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.
Haidt (pronounced like "height") made his name arguing that intuition, not reason, drives moral judgments. People are more like lawyers building a case for their gut feelings than judges reasoning toward truth ... 
How much of moral thinking is innate? Haidt sees morality as a "social construction" that varies by time and place. We all live in a "web of shared meanings and values" that become our moral matrix, he writes, and these matrices form what Haidt, quoting the science-fiction writer William Gibson, likens to "a consensual hallucination." But all humans graft their moralities on psychological systems that evolved to serve various needs, like caring for families and punishing cheaters. 
Building on ideas from the anthropologist Richard Shweder, Haidt and his colleagues synthesize anthropology, evolutionary theory, and psychology to propose six innate moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation ... 
And the six moral foundations are central to how Haidt explains politics. The moral mind, to him, resembles an audio equalizer with a series of slider switches that represent different parts of the moral spectrum. All political movements base appeals on different settings of the foundations-- and the culture wars arise from what they choose to emphasize. Liberals jack up care, followed by fairness and liberty. They rarely value loyalty and authority. Conservatives dial up all six.
I'll be curious to hear what you think of this article, readers. I find Haidt's work thought-provoking, but flawed. (For a huge timesink, check out his online research site, YourMorals.) For one thing, almost any actual behavior that you could think of -- recycling, say, or helping old ladies across the street, or attending worship services -- could potentially be framed as more than one of Haidt's six foundations. You help the old lady because your Scoutmaster told you to and you revere authority, I help the old lady because she needs help and I believe the strong should care for the weak. 

Moving from politics to politicians, Libby Copeland of Slate was on WGBH before me, discussing her article on whether -- or, more to the point, how -- looks matter in politics:

And then, in 2005, Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov and colleagues published an astonishing study suggesting that beauty didn't tell the whole story. Rather, voters appeared primarily drawn to faces that suggested competence -- so much so that the effect could actually be seen in election results. In the lab, subjects glanced for a single second at the faces of congressional candidates. They didn't know anything else about the candidates, and they didn't recognize them. Almost 70 percent of the time, the face that subjects judged as more competent-looking actually won the election. 
What does competence look like? Working with subjects rating photos of hundreds of faces, Todorov and colleagues have developed computer models of how faces can suggest character traits like trustworthiness and likability. The competent face shape is masculine but approachable, with a square jaw, high cheekbones, and large eyes. When people say Romney just looks presidential, this is the image they're summoning.
A 2003 Ig Nobel Psychology Prize-winning paper found that people evaluate politicians' personalities differently than they do the personalities of non-politicians. Just as we judge others by their beauty but politicos by a subset of beautiful features, when people reason about other folks -- answering the basic question, "What kind of guy is Joe?," for example -- they evaluate them on a number of different aspects. Five aspects, particularly: extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. 

When people are asked what kind of guy is Joe, when Joe is a politician, they talk about two dimensions of personality: honesty and, again, competence. The paper, by Gian Vittorio Caprara and Claudio Barbaranelli of the University of Rome, and Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University, won largely on the basis of its disarming title, "Politicians' Uniquely Simple Personalities" (Nature, vol. 385, February 1997, p. 493). 

I wrote articles on Super Bowl etiquette in 2009 (when we didn't have a team in the Bowl) and on election-night party etiquette in 2008. From the latter:

That said, some self-management is in order. If you really think you're going to spend the night in the bathroom crying if your guy loses, you're not in shape to go to a party. Watch with family or have a few, equally emotionally invested friends over. 
If you are hosting an election party, plan it the same way you would a Superbowl party. Either you invite exclusively hard-core followers who will watch the game with total concentration, or you invite more moderate fans who think that conversation is acceptable even when the field is in play, or you invite both and have televisions in separate rooms so that the intent & obsessive crowd can get their game on in peace and the more socially minded can mingle without either group annoying each other. (Put the "social" television in the kitchen, since that's where that crowd will end up anyway.)
And finally, a rough video of part of the "Tweet This!" panel on Tweet seats from Monday night.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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