MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Professor Don Haider-Markel
Chair, Department of Political Science
University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS 66045
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: We have studied causal attributions for conditions and problems in society for some time. We noticed that public debate over obesity had increased and new policy proposals were being proposed to address what was deemed as a growing public health problem. As the salience of the issue increased so too did partisan views on the topic.
Based on these observations, we wanted to explore individual beliefs about the causes, or attributions for, obesity. Existing research and theory suggested that Republicans following a conservative philosophy would be more likely to attribute obesity to personal choices, such as eating habits and lack of exercise—in short, putting the locus of control on individuals. Meanwhile liberal leaning Democrats, with a known predisposition to suggest conditions or problems are outside of the control of the individual, would be more likely to attribute obesity to either genetic or other biological factors, or the broader context of widely available low-cost high-fat food sources.
Additionally, we know that individuals tend to make attributions that are self-serving. In other words, people tend to make attributions that put themselves in a positive light. Thus, personal weight should factor into obesity attributions. Here we expected that overweight people would be more likely to make attributions that removed personal blame, such as pointing to a genetic cause. People closer to an ideal weight would, on the other hand, be more likely to attribute weight-level to personal choices.
MedicalResearch.com eInterview with: Michael Bang Petersen
Associate Professor, PhD
Department of Political Science
Aarhus University, Denmark
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study?
Answer: While many think of politics as a modern phenomenon, politics has – in a sense – been with our species always. Our ancestors have been group living animals for millions of years and it would be surprising if natural selection had not shaped our ancestors’ psychology to navigate core political situations including how to manage resource conflicts. In this article, we applied this insight to the study of attitudes towards economic redistribution and theorized about the kinds of factors that an evolved psychology of conflict navigation would consider important. Given that we evolved in small-scale groups and many conflicts would have to be settled face-to-face, one such factor – at least, for males – would be physical strength. Essentially, stronger males should be more likely to escalate conflicts and pursuit their self-interest. On modern political issues of economic redistribution, self-interest is determined by socio-economic status (SES). Individuals with high SES have an interest in decreasing redistribution, whereas individuals with low SES have an interest in increasing redistribution. On this basis, an adaptationist perspective on the psychology of redistribution attitudes predicts that for rich males upper-body strength should decrease support for redistribution. For poor males, in contrast, upper-body strength should increase support for redistribution. This is what we found in three highly different countries: the United States, Denmark and Argentina. Cross countries, physically strong males opted for the self-interested political position.