The politics of insight

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2016;69(6):1064-72. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2015.1136338.


Previous studies showed that liberals and conservatives differ in cognitive style. Liberals are more flexible, and tolerant of complexity and novelty, whereas conservatives are more rigid, are more resistant to change, and prefer clear answers. We administered a set of compound remote associate problems, a task extensively used to differentiate problem-solving styles (via insight or analysis). Using this task, several researches have proven that self-reports, which differentiate between insight and analytic problem-solving, are reliable and are associated with two different neural circuits. In our research we found that participants self-identifying with distinct political orientations demonstrated differences in problem-solving strategy. Liberals solved significantly more problems via insight instead of in a step-by-step analytic fashion. Our findings extend previous observations that self-identified political orientations reflect differences in cognitive styles. More specifically, we show that type of political orientation is associated with problem-solving strategy. The data converge with previous neurobehavioural and cognitive studies indicating a link between cognitive style and the psychological mechanisms that mediate political beliefs.

Keywords: Creativity; Insight; Political orientation; Problem-solving.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attitude*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Politics*
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Self Report
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult