2020 has been a very divisive year. While this has caused a lot of misery, it also affords us a unique opportunity to look at the psychology of conflict.
The “Karen” phenomenon has taken a central position on the 2020 stage. If you aren’t caught up to at least season 2 of 2020, you might not be familiar with the term. It started a few years ago, but came into full use this year. Karens are entitled, middle-aged, white women. They tantrum in public when not getting their way. Such fits frequently require speaking to a manager about a problem that isn’t really a problem.
What upsets the Karen avatar is often reflective of white privilege. Accordingly, we usually (though not exclusively) use the model to label conservatives. When a woman goes into a store and has a meltdown over the requirement to wear a mask, she’s embodying both conservative ideology and “Karen-ness.” The white woman on her lawn pointing a gun at liberal protesters or the white woman threatening to call police on a person of color further reinforce the conservative nature of the model.
In part because of this, many believe conservatives more readily exhibit disgust than liberals. Interestingly, there is some past research supporting this conclusion.
But this conflicts with the traditional conservative narrative. Conservatives typically view liberals as cry-babies offended by anything and everything. Their go-to label of liberals is “snowflakes.”
A new study, published in September of 2019, in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin offers insight into the political nature of disgust.
Researchers conducted a series of five studies, looking at both American and German students. In each, subjects read various statements and were measured for disgust.
Some of the statements were designed to elicit disgust in liberals. They included such topics as:
- Tax evasion,
- Environmental pollution,
- Animal abuse,
- Racism, and
Other statements were designed to elicit disgust in conservatives. They included such topics as:
- Consumption of illegal drugs,
- Disturbances of church services, or
- Homeless people begging.
Still other statements were neutral-sounding. Some would likely spur disgust in anyone.
The results of the study supported the theory both liberals and conservatives exhibit similar levels of disgust or anger when presented with a position embraced by the other side. Said differently, both liberals and conservatives were having emotional reactions in very much the same way. It was simply the triggering events that differed.
Note also, this reinforces the behavioral model I offer in Emotional Embuffination, the book. In Chapter 5 I outline a model with which you can analyze emotional reactions in people. The gist of the first part of it is you will react with a negative emotion when you run into something that represents conflict with a strongly held belief.
For example, if you’re a liberal and hear something very conservative or if you’re a conservative and hear something very liberal, you’ll likely experience anger, disgust, or some other dark feeling.
If you want to learn more, check out the Emotional Embuffination book. If you want help managing specific negative emotions during 2020, check out My Reality Generator.