Political conservatism predicts asymmetries in emotional scene memory

Mark Mills, Frank J. Gonzalez, Karl Giuseffi, Benjamin Sievert, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Hibbing, Michael D. Dodd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Variation in political ideology has been linked to differences in attention to and processing of emotional stimuli, with stronger responses to negative versus positive stimuli (negativity bias) the more politically conservative one is. As memory is enhanced by attention, such findings predict that memory for negative versus positive stimuli should similarly be enhanced the more conservative one is. The present study tests this prediction by having participants study 120 positive, negative, and neutral scenes in preparation for a subsequent memory test. On the memory test, the same 120 scenes were presented along with 120 new scenes and participants were to respond whether a scene was old or new. Results on the memory test showed that negative scenes were more likely to be remembered than positive scenes, though, this was true only for political conservatives. That is, a larger negativity bias was found the more conservative one was. The effect was sizeable, explaining 45% of the variance across subjects in the effect of emotion. These findings demonstrate that the relationship between political ideology and asymmetries in emotion processing extend to memory and, furthermore, suggest that exploring the extent to which subject variation in interactions among emotion, attention, and memory is predicted by conservatism may provide new insights into theories of political ideology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-90
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Emotion
  • Memory
  • Multilevel modeling
  • Negativity bias
  • Political ideology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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