The right-wing brain is all wrong for creativity — just as we suspected.
On the list of things that will never happen, Arnold Schwarzenegger winning an Oscar for best actor has to be pretty high up there, probably somewhere between aliens taking over and Belgium becoming a super power. True, anything is possible, but the safe money is on Arnold not being recognized for his craft. Although the bulky Republican action hero was once the highest-paid movie star in the world, he is also universally understood to be a bad actor. And since acting is equally understood to be a creative profession, one might easily jump to the conclusion that Republicans aren’t very creative people.
Granted, only a tree-hugging, dolphin-saving liberal would make such a sweeping generalization, but that’s okay. There is, believe it or not, solid science to back to back up the long-held assumption that conservative brains are not wired for creativity.
In the landmark study “Creativity and Conservatism,” Stephen J. Dollinger, a psychologist at Southern Illinois University, assessed the creative aptitude of 426 undergraduates. He found that left-leaning students — or pinkos, ideologues, and America haters in talk-radio speak — unequivocally performed better than right-wing students in creative activities spanning visual art, literary art, and performing art.
To assess these skills, Dollinger asked participants to finish drawings that had already been started by an artist. Each drawing was rated for its creativity by three separate MFA students. The researcher also asked participants to take photos and write essays about each photo. These works were judged objectively by psychologists.
In the end, the judges largely agreed on the creative merit of the finished products, and the results showed that students who held favorable views on liberal issues — marriage equality, multiculturalism, reproductive rights, and whatnot — produced the most creative work. Meanwhile, those who held favorable views on conservative issues — pre-marital virginity, literal interpretations of the Bible, the death penalty, and other such niceties — produced art of a less inspired variety. Or crap in pedestrian speak.
This isn’t new research, by the way. Dollinger’s study was conducted in 2006 and published the following year on the research portal Science Direct. It followed a similarly revealing study that showed conservatives tend to eschew artwork that’s too abstract or challenging and instead prefer simplistic works (hence Thomas Kinkade and the films of M. Night Shyamalan). In other words, not only do GOPers make bad art, they also make bad art lovers.
Dollinger theorized that such reduced creativity could be the result of a greater threat-induced anxiety among conservatives (e.g., feeling threatened by the ambiguity of creative tasks), or conservatives’ inclination to follow convention and devalue imagination.
Mind you, Dollinger’s findings have surprised pretty much no one, with the exception of Karl Rove, who I hear is preparing a live rebuttal to air on Fox News. (Okay, not really.) But then why should we be surprised that the conservative mindset is one wholly lacking in creativity or artistic inspiration? Let us consider, for a moment, the kind of world most conservatives would prefer to live in. First of all, it would be a world devoid of homosexuals, so you can kiss theater goodbye. Ditto for sculpture and commercial photography. It would also be an all-white world, which rules out decent music, and a world that prohibits women from entering the workforce, so literature and dance would be out the window, too. What’s left? You guessed it: Ted Nugent and Craig T. Nelson.
To be fair, conservatives have, on occasion, contributed great things to the creative community. The late Johnny Ramone, for instance, was a bona fide Bush-loving, NRA-touting right-winger who still managed to be the greatest guitarist who ever walked the planet. And let’s be honest: Moby is further to the left than an ecology major at Evergreen State College, and that hasn’t exactly turned him into a creative genius. Statistical anomalies, after all, are part and parcel with the scientific method. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Dollinger found only a 5 percent creative variance between conservatives and liberals, but the results were still substantial enough to “support the presumption from a number of disciplines that conservatism and creativity are in some opposition,” as he put it.
Fortunately for conservatives with creative ambitions, all hope is not lost. Science may be against them, but let us never underestimate a conservative’s talent for ignoring science.