November 12, 2013
Hungry People Are More Likely To Support Welfare System: Study
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Ayn Rand, author and philosopher, came back in vogue in just the past couple of years, notably among several politicians of national prominence. Her philosophy, which she called ‘Objectivism’ finds its base roots in the teachings of Aristotle. Objectivism, she claimed, was a philosophy for man living on Earth. Referred to by many as ‘Rational Self-Interest’, the aim is to view the situation one finds oneself in and take the actions that lead toward achieving happiness.
I go into this explanation of Objectivism because it appears rational self-interest is not always a heartless expression of hedonism.
According to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science, what should be a person’s long held and concrete beliefs, politically speaking, can be altered based upon the state of our physical body at any given point in time. And the research team believes this phenomena has evolved in humans over millennia.
Assistant Professor Lene Aarøe, from Aarhus University, who collaborated on the project with her colleague Michael Bang Petersen, posits a scenario that basically mirrors how their study was conducted:
Imagine you haven’t eaten anything in the past few hours. It is almost lunch time, and you are getting hungry. You receive an e-mail. It is a survey asking about your political position regarding the welfare state. You answer the questions quickly and head off to lunch.
Now imagine a different scenario:
You have just come back from lunch. You are feeling full, as you sit down in front of your computer. You receive the same e-mail. You answer the survey quickly and then get back to work.
Do you think your answers in these two scenarios would be the same – or different?
Aarøe and Petersen’s study suggests people’s responses in these different situations would actually differ greatly. And that goes against the prevailing understanding, around since the Age of Enlightenment, that individuals, thinking politically, will arrive at a particular decision only after they have carefully considered each of the options, weighing the pros and cons of the debate. Until this study, having an empty stomach or a full stomach would have absolutely no bearing on a person’s political leanings.
However, data collected in this research plainly shows people who are hungry empathize more with the poor, their survey answers clearly more supportive of a social safety net.
“We asked a group of test subjects to fast for four hours after which we gave them a Sprite or a sugar free Sprite Zero. One group had high blood sugar levels, while the other group had low blood sugar,” explains Aarøe.
“The results show that the group with low blood sugar levels were [sic] more inclined to support a left-wing welfare policy than the group with high blood sugar counts. This challenges the traditional notion of what influences us when we take a stance on questions such as modern welfare,” says Aarøe.
When we grow hungry, we do what our ancestors did.
Petersen and Aarøe believe this research can be applied to older civilizational models. If we look all the way back to the origin of our species, we find politics existed within our ancestral communities, the hunter-gatherer societies that roamed the savannah of Eastern Africa. How they chose to deal with societal issues has left a mark on humanity that is still felt today.
“Over the course of human evolutionary history, a critical issue has always been to secure enough food. We human animals, who live in groups and are exceptionally skilled at managing social situations, always have one extraordinary option if the hunt should fail: we can ask the more fortunate people to share their spoils with us. And if we are we to believe a number of anthropological studies, this is precisely what people do across the globe,” says Petersen. “The point is that our political opinions are determined by rationality, but it is a rational impulse that has been passed on to us from our ancestors.”
We want to share, but we have a hidden agenda.
And that brings me back to my flip-side of the coin that is the philosophy of Objectivism. A social safety net is, at its heart, a society-wide system of sharing that, as noted above, is actually a contemporary equivalent to the custom of our ancestors. And when those hungry study subjects advocated for a robust social safety net it didn’t represent a purely altruistic view toward the poor in our society. It is actually a rational self-interest strategy for securing resources for themselves.
To prove that point further, Aarøe and Petersen followed up their study with a supplementary survey in which they first asked each participant to state their political position with regard to a social safety net and then gave them money. Participants were given the option to keep the money or share with a fellow test subject. Even though the hungry subjects had just confirmed the importance of helping others, they showed little inclination to part with their remuneration to the benefit of others when given the chance.