It’s March. Time to tune in to endless hours of college hoops, fill out a bracket despite having not watched a minute of college basketball all season, and fire up the live stream at the office. This is the one place void of politics. Right?
Wrong. That’s according to new research from Butler University Assistant Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism Ryan Rogers. Turns out, according to Rogers’ research, those who lean liberal politically fill out brackets differently than those who lean conservative. And those differences, according to his study, are magnified when decisions are made in groups of like-minded individuals.
“When we broke groups up by political ideology, and had them fill out brackets together over the Internet, even though the task was something seemingly mundane, we saw how certain traits and values became more salient, and then how conformity is even more prevalent when a group thinks similarly,” Rogers says. “This then led to consensus more readily during the decision-making process.”
In his study, 118 people were divided into small groups based on self-identified political ideology—conservative or liberal. Then together, over the Internet, each group filled out an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket.
The purpose was to see how groups of political liberals compared to political conservatives when it came to predicting winners in the tournament. The study also examined how political ideology influenced collective intelligence, or the ability of a group to perform a task and make decisions.
Rogers found that the results certainly differed based on political ideology.
Conservatives tended to go with the safe pick, while liberals went with more underdogs. Conservatives picked more upsets correctly, though, as they tended to pick the safer ones, such as a nine-seed over an eight-seed, while liberals picked riskier upsets, such as a 16-seed over a one-seed. Conservatives were more effective in picking first round wins, and liberals were more effective in correctly picking winners in later rounds.
In short, conservatives were more likely to predict a lower risk team, and tended to play it safe. If an expert picked a team, it was likely the conservative would go with the expert’s pick. Liberals tended to struggle in the early rounds, going with the risky upsets, but then performed better in the later rounds, as some of their risky choices paid off later.
When next March rolls around, he says, it might be a good idea to consider your own political leanings when filling out a bracket, and how that might impact the teams you pick.
“Traits inherent to these groups provided different strengths and weaknesses in their decision making,” Rogers says. “Broadly speaking, prior research and literature shows that conservatives are likely to be more risk averse, and liberals tend to be more optimistic, and more open to emotion.”
Filling out brackets confirmed that these groups have different cognitive dimensions consistent with these ideologies, Rogers says, and when interacting within like-minded groups on the Internet, those differences are only magnified.
“Look at websites today like the Huffington Post, Breitbart, The Blaze, Slate, these sites highlight the traits and values of the groups they represent,” Rogers says. “Basically, these sites reinforce traits and values, creating a feedback loop appealing to those who conform to those respective political ideologies already.”
So, when it comes to something as simple as filling out a bracket, or as important as discussing the issues of the day or reading the news, it might be beneficial to cultivate as many different perspectives as possible, Rogers says.
“Conformity in decision making is even more prevalent when a group shares traits, and as we see with this study, that even carries over to a bracket,” he says. “A mixed group might be most effective.”