Conservatives and liberals solve puzzles differently, study finds

'Liberals have a less structured and more flexible cognitive style,' says Dr Carola Salvi

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The Independent Online

How you solve puzzles is linked to whether you are politically liberal or conservative, a new study has found.

Psychologists from Northwestern University in Chicago found conservatives solve problems in a more structured manner, whereas liberals will reach the same goal with a spark of insight - or 'Aha!' moment.

The research team stressed this difference was nothing to do with a different capacity to solve problems, but more about a particular approach people use "out of habit or predisposition".

Lead author Dr Carola Salvi said: "This view is consistent with similar results from other labs across behavioural, neuroscientific and genetic studies, which converge in showing that conservatives have more structured and persistent cognitive styles.

"Liberals have a less structured and more flexible cognitive style, according to those studies.

"Our research indicates that cognitive differences in people with different political orientations also are apparent in a task that some consider to be convergent thinking: finding a single solution to a problem."

Around 130 Northwestern students took part in the study, published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, where they answered a survey to determine their political ideology before being divided into liberal or or conservative groups.

The researchers then tested each group by asking them to complete established Compound Remote Associate (CRA) puzzles, which can solved by either insight or analytical processes.

The puzzles consist of three words, each of which would make a compound word when combined with the solution word. For example, the solution word to pine, crab and sauce would be apple.

Previous research has found different mental processes and separate brain regions are used to solve problems with insight as opposed to analytical deductions.

In conclusion, Dr Salvi said: "Everyday life presents us with a variety of scenarios where we are asked to solve problems analytically, others only with a spark of insight, most of them can be solved either way.

"In this last case, liberals are more likely to achieve the solution with an 'Aha!' moment, whereas conservatives' problem solving approach does not prefer one style or the other."