What I Will Be Listening For At the Debate

Preparations are made for the Fox News GOP primary debate in Myrtle Beach, SC, on January 10, 2008 (photo credit: Teresa via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Jonathan Haidt – self-confessed liberal professor of psychology, now at NYU – is the author or a really fascinating book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.  What makes this book fascinating, in part, is that he argues conservatives are inherently more effective than liberals at communicating on issues with moral content.  This is so because Haidt has identified through his empirical psychological research six “moral receptors,” rather like six types of taste buds through which we experience the flavor of moral argumentation.  Conservatives are more effective at moral communications because we tend to engage all six receptors, providing a richer taste, so to speak, whereas liberals rarely invoke more than two.

I will be listening tomorrow for how well the candidates engage each of the receptors.  By the way, Carly Fiorina’s recent speech at the Reagan Library (discussed here) stands out because it is an example of a masterful job of touching each of Haidt’s receptors.

Is moral communication relevant to political debate?  Politics is nothing other than a great collective conversation about matters which are thoroughly morally-infused.  Every law is a statement of morality; government is about laws; politics is about government.

Here are the six receptors (these are not Haidt’s labels; I’ve renamed them for the sake of clarity), with examples of how they might be addressed:


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