5 March, 2012

The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind

The above is the title of a 2008 academic journal article by Carney, Jost, Gosling and Potter. I can't remember commenting on it previously so better late than never.

It regurgitates an approximately 80 year old theory that Leftists are more "open" to experience and conservatives are not. I found something similar in my own research. I found that Leftists were sensation-seekers across the board. They even liked the sensations offered by the consumer society.

But being "open to experience" and being "sensation seekers" are broadly opposite in tone, however. The same behaviour could merit either description depending on your point of view and your value set. The same behaviour could also merit either condemnation or praise depending on your point of view and value set. Carney et al might perhaps have delved into that a bit but were really concerned only to document the politics/personality comparison. And the reason they worked so hard at it is that the previous psychological research on the relationship is pretty inconclusive.

And one reason why it is inconclusive is that nearly all the so-called "research" on the subject is based on handing out a bunch of questionnaires to college students in the classes you teach. A poorer environment in which to study conservatism would be hard to imagine!

In that connection I found the following report from Carney et al amusing: "In the context of the experimental situation, conservatives behaved in a more detached and disengaged manner in general. Although this behavior was not indicative of conscientiousness, it did reflect the kind of withdrawn, reserved, inhibited, and even rigid interaction style".

If Carney et al. had the slightest inking of sociological sophistication, they would have understood that finding very well. A conservative in the far-Left environment of an American university would have every reason to act in a withdrawn manner. A conservative speaking his mind in that setting could bring no end of trouble down on his head!

But Carney et al were apparently unfazed by all that and did the usual: handed out a bunch of questionnaires to college students as the basis for their research. So I have to confess amusement at their findings. On the "sample" they used which had most demographic variety, their set of personality measures accounted for only 4% of the variance in social conservatism. To portray that in another way, if you had 100 people who were open to experience, 52 would be Leftists and 48 would be conservatives. Knowing a person's personality gave you essentially zero chance of guessing their social conservatism, in other words.

The authors hyped their findings way beyond that but that 4% is their most well-founded result.

My study on the subject was based on a proper random sample of the general population so if it is people at large that we are talking about, we do well to look at the results there. I also found correlations that explained little of the variance in political attitudes. So the various versions of "openness" have been a red herring when it comes to explaining political stance. And my study looked at actual vote, as well as one's political self-description -- which is a big step beyond what Carney et al did. And what did I find? I found that personality gave ZERO prediction of vote!

Leftist psychologists have been grinding away at that "liberals are more open" theme for decades. They desperately want it to be true but it isn't! It is other personality types that we will have to look at to predict vote. How about tendency to rage? The amount of rage that we conservative bloggers get directed at us from Leftists answers that question without need for further research, I think.

Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of longer writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs