Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Psychology of Politics

"Jane, you ignorant slut..."
A new scientific study finds that a liberal ideology correlates highly with "openness to experience."  But that this correlation is strongly influenced by various childhood traumas.
Drawing on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), the researchers were able to identify psychological traits as they relate to political ideology.  They rely on the "Big 5" personality traits for their study.  Two traits, "openness" and "conscientiousness" are used as the primary measures.
Openness is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. The trait distinguishes imaginative people from down-to-earth, conventional people. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to closed people, more creative and more aware of their feelings. They are more likely to hold unconventional beliefs.

People with low scores on openness tend to have more conventional, traditional interests. They prefer the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. They may regard the arts and sciences with suspicion or even view these endeavors as uninteresting.

Conscientiousness is a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement against measures or outside expectations. The trait shows a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behavior. It influences the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses.
The study finds that
Based on previous work on the role of personality on ideology, we expect the openness and conscientiousness traits to be strongly associated with political ideology. Especially in the United States, liberalism is conceived of embracing change and pro-active policies, whereas conservatism is likened to personal responsibility, caution, and maintaining order (Mondak & Halperin 2008). Our results align with our expectations.
A plot of the "Big 5" personality traits as they relate to degree of liberalism
You can see that "openness" correlates very highly with liberalism and "Conscientiousness" correlates somewhat with conservatism.

But what makes this study unique is that they go a step further and explore issues of childhood experience and the role that plays in political ideology.  The study identifies childhood trauma has a strong correlation to more liberal views.

The researchers find that
the openness trait appears even more predictive of ideology for abused people than for others. This is most strongly the case for individuals that report having experienced all three levels of abuse: verbal, physical, and sexual.
The study concludes
For the study of the relationship between personality and ideology, this means developing stronger theories which explain how the particular components of the personality trait should influence political thinking and how it could make people differentially responsive to the environmental exposures we know also a ffect the development of ideology.

No comments:

Post a Comment