Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More on the psychology of Liberals and Conservatives

Michael Shermer does an interesting column on this topic in the December Scientific American. It focuses mainly on the work of Jonathan Haidt, who explains liberal and conservative stereotypes in terms of his Moral Foundations Theory...
Haidt proposes that the foundations of our sense of right and wrong rest within “ ve innate and universally available psychological systems” that might be summarized as follows:
1. Harm/care: Evolved mammalian attachment systems mean we can feel the pain of others, giving rise to the virtues of kindness, gentleness and nurturance.
2. Fairness/reciprocity: Evolved reciprocal altruism generates a sense of justice.
3. Ingroup/loyalty: Evolved in-group tribalism leads to patriotism.
4. Authority/respect: Evolved hierarchical social structures translate to respect for authority and tradition.
5. Purity/sanctity: Evolved emotion of disgust related to disease and contamination underlies our sense of bodily purity.

Over the years Haidt and his University of Virginia colleague Jesse Graham have surveyed the moral opinions of more than 110,000 people from dozens of countries and have found this consistent difference: self-reported liberals are high on 1 and 2 (harm/ care and fairness/reciprocity) but are low on 3, 4 and 5 (ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity), whereas selfreported conservatives are roughly equal on all five dimensions, although they place slightly less emphasis on 1 and 2 than liberals do. (Take the survey yourself.)

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