Monday, January 12, 2015

Personality and Ideology

I've done a number of posts (for example, here) pointing to work suggesting that differences in basic partially inherited neurocognitive traits (such as flexibility and openness versus caution and rule following) might underlie liberal versus conservative personalities. Malka et al. have done a cross national test, analyzing responses from more than 70,000 people from 51 countries to ask how a conservative personality style actually relates to cultural and economic attitudes. From their review of the work:
...we found that people with a conservative personality did indeed tend to adopt culturally conservative attitudes on matters like abortion, homosexuality and immigration. On this count, the rigidity of the right model seems to be valid.
But when it came to economic matters related to social welfare policy and economic intervention — the central feature of the left-right divide in much of the world — the results were far different. People with a conservative personality tended to lean slightly to the left...a conservative personality might actually pull people in two directions with respect to their economic attitudes. Prioritizing order and stability will lead to a yearning for the security that left-wing economic policies aim to provide.
This left leaning tendency can be extinguished, however, among people who are highly attentive to politics in countries in which left-right conflict is prominent, by political messaging that binds together right wing cultural and economic views under a broad "conservative" banner. This has nothing to do with psychological predispositions, and suggests that changing the packaging or messaging could change behaviors.

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