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Researchers help define what makes a political conservative

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations | 22 July 2003

BERKELEY – Politically conservative agendas may range from supporting the Vietnam War to upholding traditional moral and religious values to opposing welfare. But are there consistent underlying motivations?

Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:

Fear and aggression

Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity

Uncertainty avoidance

Need for cognitive closure

Terror management

"From our perspective, these psychological factors are capable of contributing to the adoption of conservative ideological contents, either independently or in combination," the researchers wrote in an article, "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," recently published in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.

Assistant Professor Jack Glaser of the University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and Visiting Professor Frank Sulloway of UC Berkeley joined lead author, Associate Professor John Jost of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, and Professor Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland at College Park, to analyze the literature on conservatism.

The psychologists sought patterns among 88 samples, involving 22,818 participants, taken from journal articles, books and conference papers. The material originating from 12 countries included speeches and interviews given by politicians, opinions and verdicts rendered by judges, as well as experimental, field and survey studies.

Ten meta-analytic calculations performed on the material - which included various types of literature and approaches from different countries and groups - yielded consistent, common threads, Glaser said.

The avoidance of uncertainty, for example, as well as the striving for certainty, are particularly tied to one key dimension of conservative thought - the resistance to change or hanging onto the status quo, they said.

The terror management feature of conservatism can be seen in post-Sept. 11 America, where many people appear to shun and even punish outsiders and those who threaten the status of cherished world views, they wrote.

Concerns with fear and threat, likewise, can be linked to a second key dimension of conservatism - an endorsement of inequality, a view reflected in the Indian caste system, South African apartheid and the conservative, segregationist politics of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-South S.C.).

Disparate conservatives share a resistance to change and acceptance of inequality, the authors said. Hitler, Mussolini, and former President Ronald Reagan were individuals, but all were right-wing conservatives because they preached a return to an idealized past and condoned inequality in some form. Talk host Rush Limbaugh can be described the same way.

This research marks the first synthesis of a vast amount of information about conservatism, and the result is an "elegant and unifying explanation" for political conservatism under the rubric of motivated social cognition, said Sulloway. That entails the tendency of people's attitudinal preferences on policy matters to be explained by individual needs based on personality, social interests or existential needs.

The researchers' analytical methods allowed them to determine the effects for each class of factors and revealed "more pluralistic and nuanced understanding of the source of conservatism," Sulloway said.

While most people resist change, Glaser said, liberals appear to have a higher tolerance for change than conservatives do.

As for conservatives' penchant for accepting inequality, he said, one contemporary example is liberals' general endorsement of extending rights and liberties to disadvantaged minorities such as gays and lesbians, compared to conservatives' opposing position.

The researchers said that conservative ideologies, like virtually all belief systems, develop in part because they satisfy some psychological needs, but that "does not mean that conservatism is pathological or that conservative beliefs are necessarily false, irrational, or unprincipled."

They also stressed that their findings are not judgmental.

"In many cases, including mass politics, 'liberal' traits may be liabilities, and being intolerant of ambiguity, high on the need for closure, or low in cognitive complexity might be associated with such generally valued characteristics as personal commitment and unwavering loyalty," the researchers wrote.

This intolerance of ambiguity can lead people to cling to the familiar, to arrive at premature conclusions, and to impose simplistic cliches and stereotypes, the researchers advised.

The latest debate about the possibility that the Bush administration ignored intelligence information that discounted reports of Iraq buying nuclear material from Africa may be linked to the conservative intolerance for ambiguity and or need for closure, said Glaser.

"For a variety of psychological reasons, then, right-wing populism may have more consistent appeal than left-wing populism, especially in times of potential crisis and instability," he said.

Glaser acknowledged that the team's exclusive assessment of the psychological motivations of political conservatism might be viewed as a partisan exercise. However, he said, there is a host of information available about conservatism, but not about liberalism.

The researchers conceded cases of left-wing ideologues, such as Stalin, Khrushchev or Castro, who, once in power, steadfastly resisted change, allegedly in the name of egalitarianism.

Yet, they noted that some of these figures might be considered politically conservative in the context of the systems that they defended. The researchers noted that Stalin, for example, was concerned about defending and preserving the existing Soviet system.

Although they concluded that conservatives are less "integratively complex" than others are, Glaser said, "it doesn't mean that they're simple-minded."

Conservatives don't feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions, he said. "They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm," Glaser said.

He pointed as an example to a 2001 trip to Italy, where President George W. Bush was asked to explain himself. The Republican president told assembled world leaders, "I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right." And in 2002, Bush told a British reporter, "Look, my job isn't to nuance."

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Holy mother of god. First of all, maybe they should have looked up the definition of conservative in the dictionary, or taken an introductory poli sci class.

con·ser·va·tive ( P ) Pronunciation Key (kn-sûrv-tv)


Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.

Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate.

Of or relating to the political philosophy of conservatism.

Belonging to a conservative party, group, or movement.

Conservative Of or belonging to the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom or the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada.

Conservative Of or adhering to Conservative Judaism.

Tending to conserve; preservative: the conservative use of natural resources.

Second of all, how funny is this coming from Berkeley? This is so funny its almost beyond funny.

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Leftism is a mental disorder wherein the subject is incapable of facing reality or the link between his goals and the consequences of said objectives.

But how many "studies" are we going to see with the underlying traits of leftists, I wonder?

Oh, I know, it'll have "Open, honest, sincere, free-spirited" or some such nonsense.

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Conservative principles:

1) belief in a transcendent order and natural law

2) affection for variety and mystery over uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarianism

3) recognition of natural hierarchies and talents

4) belief that freedom and property are inextricably intertwined

5) preference for prescription, custom, and convention over rationalistic or economic planning

6) awareness that change and reform are not identical

Overall, human freedom is more important to both society and the individual than equality. In fact, freedom ALWAYS leads to inequality of results. Equality before the law ALWAYS leads to inequality of results. The conservative is a type (sometimes, the only remaining type, it seems) of what Hayeck called Anglo-Liberal as opposed to the Gallic-Liberal.

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Here's a good analysis to refute the liberal propaganda.

Thursday, July 24, 2003



The latest amazing example of Left-leaning doublethink by a political psychologist is here. Writing about modern Eastern Europe in Political Psychology of June 2003, Hilde Weiss says that the "new right" in Europe is “a "modernized" brand of fascism in which neoliberal ideology, instead of anticapitalist resentments, is combined with traditional value patterns.” So to oppose big government (neoliberalism) is Fascist?? Tell that to the founder of Fascism, Mussolini. Mussolini tried his best to subject EVERYTHING in Italy to his control! What the ignorant Ms Weiss is describing is simply normal conservatism, not Fascism.

She also notes without making much of the implications that “anticapitalist feelings are strongly correlated with nationalism and ethnic intolerance”. Get it? The racists are on the Left! How awkward!

(Don't anybody tell her that Hitler was a socialist too!)

posted by john ray 1:13 AM

Wednesday, July 23, 2003



Some psychologists at Berkeley have just done a big rehash job on the last 50 years of conservative-bashing in the psychology literature. The rehash seems to have attracted a bit of attention in the blogosphere (e.g. here and here and here and here) so I guess I should point out a few things that people might not generally be aware of. Since I have had many articles on the psychology of conservatism published in the academic journals, I might be considered a relevant expert.

For a start, there is nothing new in it. It is the same old refrain that the Marxist Adorno and his collaborators said in their 1950 book: “The authoritarian personality”. Yet that book must have some sort of record for the amount of criticism it has attracted. In the first half of his 1981 book Right-wing authoritarianism Bob Altemeyer summarized the criticism that had been made of it in the psychological literature up to about 1973 and concluded that the Adorno work just could not prove what it purported to prove. Altemeyer, however, then went on to do some research of his own that was in some ways even more ludicrous.

The latest Berkeley rehash is remarkable for its quantity versus quality approach. They seem to agree with the dictum of Dr. Goebbels that if you tell a big enough lie often enough people will believe it. In the Berkeley case the fact that almost all psychologists have been saying the same thing about conservatives seems to be taken as good proof that what they are saying is correct. A survey taken in Galileo’s day would have concluded with equal vehemence that the earth is flat. The Berkeley group seem to have given little or no weight to the fact that psychologists are overwhelmingly Leftist and so lean over backwards to find fault with conservatives. In other words, a survey of biased “science” has just produced more biased “science”!

What would have been much more productive would have been to look at the criticisms that have been made of the orthodoxy. Let me take just one example. The Berkeley group say that one of the five characteristics of conservatives is “Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity”. This is a straight rehash of the old 1950 Marxist nonsense and ignores heaps of evidence that such general traits as intolerance of ambiguity and psychological rigidity simply do not exist. People who are rigid about one thing will probably not be rigid about other things. My paper here sets out the evidence for that at some length. And much the same goes for dogmatism. Maybe there are people who are in fact generally dogmatic but psychologists have not yet succeeded in finding a way to pick them out. Milton Rokeach in 1960 wrote a book that purported to offer a way of picking out dogmatic people but there is now plenty of evidence that the questionnaire he used for that purpose simply does not work. It is an “invalid scale” in psychometrician’s jargon.

So the Berkeley findings can best be summarized in terms of an old computer saying: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

For those who would like to see some of the data that the Berkeley results do not take into account, I list below some of my academic journal articles on the question. The best counterblast of all, however, is probably my article here which (Surprise, Surprise!) the most relevant psychology journal refused to print! Isn’t that a good way to get consensus? Just refuse to print anything that does not suit your biases! No wonder the Berkeley group found great unanimity in the the publications they surveyed!

Listed below are just those of my relevant publications that are available online. Most of the relevant articles are still only available from university libraries. More compehensive listings of relevant articles can be found here and here.

left sided

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Its actually more like you are a Cowboy fan trying to figure out why someone would pull for the Redskins. Really more like you are a Bengals fan.


Please do not continue to pollute the liberal philosophy which espouses LIBERTY with the anti-freedom philosophy spouted by the left:mad:

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Originally posted by OPM


Its actually more like you are a Cowboy fan trying to figure out why someone would pull for the Redskins. Really more like you are a Bengals fan.


Please do not continue to pollute the liberal philosophy which espouses LIBERTY with the anti-freedom philosophy spouted by the left:mad:

You can call me a lot of names and I won't care, but don't ever call me a Cowboy fan! :finger:

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