Conservatives are less creative than liberals

People who hold conservative views tend to lack creativity relative to more liberal-minded people, according to a new psychology study.

Stephen Dollinger established the conservatism of 422 university students by asking them whether they favoured such things as legalised abortion, gay rights and the immigration of foreigners.

The students demonstrated their creativity by completing a half-finished drawing in any way they liked, and by taking 20 photos on the theme “who are you?” – their efforts were then rated by judges. The students also indicated how often they engaged in various creative activities, such as writing poetry.

The students with more conservative views tended to be judged less creative based on their performance on the drawing and photography task, and their record of creative activities. This remained true even when their scores on a vocab test and a personality measure of openness to experience were taken into account.

The content of the students’ photos gave some insight into their differing creativity. The 15 most conservative students depicted religious and family values, for example with photos of the bible. The 9 least conservative students, by contrast, tended to use unconventional ways to illustrate their lives. One student photographed a car parking over the line, to portray his disdain for rules.

The findings build on earlier work showing that people with conservative attitudes tend to favour simple representational paintings over more abstract art.

Professor Dollinger surmised: “Conservatives could be less creative than liberals because of greater threat-induced anxiety (e.g. finding the ambiguity of creative tasks threatening), their greater inclination to follow convention, and/or their devaluing of imagination.”

Dollinger, S.J. (2007). Creativity and conservatism. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 1025-1035.

Link to New Scientist special issue on creativity
Link to Scientific American Mind special on creativity.
Link to free article from The Psychologist archive on creativity and innovation at work.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London. The Duke of Wellington conducts an orchestra comprising of conservative government ministers. Coloured lithograph by H.B. (John Doyle), 1838.

17 thoughts on “Conservatives are less creative than liberals”

  1. Conservatives are less creative than liberals – or at least one set of judges subjectively rates the work of conservatives are less creative…

    1. The Judges almost certainly did not know who produced each item they rated.

  2. this is completely not true! conservativism is based in individualism and celebrates creativity. Why cant you people understand, being creative has NOTHING to do with politics.This is crap and should not be published!!!

    1. In the intervening 9 years since this comment was published, liberal activists on college campuses have succeeded in violently shutting down dissenting opinion, assaulted invited speakers with whom they disagree, and opened up “safe spaces” where they can avoid encountering opinions conflicting with their own. Socialist and communist societies also have fewer protections for free speech, including socialist republics like Venezuela, Cuba, the Soviet Union, China and North Korea where publication or reproduction of disfavored speech is punished by death. Censorship is hardly limited to conservative thinking. It is arguably more common presently among self-described liberals.

  3. “Conservative way of thinking”? It sounds more like a feature of the anonymous way of thinking.

    BTW, are representational pictures “simpler” than abstract art? I suspect that the representational art has a greater Kolmogorov complexity than the abstract art.

  4. I want to believe it…. I'm sure it's true…. but I don't think this study proves it. The judges were too few and may well have had their own biases. You'd need say 500 judges, half rated conservative and half liberal.

    1. All you actually have to do is present the judges with the work to be judged without telling them who produced it or why. The judges should not even be told the purpose of the experiment, and given some other reason for judging the work. If the judges do not know whose work they are judging, or why they are judging it, how could they possibly bring any liberal or conservative bias into it? They would not even suspect the political component of the experiment. I suspect this is how the study was actually conducted.

      In fact, you could probably detect any bias by having one group of judges who are told whether it was produced by a liberal or conservative subject, one group who are not told, and another group who are given false information, and see how they match up.

      Scientific experimentation is not a new thing. These things are taken into account.

      1. There’s no indication whether any control was employed. Also, the content of the photographs would certainly give an insight into the mindset of the photographer. It was specifically mentioned that photographs of the Bible were presented by the most conservative students. If the judge is hostile to religion they would be biased in their judgment of the work even if they were unaware of who produced it. Judging art is also an inherently subjective task, not well suited to customary study controls. You believe it because you want to believe it. The study itself is extremely flawed.

  5. “This should not be taught.” is now a new dictum among liberals in the university. The latest example is the removal of all teaching duties from Dr Ken Howell who taught Catholic Thought and who has been rated excellent by students for a few years.

    Liberal = Creative? What a joke!

  6. Through the ages the liberals were the creative thinkers. Aristotle had a hard time selling his idea to conservatives that the earth is round. If it weren't for progressive thinkers we would still be stuck in the middle ages. The word Conservative comes from “conserve” (status quo)-keep everything “as is”.

    1. Aristotle was not the first to propose a spherical earth and it was not a controversy in his own time.

  7. >> That would also be a feature of the conservative way of thinking.

    No not really. Go to academia and Hollywood — the funding that conservative finds for their research and projects are vastly smaller than what liberals will find. Nice try, though.

  8. This is one of the most ridiculous studies I've ever read. Firstly, Conservatism is based primarily on role of the government, not social issues. For example, 33% of Conservatives support Same-sex marriage, but this study might declare that those Conservatives are not Conservatives.

    Secondly, the judgement for creativity is very shaky. I am an independent game designer, and creativity is a necessary prerequisite for me. Yet, I'm terrible at drawing and have never written poetry. I would also have trouble successfully describing myself with pictures.

    Thirdly, the study's just not expansive enough. The results of 433 university students can hardly be used to accurately assess Conservative and Liberal population in general.

  9. I agree except like Ying and Yang you cannot have one without the other.

    We need a third political party to keep things in balance or if one party wins over the other then things will go out of control with no checksum.

    You can print money all you want but no matter what the cause is for if there is no gold or silver to back it up in the end you're signing you're death warrant.

    We have come close several times to the *Big Crash* but the problem keeps getting kicked down the road for the next group of politicians to deal with only making it bigger.

    Right now look for 2016 to be a big year when Russia bans paper currency which will have a worldwide effect.

  10. However you shouldn't have change just for the sakes of change either. Ever heard of don't fix what isn't broke? Or trying to reinvent the wheel?

    You need a constant goal and a vision for change to actually work or it will blow up in you're face with nasty results and all the taxpayers pay for you're mistake but then I guess you wouldn't mind that part!

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