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.
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.