Category: Political

New studies suggest liberals are as blinkered and biased as conservatives

The march for science in RomeBy Christian Jarrett

Officially at least, last week’s global March for Science was politically neutral. However, there’s a massive over-representation of people with liberal, left-leaning views in science, and much of the science community is unhappy, to put it mildly, with the way politics is going, such as the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts to science funding, and here in the UK, the impact of Brexit on British science.

Against the backdrop of these anxieties, many of the banners on display – such as “Alternative hypotheses, not alternative facts” and “Science reveals the truth” – conveyed a barely concealed message: if only right-wing conservatives could be a little more objective, less biased, more open-minded – you might say a little more “scientific” – then the world would be a better place.

Plenty of past psychology research lends some credence to this perspective: for instance conservatives tend to score lower on the trait of open-mindedness than liberals, and of course conservatives, more often than liberals, are sceptical toward the scientific consensus that human activity has had a significant impact on climate change. But it’s also easy to find psychological evidence of liberals’ bias, and liberals too are often in denial of unwelcome scientific theory, such as evolutionary accounts of sex differences in behaviour.

Now two new articles, published at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) and in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, respectively, provide further compelling evidence that liberals, as much as conservatives, are prone to partisan bias – that is, showing rapid, easy acceptance of evidence that supports their existing beliefs – and that they are just as motivated to avoid hearing viewpoints that differ from their own. Whether we’re liberal or conservative, a first step toward combating our political prejudices, the paper in SSRN concludes, is “to recognize our collective vulnerability to perceiving the world in ways that validate our political beliefs”.

Continue reading “New studies suggest liberals are as blinkered and biased as conservatives”

Why more highly educated people are less into conspiracy theories

Moon Landing Conspiracy ConceptBy Christian Jarrett

In this era of “fake news” and rising populism, encountering conspiracy theories is becoming a daily phenomenon. Some people usually shrug them off – they find them too simplistic, biased or far-fetched – but others are taken in. And if a person believes one kind of conspiracy theory, they usually believe others.

Psychologists are very interested in why some people are more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories, especially since the consequences can be harmful: for example, by avoiding getting their kids vaccinated, believers in vaccination conspiracies can harm wider public health; in other cases, a belief in a conspiracy against one’s own ethnic or religious group can foment radicalism.

One of the main differences between conspiracy believers and nonbelievers that’s cropped up in multiple studies is that nonbelievers tend to be more highly educated. For a new study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Jan-Willem Van Prooijen at VU Amsterdam has conducted two large surveys to try to dig into just what it is about being more educated that seems to inoculate against belief in conspiracy.

Continue reading “Why more highly educated people are less into conspiracy theories”

Timely study looks at the social influences possibly shaping teenagers’ prejudice towards immigrants

Migration to EuropeBy Christian Jarrett

Some would say that the political events currently convulsing the globe have been driven, at least in part, by widespread prejudice towards immigrants. To begin healing divisions, it would help if we understood more about how such prejudices can be passed from one generation to the next, so that we might intervene to stop this happening. To that end, a new study in the British Journal of Psychology has tracked the immigrant attitudes of over 500 Swedish teenagers over a six year period, to see how their attitudes changed over time, and if and how they might be related to the prejudices held by their parents and friends.

Continue reading “Timely study looks at the social influences possibly shaping teenagers’ prejudice towards immigrants”

US politicians differed from the public on each of the five main personality traits

Portrait of a Man Wearing a Full SuitBy Christian Jarrett

Many of us get the sense that our elected politicians are out of touch, that they are somehow different from the everyman or woman on the street. A new study in Personality and Individual Differences offers at least part of an explanation. Richard Hanania at the University of California, Los Angeles, emailed a personality questionnaire to thousands of US state politicians. Two hundred and seventy-eight of them sent their answers back and Hanania compared their average scores with the averages recorded by 2586 members of the US public, matched with the politicians for age, and who’d completed the same questionnaire online. Continue reading “US politicians differed from the public on each of the five main personality traits”

Are these uncertain times drawing us into a cycle of dogma and prejudice?

31586456614_4a06b4b872_kBy Christian Jarrett

When all around us feels like chaos, it’s human instinct to cling to the rocks of dogma, and woe betide anyone who tries to loosen our grip. Previous studies, usually involving strong religious believers, have shown how dogmatic beliefs allay the anxiety brought on by feelings of uncertainty. In turn, any groups with opposing views are treated with suspicion and prejudice. A new study in the British Journal of Psychology broadens this out, showing these processes aren’t unique to religious believers. Dogmatic atheists too seem to be motivated by the need to cope with uncertainty, and they too are prejudiced towards threatening groups, especially during times of uncertainty. The researchers at Jagiellonian University, led by Małgorzata Kossowska, suggest their findings have interesting implications for understanding political orientations and prejudices. The world feels especially unpredictable right now. Are we all, whatever our politics, clinging to our rocks more strongly than ever?

Continue reading “Are these uncertain times drawing us into a cycle of dogma and prejudice?”

Why conservatives like to use nouns more than liberals do

Noun conceptBy Christian Jarrett

Our political leanings to the right or left reveal a fundamental aspect of our psyche: how much we’re drawn to stability and security versus change and uncertainty. This manifests in our attitudes and personality traits. For instance, on average, conservatives tend to prefer established hierarchy and are more conscientious. Liberals favour equality and are more open to new experiences. Now in the journal Political Psychology a group led by Aleksandra Cichocka at the University of Kent has extended this line of work by showing the link between political orientation and desire for certainty is reflected at even the most basic of levels: how much we like to use nouns.

Across two initial studies, featuring Polish-speaking survey participants in Poland and Arabic-speaking participants in the Lebanon, the research showed that people with more socially conservative leanings tended to favour nouns over adjectives. For instance, participants with a conservative orientation were more likely to say they’d choose to end the sentence “Magda had no doubts about the success of her business. Magda …” with the noun phrase “is an optimist” than with the adjective phrase “is optimistic”.

This fits with the established link between having a conservative orientation and desiring stability because using a noun to describe someone implies more certainty and permanence about their state of being (past research has shown that even five-year-olds infer more permanence from noun descriptions than adjectival descriptions). Indeed, in the new surveys, the link between conservatism and noun preference seemed to be explained by participants’ relative “need for structure” with high scorers on this measure expressing a dislike of ambiguity.

Cichocka and her colleagues, including John Jost at New York University who is responsible for much of the research in this field, also analysed 101 key speeches delivered by 13 US Presidents, from Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address through to Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2014. They found speeches by Republican presidents featured a greater proportion of nouns compared with their Democrat counterparts.

Overall, the researchers said their results “are compatible with previous work suggesting that language reflects, among other things, the individual’s goals and motives, including his or her political goals.”

On the Grammar of Politics—or Why Conservatives Prefer Nouns

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

There’s such a thing as collective narcissism (and it might explain a lot that’s going on at the moment)

By Christian Jarrett

It feels like this year there has been a big increase in people’s tendency to make a show of their political allegiance, to believe passionately in the superiority of their chosen group’s position, and to be ultra-vigilant to any potential incoming slight or insult toward the group. This kind of behaviour shows signs of “collective narcissism”, which like individual narcissism, is characterised by outward confidence compensating for deep-rooted insecurity.

Collective narcissists say they believe that their group is special and superior, yet when asked what others think of their group, or when tested on implicit measures, such as how quickly they associate in-group symbols with positive words, there is evidence of collective doubt. Worryingly, a series of new studies in the European Journal of Personality shows how collective narcissism can foster inter-group conflict. The results suggest it is important that responsible politicians and journalists do what they can to prevent rather than encourage this dangerous group mentality.

Continue reading “There’s such a thing as collective narcissism (and it might explain a lot that’s going on at the moment)”

We have an unfortunate tendency to assume we’re morally superior to others

29684870065_506ada5d58_kBy Alex Fradera

“How did our politics get so poisonous? We drank too much of the poison. There’s a gentle high to the condemnation. And you know you’re right, right? You know you’re right.” Steven Colbert

Wrapping up his coverage of the US election, Colbert touched on something that may hold true even beyond partisan politics: most of us seem to think we’re more moral than other people. Now a study in Social Psychological and Personality Science has provided fresh evidence supporting Colbert’s observation. Our tendency to see ourselves as better than average – already well-established in psychology in relation to things like driving ability and attractiveness – applies to our sense of our own morality, more strongly than it does to other aspects of ourselves. And the new research shows just how irrational this really is.

Continue reading “We have an unfortunate tendency to assume we’re morally superior to others”

Clinton’s and Trump’s personality profiles, according to psychologists

By Christian Jarrett

Today the American people are voting to choose between two of the most unpopular Presidential candidates in history. Commentators have speculated that part of the reason for the candidates’ unpopularity is their personality profiles. Clinton and Trump would seem to agree – both have repeatedly attacked each other’s characters and temperaments. But what exactly are their personality profiles, as judged as objectively as possible by personality psychologists?

For a paper published online at Personality and Individual Differences – and spotted by psychology writer Rolf Degan – 10 experts in the HEXACO method of measuring personality (7 men, 3 women, all avid followers of the election) completed a 100-item profile of each candidate. Distilling the findings, Beth Visser and her colleagues conclude that voters effectively have a choice between a bold and narcissistic, antisocial leader willing to make dramatic changes, and a Machiavellian but highly conscientious leader with a steady hand – Trump or Clinton. “Ultimately, this is a decision that voters, and not academics, will have to decide,” they write.  Continue reading “Clinton’s and Trump’s personality profiles, according to psychologists”

In it together: How we become less individualistic during harsh economic times

Team Huddle Harmony Togetherness Happiness Concept
It’s an effect that’s reflected in pop songs and baby names 

By Alex Fradera

The Great Depression gives us a vivid picture of a time when economic hardship rekindled a sense of the collective. Politics took on a greater obligation to common welfare, new workers’ institutions sprang up, and society developed through charitable movements and new habits. More broadly, we know that as societies grow richer, they tend to focus on the individual more than on the community. These trends are fed by political decisions, institutions, and indeed new generations born into the times, but is there also a psychological component to this, operating at the level of individuals? New research in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Emily Bianchi at Emory University suggests the answer is yes – subtle fluctuations in American national economic health, too brief for society to change wholesale, nonetheless push each one of us between We and Me. Continue reading “In it together: How we become less individualistic during harsh economic times”