On the Psychology of Political Preferences

by F.

This article in Psychology Today is getting a lot of reaction on various blogs, for good reason: it purports to explain political preferences by psychological traits. I’m skeptical of this sort of study, but I’m fairly confident that the basic idea is right. Anyway, here are the details:

Dorkism: “As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient. People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3….”

Fear of Ambiguity: “Conservatives have a greater desire to reach a decision quickly and stick to it, and are higher on conscientiousness, which includes neatness, orderliness, duty, and rule-following. Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature. … conservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity….”

Slovenliness: “Liberals are messier than conservatives, their rooms have more clutter and more color, and they tend to have more travel documents, maps of other countries, and flags from around the world. Conservatives are neater, and their rooms are cleaner, better organized, more brightly lit, and more conventional. Liberals have more books, and their books cover a greater variety of topics….”

Optimism and Openness to Experience: “Liberals are more optimistic. Conservatives are more likely to be religious. Liberals are more likely to like classical music and jazz, conservatives, country music. Liberals are more likely to enjoy abstract art. Conservative men are more likely than liberal men to prefer conventional forms of entertainment like TV and talk radio. Liberal men like romantic comedies more than conservative men. Liberal women are more likely than conservative women to enjoy books, poetry, writing in a diary, acting, and playing musical instruments….”

Perhaps the best use of this sort of list, as pointed out here, is to help us debias: know which way we will tend, and then seek out alternative evidence. Of course, this presupposes a certain amount of openeness to experience and tolerance of ambiguity, which seems to suggest “conservatives” are less likely to debias. Big suprise.