Psychology Study: Fear Leads to Conservatism

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posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:12 AM
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This is a fascinating study 20 years in the making of the psychology of what makes us lean a certain way. I recommend reading all of it, but here are some highlights:

In 1969, Berkeley professors Jack and Jeanne Block embarked on a study of childhood personality, asking nursery school teachers to rate children's temperaments. They weren't even thinking about political orientation.

Twenty years later, they decided to compare the subjects' childhood personalities with their political preferences as adults. They found arresting patterns. 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. The reason for the difference, the Blocks hypothesized, was that insecure kids most needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.

Psychologists John Jost of New York University, Dana Carney of Harvard, and Sam Gosling of the University of Texas have demonstrated that conservatives and liberals boast markedly different home and office decor. 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. And that's just a start. Multiple studies find that 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.

The most comprehensive review of personality and political orientation to date is a 2003 meta-analysis of 88 prior studies involving 22,000 participants. The researchers—John Jost of NYU, Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland, and Jack Glaser and Frank Sulloway of Berkeley—found that 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.

The study's authors also concluded that conservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity, a trait they say is exemplified when George Bush says things like, "Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. My job is to tell people what I think," and "I'm the decider." Those who think the world is highly dangerous and those with the greatest fear of death are the most likely to be conservative.

Liberals, on the other hand, are "more likely to see gray areas and reconcile seemingly conflicting information," says Jost.

By 2004, as the presidential election drew near, researchers saw a chance to study the Jost results against the backdrop of unfolding events. Psychologists Mark Landau of the University of Arizona and Sheldon Solomon of Skidmore sought to explain how President Bush's approval rating went from around 51 percent before 9/11 to 90 percent immediately afterward.

In one study, they exposed some participants to the letters WTC or the numbers 9/11 in an image flashed too quickly to register at the conscious level. They exposed other participants to familiar but random combinations of letters and numbers, such as area codes. Then they gave them words like coff__, sk_ll, and gr_ve, and asked them to fill in the blanks. People who'd seen random combinations were more likely to fill in coffee, skill, and grove. But people exposed to subliminal terrorism primes more often filled in coffin, skull, and grave. "The mere mention of September 11 or WTC is the same as reminding Americans of death," explains Solomon.

University of Arizona psychologist Jeff Greenberg argues that some ideological shifts can be explained by terror management theory (TMT), which holds that heightened fear of death motivates people to defend their world views. TMT predicts that images like the destruction of the World Trade Center should make liberals more liberal and conservatives more conservative. "In the United States, political conservatism does seem to be the preferred ideology when people are feeling insecure," concedes Greenberg.

The reason thoughts of death make people more conservative, Jost says, is that they awaken a deep desire to see the world as fair and just, to believe that people get what they deserve, and to accept the existing social order as valid, rather than in need of change. When these natural desires are primed by thoughts of death and a barrage of mortal fear, people gravitate toward conservatism because it's more certain about the answers it provides—right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, us vs. them—and because conservative leaders are more likely to advocate a return to traditional values, allowing people to stick with what's familiar and known. "Conservatism is a more black and white ideology than liberalism," explains Jost. "It emphasizes tradition and authority, which are reassuring during periods of threat."

To test the theory, Jost prompted people to think about either pain—by looking at things like an ambulance, a dentist's chair, and a bee sting—or death, by looking at things like a funeral hearse, the grim reaper, and a dead-end sign. Across the political spectrum, people who had been primed to think about death were more conservative on issues like immigration, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage than those who had merely thought about pain, although the effect size was relatively small. The implication is clear: For liberals, conservatives, and independents alike, thinking about death actually makes people more conservative—at least temporarily.




posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:12 AM
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Continued:

Studies show that people who study abroad become more liberal than those who stay home.

People who venture from the strictures of their limited social class are less likely to stereotype and more likely to embrace other cultures. Education goes hand-in-hand with tolerance, and often, the more the better:

Professors at major universities are more liberal than their counterparts at less acclaimed institutions. What travel and education have in common is that they make the differences between people seem less threatening.

That's why the more educated people are, the more liberal they become—but only to a point. Once people begin pursuing certain types of graduate degrees, the curve flattens. Business students, for instance, become more conservative in their views toward minorities. As they become more established, doctors and lawyers tend to protect their economic interests by moving to the right. The findings demonstrate that conservative conversions are fueled not only by fear, but by other factors as well.


If we are so suggestible that thoughts of death make us uncomfortable defaming the American flag and cause us to sit farther away from foreigners, is there any way we can overcome our easily manipulated fears and become the informed and rational thinkers democracy demands?

To test this, Solomon and his colleagues prompted two groups to think about death and then give opinions about a pro-American author and an anti-American one. As expected, the group that thought about death was more pro-American than the other. But the second time, one group was asked to make gut-level decisions about the two authors, while the other group was asked to consider carefully and be as rational as possible. The results were astonishing. In the rational group, the effects of mortality salience were entirely eliminated. Asking people to be rational was enough to neutralize the effects of reminders of death. Preliminary research shows that reminding people that as human beings, the things we have in common eclipse our differences—what psychologists call a "common humanity prime"—has the same effect.

"People have two modes of thought," concludes Solomon. "There's the intuitive gut-level mode, which is what most of us are in most of the time. And then there's a rational analytic mode, which takes effort and attention."

The solution, then, is remarkably simple. The effects of psychological terror on political decision making can be eliminated just by asking people to think rationally. Simply reminding us to use our heads, it turns out, can be enough to make us do it.

By Jay Dixit, published on January 01, 2007 - last reviewed on September 11, 2009
www.psychologytoday.com...



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:16 AM
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Actually Fear leads to more government.

People are afraid of not having enough money to retire on, so they implement social security.

People are afraid of terrorists, so they wage wars.

People are afraid of drug dealers, so they ban drugs.

People are afraid of being able to pay for medical care in old age, so the implement medicare.

People are afraid... [substitute government law or program here].



[edit on 20-7-2010 by mnemeth1]


+3 more 
posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:16 AM
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Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains.
- Winston Churchill


Experience. Some learn by it. Some don't.

[edit on 7/20/2010 by Phage]



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:19 AM
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reply to post by Phage
 


I'd say the biggest motivator to expand government is fear.

It has no equal.

If people were fearless and independent, we wouldn't have government.

At least not the kind of government we have today.

We might have something like the founding fathers envisioned.

I'd also say Churchill was wrong - because conservatives give far more to charity than "liberals" (not the libertarian kind).



[edit on 20-7-2010 by mnemeth1]



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:24 AM
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reply to post by mnemeth1
 

Learning than one may be screwed by others (not necessarily the government) has nothing to do with it, of course.

Give the bum a buck to get something something to eat? Not me. I'll offer him a burger. If he says, "I don't eat that", I say "Sorry, bro" and walk away. It's happened to me... He wasn't hungry.



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:29 AM
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What strikes me about these conclusions is the implication that there's something psychologically wrong with conservatives. This is something I've long suspected. A kind of blind spot they have. I now have a better idea where that may come from. Thanks for the great post. Well presented and thorough. s&f.



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:37 AM
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Originally posted by joechip
What strikes me about these conclusions is the implication that there's something psychologically wrong with conservatives. This is something I've long suspected. A kind of blind spot they have. I now have a better idea where that may come from. Thanks for the great post. Well presented and thorough. s&f.


The reason why papers like this get written is due to something called self-projection.

en.wikipedia.org...


Psychological projection or projection bias (including Freudian Projection) is the unconscious act of denial of a person's own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to the weather, a tool, or to other people. Thus, it involves imagining or projecting that others have those feelings.



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:40 AM
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reply to post by mnemeth1
 


Nice theory...but these are studies. Impugn the methodology. You're just playing, "I'm not, you are.."



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:41 AM
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Originally posted by Phage
Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains.
- Winston Churchill


Experience. Some learn by it. Some don't.

[edit on 7/20/2010 by Phage]


check this out, I am pretty sure that is just a famous misquote
en.wikiquote.org...

Anyway, in response to the OP, this is the reason I hated my psychology class. She would always say generalizations based on studies, besides the fact I dont like generalizations, I often disagreed with her interpretation of the studies. Same here with the statement "fear leads to conservatism" and other generalizations in the article.

[edit on 20-7-2010 by CREAM]



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:44 AM
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reply to post by CREAM
 

Same sentiment though, is it not?
Did Winston paraphrase? It still rings true.



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:46 AM
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Originally posted by joechip
reply to post by mnemeth1
 


Nice theory...but these are studies. Impugn the methodology. You're just playing, "I'm not, you are.."


That's exactly what I'm saying.

And that's exactly what the author is doing by writing this broad-based nonsense.

Common sense shows us that government uses fear to expand its power constantly. There is a clear logical reason for this. Its not because "fear" leads to people that want less government.

A freaking two year old can see this study for the fraud that it is.



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:50 AM
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reply to post by Phage
 

LOL that reminds me of a guy in the tube giving me the ive lost my wallet and cant get home routine could I spare a few quid,I said Id do better than that I'll buy your ticket to wherever in London you want to go-he skulked off.



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:50 AM
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Oh boy, this thread is like tossing bloody chunks of meat off the Chris-Craft to a shark-pack...I expect a triple-digit post count by the time the dust settles.


For my own personal take on the matter, please see my signature, if interested.

Every now and then somebody comes out with a psychological analysis of liberal or conservative leanings. They are often interesting reads, and it may be true that personality plays a role in shaping political views. But these psychological takes are usually heavily and unfairly slanted one way or the other. For example, this article points out only the negative aspects of a supposed conservative psychology.

Of course everyone experiences fear and hardship, and if they don't, that must must mean they are spoiled rotten and over-protected, a state which always carries the seeds of its own doom and pathology within it. It is in how one responds to pain and fear that is the measure of a person. And both liberals and conservatives are capable of responding either with honor and dignity, or with weakness and error.



[edit on 7/20/10 by silent thunder]



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:55 AM
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Originally posted by mnemeth1

Originally posted by joechip
reply to post by mnemeth1
 


Common sense shows us that government uses fear to expand its power constantly. There is a clear logical reason for this. Its not because "fear" leads to people that want less government.


Common sense also tells us that the conservative politicians use fear and wedge issues for win elections because their base responds to this approach. And then they grow government even more than the liberals could have gotten away with. Of course, George W. Bush's administration is a great example of government using fear to expand government and erode personal freedoms. Only problem his was a conservative administration supported ardently by conservatives. "Hope" and "change" are ideas liberals respond to. Not fear so much.

[edit on 20-7-2010 by joechip]

how do you do these accursed quotes?

[edit on 20-7-2010 by joechip]

[edit on 20-7-2010 by joechip]

[edit on 20-7-2010 by joechip]



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:56 AM
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reply to post by 12GaugePermissionSlip
 


Good thread. I saw the data a while back but I am not much of a thread maker. I am glad you are. Its interesting. I personally dont take it like some seem to, that there is something wrong with people, or its "bad." Its just explanatory. People who have a stronger physiological reaction to change and stress tend to be more conservative and prefer things to be controlled and orderly.

I dont see any big leaps of faith there. It makes perfect sense. People who dont react as strongly physiologically to change and stress dont mind things being looser, freer, less orderly.

The nice thing about the study is data. Its not just speculation when you have it. And it should actually, imho, make both behavior patterns more understandable to both sides. Its not about bad or good, or right or wrong, its about people see and feel and react to things differently, and not all of that different is in their control.

Actually, I went looking for the article, and the one I saw was a little different than the one you are using. More physiological and less psychological.

news.sciencemag.org...


First, they were attached to equipment to measure skin conductivity, which rises with emotional stress as the moisture level in skin goes up. Each participant was shown threatening images, such as a bloody face interspersed with innocuous pictures of things such as bunnies, and rise in skin conductance in response to the shocking image was measured. The other measure was the involuntary eye blink that people have in response to something startling, such as a sudden loud noise. The scientists measured the amplitude of blinks via electrodes that detected muscle contractions under people's eyes.

The researchers found that both of these responses correlated significantly with whether a person was liberal or conservative socially. Subjects who had expressed a high level of support for policies "protecting the social unit" showed a much larger change in skin conductance in response to alarming photos than those who didn't support such policies. Similarly, the mean blink amplitude for the socially protective subjects was significantly higher, the team reports in tomorrow's issue of Science. Co-author Kevin Smith says the results showed that automatic fear responses are better predictors of protective attitudes than sex or age (men and older people tend to be more conservative).


[edit on 20-7-2010 by Illusionsaregrander]



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 12:57 AM
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reply to post by silent thunder
 

Somehow I dont find a Berkeley study that declares conservatives anal all that incongruous.



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 01:00 AM
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reply to post by joechip
 

CT'er: HAARP is making earthquakes and hurricanes!
Gov: HARRP is a research facility.

CT'er: Chemtrails are a government plot to kill us all/control the weather/who the hell knows what else.
Gov: Persistent contrails are the result of meteorological conditions and normal exhaust products of aircraft.

CT'er: The lunar landings were a hoax. For...um...some bad reason.
Gov: No, the lunar landings happened.

Tell me again where the fear factor originates?



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 01:01 AM
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Rahm shares a rare moment of truth with us:



real conservative.



[edit on 20-7-2010 by mnemeth1]



posted on Jul, 20 2010 @ 01:11 AM
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Originally posted by Phage
reply to post by CREAM
 

Same sentiment though, is it not?
Did Winston paraphrase? It still rings true.



He never said it at all it seems.
Apparently it was "Francois Guisot" originally and it was about Republicans specifically:


Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.


Doesn't seem to have anything about being liberal at all but eventually evolved to include it via other people. Regarding whether Chruchill said it, the Churchill Centre says he did not.


Paul Addison of Edinburgh University is quoted as stating: "Surely Churchill can't have used the words attributed to him. He'd been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35! And would he have talked so disrespectfully of Clemmie, who is generally thought to have been a lifelong Liberal?"
Wikiquote - Winston Churchill


Either way, it is a very interesting quote.

- Lee





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