Some people in psychology have a theory that everyone wants to study themselves. I don't really have a religious category that fits. I grew up going occasionally to a protestant church and I occasionally go to a new-age church in Los Angeles. If I had to pick a category, I might pick "Spiritual, but not Religious" and I successfully convinced my collaborators at YourMorals.org to keep it as a distinctive category of religion. After all, what is more interesting to study than ourselves.
According to this book, "Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America" by Robert Fuller, perhaps 20% of Americans might fall in this category. In our YourMorals.org dataset, 9.4% used this category. For comparison, 24.7% picked Atheist and all the Christian denominations combined make up ~15%. From personal experience as a Californian, I could also see people who fit Fuller's description as wanting a more open, exploratory, personal religious experience picking Buddhism (1.5%) or Unitarian-Universalist (1.8%). Obviously, our sample is skewed because we reach a largely educated liberal audience. However, according to Fuller, that is exactly the type of audience that is "unchurched", so I think it likely that we reach a fair portion of unchurched America.
What separates those who are "Spiritual, but not religious" from those who are "Atheist"? or those who are "churched"? Below is a comparison of scores on the Schwartz Values Scale.
What patterns jump out?
- Spiritual, but not Religious means something VERY different from Atheism. Atheists seem to be markedly lower on conformity, benevolence, and universalism and higher on hedonism. The pattern is somewhat like that of libertarians.
- In contrast, people who are spiritual, but not religious are more similar to other religious people than atheists...EXCEPT the biggest difference is that the spiritual, but not religious value universalism. Perhaps this universalism is the common thread which keeps these people away from organized religion, some of which can be seen as exclusionary.
- There is also a pattern of movement towards openness to change values (stimulation, hedonism, and self-direction) and away from conservation values (tradition, conformity) for the spiritual, but not religious, compared to "all others".
- As I suspected, Unitarian Universalists and those who are Spiritual, but not Religious have a lot in common and most differences fall within the margin of error.
- Buddhists also have a lot in common with this group, except that they are lower in valuing power and achievement.
The results converge with the census of the Burning Man community where 72% feel that spirituality is important or very important, while over 80% go to no religious services in a month. Universalism, benevolence, and self-direction are the top 3 values in their survey, just as in ours (spirituality is not an official Schwartz value).
I would argue that moral confabulation is the common thread between these two videos. Is Obama, who is half white and surrounded by white people, really a racist?
I don't think everything that liberals are saying about Bush is wrong, but disliking someone so much that you compare them to Hitler is a stretch, unless the person you are comparing them to is systematically setting up camps to kill millions of people. What part of what liberals say about conservatives is confabulated as well? Could denial of global warming be a type of moral confabulation?
I would like to coin the term moral confabulation (ok, I didn't coin it first...there are 23 google results for it...but I'd like to popularize it) and I've now added it as a category on this site. Confabulation is the formation of false beliefs or memories. In the moral realm, one confabulates when ones emotional gut reaction to some event is so strong that it causes one to posit new beliefs that may be at strong odds with reality.
I do not believe that this is just a conservative phenomenon and I hope to illustrate this phenomenon in liberals (eg. social justice may be a confabulation of empathy for the poor). However, I couldn't let this video pass without sharing it.
Sometimes you dislike a group (homosexuals) or a thing (pornography) so much, that reasons why they are bad just keep coming to mind. It's very related to this scenario which affects both liberals and conservatives. Without making any claims about the rightness or wrongness of these objects, I feel that moral confabulation is a phenomenon worth studying. And sometimes giving something a name makes it more study-able. If you know of more examples of moral confabulation, please share.
All social science research faces questions about the external validity of the results. Much social psychology research is done on students and so the natural question is whether those findings generalize to non-student populations. Even representative surveys of the population face questions about validity due to the assumptions which go into what representative means. Since all measurement is imperfect, one of the main ways to determine the robustness of a finding is to examine many measurements and look for overall patterns. FiveThirtyEight.com did this during the 2008 presidential election and became a national sensation.
The central finding of Moral Foundations theory to date is the split between what liberals and conservatives report caring about. Specifically, Liberals care more exclusively about issues concerning harm and fairness, while conservatives also care about issues surrounding obeying rightful authority, being loyal to one's ingroup, and avoiding "unnatural" violations of one's purity.
How can we tell if this finding is robust? All web servers keep track of referring traffic and so we can analyze the data we collect at yourmorals.org by the source of the traffic. If the pattern holds among people who read the New York Times, people who come from conservative blogs (a minority, but there are some), people who read the Houston Chronicle, people who find the site by typing 'morality quiz' into a search engine, and people who read Libertarian magazines....then it is likely that the pattern is somewhat robust. Of course, these patterns are all among internet samples, so it would be fair to say that if this pattern of liberal-conservative differences holds among all these groups, then it is fairly robust amongst the type of people who use the internet to read about news or politics.
Below are graphs across many of these groups. You'll see the same pattern where as you move from liberal to conservative, the exclusivity of concern about issues of harm and fairness gets less and less.
It looks like the government of France is following in the footsteps of Bhutan and the United Kingdom and is taking the idea of using happiness as a national indicator more seriously.
The article from the Telegraph is consistent with a growing drumbeat among academics and politicians to consider national indicators of well being. The challenge is to convince those in policy positions of two things:
- It's important to remove concerns that productivity goals will be sacrificed. There is research (Deutsch 1975; Hofstede 1980) that indicates that well being and social goals form a distinct cluster from agentic goals like productivity. How can advocates of well being measures avoid this traditional tension and the inevitable backlash from those who are more productivity focused? This is especially difficult in times of crisis as research suggests that feelings of threat increase the desire to focus on productivity.
- It’s important to show the scientific validity of measures of happiness. I am not sure what the right balance is, but on it’s face, “happiness” is not something that can be measured well. It is too multi-dimensional. Would it be better to measure more discrete emotions such as societal anxiety, depression, joy, and satisfaction (based on Feldman-Barrett and Russell’s taxonomy of emotions)? Would it be a more convincing argument if we tried to support the basic psychological needs (from Self Determination theory) of relatedness, autonomy, and competence? Perhaps adding meaning/curiosity? My gut tells me that some amount of nuance needs to be added to the word “happiness” to make it more face valid to the general public and that there is room for improvement from calling it “subjective well being”.
There is evidence that liberals have more desire for cognitive complexity compared to conservatives, which can either be framed as a virtue like intelligence or a vice like flip-flopping depending on where you stand (see Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski,and Sulloway 2003). There is also evidence suggesting that extremists on both sides are the least cognitively complex.
I thought I'd examine the time elapsed in taking the Moral Foundations Questionnaire on YourMorals.org and the results are pretty much what you'd expect. Time spent on the questionnaire is lower on the extremes of political liberalism and conservativism. However, liberals did take more time on the page compared to conservatives.Below is a graph of the median time spent on the page by political orientation. The last 3 bars are for libertarians, people who don't know or are apolitical (strangely, they take the most time on the page...maybe they just have trouble making decisions), and people who are 'other'.
Of course, it's up to the reader to determine whether you buy the idea that time elapsed in answering questions about morality is correlated with considering the questions more deeply, which indicates more coginitive complexity in the moral realm. Liberals do score higher on moral relativism measures, which could be thought of as a type of cognitive complexity.
This was the actual speech which Obama gave for the nation's kids which generated so much controversy. What does that say about the polarization and lack of ability to form consensus in our country? I find it hard to believe that 95% of the country doesn't agree with these messages, yet many still can't get past the partisan divide.
Similarly, I bet 80% of the goals of healthcare reform are shared across parties including reducing costs by eliminating waste, increasing competition amongst insurers (the true goal of the public option, which would also be accomplished by Republican proposals to allow interstate competition or by cooperatives), stop insurers from dropping sick people, insure the working poor, insure the self-employed, and allow people with pre-existing conditions to get coverage.
Some of the group that run yourmorals.org are considering writing a paper focusing on Libertarians and so I've been looking at the data for triends. One consistent pattern we have found is that Libertarians (unsuprisingly) are more self rather than other oriented. They aren't just extreme conservatives, but are qualitatively different. They seem to moralize less and are more self vs. other oriented on scales like the Schwartz Values Scale.One hypothesis about this would be that Libertarians are less positively affected by other people. Happiness research consistently shows that relationships are very important for people's happiness....This is true for both liberals and conservatives. But is this the case for Libertarians?Consider the following 2 graphs. The first one shows the relationship between a measure of depression symptoms (BSI - eg. "feeling blue" in the past 7 days) and a measure of abstract feelings toward others (Feeling Towards Others Scale by Belinda Campos at UC-Irvine, eg. "For me, happiness comes from performing acts of kindness for others.").
....and here is a graph with a similar pattern replacing depression symptoms with Ed Diener's Satisfaction with Life Scale.
The interesting pattern is that feeling close to abstract other people (not explicitly friends or family, for whom the pattern is different) is positively related to life satisfaction and negatively related to depressive symptoms for everyone, liberal or conservative, except libertarians.There are of course caveats to this result (as there are in any research). Our sample is limited to people who visit our website, who tend to be well educated internet users, so this may only be true for those kinds of people. Still, this result seems to converge with other evidence, both in our data and in society, that libertarians are more self than other oriented (eg. Ayn Rand's book, the Virtue of Selfishness). If positive affect motivates many people to be other oriented, then the fact that libertarians lack the other-orientation->positive emotion relationship would help explain their lack of other orientation.