Libertarian Psychology

One line of research I am involved in concerns understanding and appreciating libertarian morality, and it’s psychological roots.  This page contains information related to a paper written with co-authors Spassena Koleva, Jesse Graham, Pete Ditto, and Jon Haidt.  The paper has been published in PLOS One and can be read in its entirety here.

Here is a video that describes this paper’s findings for those who want a more digestible overview.

The abstract:

Libertarians are an increasingly prominent ideological group in U.S. politics, yet they have been largely unstudied. Across 16 measures in a large web-based sample that included 11,994 self-identified libertarians, we sought to understand the moral and psychological characteristics of self-described libertarians. Based on an intuitionist view of moral judgment, we focused on the underlying affective and cognitive dispositions that accompany this unique worldview. Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians showed 1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle, and weaker endorsement of all other moral principles; 2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional cognitive style; and 3) lower interdependence and social relatedness. As predicted by intuitionist theories concerning the origins of moral reasoning, libertarian values showed convergent relationships with libertarian emotional dispositions and social preferences. Our findings add to a growing recognition of the role of personality differences in the organization of political attitudes.

More broadly, the paper concerns the role that psychological dispositions and personality traits play in the organization of political attitudes.  We replicate a great deal of previous research in this area, and by extending this work to an understudied population (libertarians), we hope to lend context to previously reported differences found between liberals and conservatives, many of which are reported in isolation.  Ideology is a fundamental dimension on which individuals differ.  We feel that the ability to view the entire matrix of relationships between ideological groups in such a large sample allows us to take a perspective that illuminates the important connections that exist between morality, ideology, and personality traits.

The purpose of the online supplement is to allow us to post information related to the paper. Within the paper itself, there were several convergent findings referred to that were not included due to space reasons.  These findings are detailed below:

  • Correlation/Sample Overlap Table – This table shows the correlation and sample overlap between participants who took any given 2 measures.  It is also available in SPSS output and PDF formats.
  • Socially Liberal/Fiscally Conservative Attitudes of Libertarians – This analysis shows that libertarians who visit our website do report socially liberal and fiscally conservative, indicating that they understand the common meaning of the term libertarian.
  • Sacredness Scale Results – This measure is an alternative way to measure the 5 foundations from Moral Foundations Theory, and libertarians show a convergent pattern by this measure.
  • Moral Identity Scale Results – This measure is very similar to the modified Good-Self scale used in the paper and the results converge.
  • Cluster Analysis Dendogram – This dendogram indicates that a 3 cluster solution, which empirically showed that libertarians were a distinct cluster, was an appropriate fit to the data.
  • Robustness Tables – These 2 tables show that whether we conduct analyses overall, by gender, or by participant source, differences between libertarians and other groups remains similar.
  • Do libertarians resemble extreme liberals/conservatives? – One hypothesis might be that libertarian thought is ‘extreme’ and therefore libertarians might resemble extreme liberals/conservatives.  This hypothesis was not supported in our data.
  • Life Satisfaction Correlates – This finding was omitted for space considerations and perhaps belongs in a separate paper, but in our data, libertarians report slightly lower levels of life satisfaction and their life satisfaction is less related to statements endorsing horizontal collectivism (e.g. “I feel good when I cooperate with others”).

The above items are specific findings that we did not include in the paper for space reasons and mentioned in the paper. Below are blog posts that are not referenced in the paper, but which also illuminate libertarian morality.  We hope to continually add to these posts going forward, such that this page can supplement the original paper by providing a space where more recent, convergent research, can be shared.