Losing an election is tough and I have immense empathy for those who have a heartfelt vision for their country that was not fulfilled on election day. Most people who care deeply about the election, Democrats and Republicans, do so out of a real desire for the country to do better and it's unfortunate that the results have to disappoint so many well-meaning people.
That being said, there are some conservatives who have implied that those who vote for Obama simply want free stuff, while some liberals imply that billionaires who support Romney do so out of self-interest. Consider this quote from Sarah Palin:
We're not explaining to the rest of America, who thinks that they're going to get a bunch of free stuff from Obama, that you have a choice. You either get free stuff or you get freedom. You cannot have both, and you need to make a choice.
Or consider this quote from Paul Krugman:
billionaires have always loved the doctrines in question, which offer a rationale for policies that serve their interests....And now the same people effectively own a whole political party.
And in reaction to the election results, Bill O'Reilly opined that the reason that Obama gets support is that...
There are 50% of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.
What these three quotes have in common is that they all make a common mistake about how we view the motivations of others. Chip and Dan Heath call this "getting out of Maslow's basement", which refers to Maslow's hierarchy of needs depicted below.
Maslow's idea was that motivation can be grouped from lower level needs such as wanting "stuff" to higher order needs like caring about others, fulfilling values, etc. The implication of O'Reilly, Palin, Krugman, and many partisans, is that the other side is motivated by these lower level needs. It is a common mistake, made in many domains to believe that others are motivated by lower level needs. Chip and Dan Heath have shown that we all assume that other people are motivated by lower level needs, but that we ourselves are motivated by higher order needs. The truth is that most everyone is actually motivated by higher order needs. In the below video, they explain one of many studies showing this.
It is easy to let partisanship help you impugn the motives of others. And there is no doubt that some amount of self-interest helps shape our values. However, most people who care enough to vote do so out of higher order considerations. Indeed, nobody stands in an 8 hour line to vote out of self-interest. They really do want to help the poor or promote economic growth and freedom. And if we ever want to fulfill the bipartisanship we desire in the world, we would do well to understand the sincere motivations of others.
- Ravi Iyer
Recently, some of my collaborators (Brittany Liu and Pete Ditto) published a paper on moral coherence, which is when people fit their factual beliefs to their moral beliefs. It is a phenomenon very similar to what I've called moral confabulation (I like their term better, so have adopted it). It is a specific example of every person's general desire for coherence and avoidance of cognitive dissonance.
Conservatives are often skeptical of social science (which incidentally, I think is healthy for improving social science), so I was intrigued that a blogger at the prominent conservative blog, Red State, echoed the point that Liu & Ditto make: moral coherence is relatively common. In the blog post titled Everyone Knows Something that Isn't True, the blogger defends Todd Aikin's infamous comments about pregnancy and rape.
I don’t know when I learned that everyone has false beliefs. But I see it all the time, both in myself and in others. I’d hate to have my fate decided by some fact I got wrong. Wouldn’t you?
For instance, I never questioned a belief I had held for years: that the hijackers that flew planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11 came through Canada. On twitter I said that to do anything about 9/11, President Bush would have had to fix security in Canada.
It was then that I learned the hijackers all came through from US airports.
I had no reason, up to that embarrassing moment, to challenge my belief. It’s not that I had a particular bond to my false recollection, it’s that it just never occurred to me that there was anything to challenge. Afterward I realized that the hijackers would have complicated their mission greatly by choosing a foreign country as their takeoff point.
It’s difficult to challenge our own beliefs. That’s why we believe them.
While I don't share the politics of this blogger, the social scientist in me has to admit that the blogger is right. Most of us have factual beliefs that are wrong, often because they conform to/cohere with what we want to believe. Consider how factual beliefs about whether the Packers or Seahawks should have won their latest football game conform to fan sympathies. I won't and can't defend the contents of Akin's comments. But most of us are capable of making comments as ignorant as Akin's. We just usually make them about subjects that are less controversial and in ways that are less public.
Want more examples of moral coherence? Like our moral coherence facebook fan page where we post occasional examples of moral coherence that pop up in the news, where both liberals and conservatives make such errors.
- Ravi Iyer
One of the pitfalls in doing political psychology research is that it is tempting to define an ideology using the perspective of whatever you study. Researchers necessarily (and I'm sure I do this too) talk about the novelty and uniqueness of their findings in order to convince editors of journals of the objective importance of their work. In my technology career, we often think of connected variables as part of a "graph", indicating that any individual finding is likely part of a larger pattern. I believe that there are a number of psychology findings and news stories about conservatives that are actually part of a larger pattern, where each finding is actually an example of how conservatism can be defined by a desire for greater coherence.
What is coherence? It is an idea that grows from the common psychological finding that cognitive dissonance is unpleasant, so people seek to create the absence of dissonant thoughts, beliefs, and emotions in their lives. This absence of dissonance is what we can call coherence. My graduate school advisor, Stephen Read, has studied it extensively in a variety of contexts, and, in a project led by my colleague Brian Monroe, modeled a variety of social psychological findings about attitudes. My suggestion in this blog post is that, in a similar fashion, a large number of observations about conservatism can be explained by the idea that conservatives seek more coherence than liberals. Below, I will list these observations and you can judge for yourself whether there is a broader pattern.
- Psychologists have found that conservatives are more likely to create coherence between their factual beliefs and their moral beliefs. While "moral coherence" can be found in liberals and conservatives alike, conservative moral coherence is readily apparent in the news (see Akin, Todd).
- A lack of coherence is unpleasant and greater coherence may explain why conservatives are happier than liberals. This article comes from the perspective of systems justification theory, which has shown rather convincingly that conservatives are more likely to make coherent attributions of wealth (e.g. people who are rich did good things) and justice (e.g. people generally get what they deserve). It is not hard to imagine why people who walk around thinking that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people are less happy than people who think the opposite, an intepretation consistent both with systems justification theory and this article.
- A fair amount of research connects meaning to coherence, and our yourmorals data (in the below graph, using Steger's Meaning in Life Questionnaire), indicates that conservatives report more meaning in life..
- A lot of political psychology work concerns liberals greater "cognitive complexity". A quote from this paper: "There is both survey and content analytic evidence that liberals rely on more integratively complex cognitive strategies in reaching policy conclusions than do conservatives (Tetlock, 1989), suggesting that liberals may be more tolerant of cognitive dissonance...liberals receive higher scores on measures of tolerance of ambiguity..(Stone & Schaffner, 1988)." In political discourse, you can see this division played out in terms of conservative ridicule of Kerry's "for it before I was against it" in favor of the Texas straight shooter. Note that cognitive complexity can be thought of as both an indication of intelligence and an indication of lack of core beliefs.
- It is certainly more coherent to think that the group that you belong to does good things, rather than bad things, and conservatives are more likely to be more patriotic (see their identification with country results in this paper) and display more ingroup bias. In contrast, it would generate cognitive dissonance to believe that your group should apologize for past bad actions and conservatives do not seem eager to apologize.
- There is work suggesting that conservative judgments are more likely to be consistent/coherent with their emotional reactions. Jesse Graham has a number of working papers showing how conservatives are more likely to make moral judgments that are consistent with their emotional reactions, while liberals may at times, override their gut reaction with an intellectual judgment. In the news, we often see conservatives use their gut intuitions, even as liberals second guess basing judgments on coherence with the gut.
It bears noting that most of the above differences can be framed as positive or negative, depending on one's ideological desires. Coherence, by itself, is neither good nor bad, and can be both adaptive and maladaptive in different situations. One of my colleagues once said that there is value in reviewing research from a particular perspective and pushing that review as far as one can go, even if one might be wrong. There is certainly a ton of research I am unaware of and perhaps there is research showing contradictory evidence for my conclusion that conservativism is defined by coherence. Or alternatively, perhaps readers are aware of more research on liberal-conservative differences that can be explained through the lens of coherence. I would appreciate either type of information via comment or email.
- Ravi Iyer
In 2008, I co-founded VoteHelp.org as a way to help people with the question "Who should I vote for?" In 2008, it served over 500,000 people, but we didn't get any demographic information at the time, so, while valuable, I couldn't answer many of the questions I wanted to answer about the use of "candidate calculators", which is a name sometimes given to sites that allow you to enter your political opinions into a website, which then attempts to match your opinions to those of political candidates. In 2012, I added a few optional questions to the end of the quiz that asked the age, gender, political ideology, and planned candidate choice of quiz takers.
Right now, we rank #2 or #3 (I've seen both) for the search query "who should I vote for" on Google and according to Google, about 15,000 people have searched for that query over the past 30 days, with about 5000 clicking on VoteHelp.org. Some number of people do not fill out our surveys (25% bounce rate) and of those, only 30% or so fill out our optional demographics questions. Browser referral information isn't always sent, so I can only identify 470 who definitely typed in "who should I vote for" into Google to come to our site during the 2012 election, the bulk of which occurred in the last 30 days. Still, I think it's perhaps indicative of the kind of person who searches the internet for voter information.
Who is this person? The average age was 30.3 years old (SD = 11.1), with people as young as 12 and as old as 87 taking the survey. 56% of quiz takers were male. Judging by the below charts, the average person who asks Google who they should vote for really is likely to be undecided and moderate.
What do these voters care about? In order to eliminate the effects of the liberals and conservatives, I looked just at the 201 people who said they were moderate or apolitical. Here is the list of issues they care about in descending order of importance.
And here are their stances on these issues, with questions they agreed to listed first, and questions they disagreed with listed last. Note that these questions were asked on a 7 point scale with 1 = strongly disagree, 4 = in the middle, and 7 = strongly agree.
What can we conclude from these analyses? It seems like the kinds of people who are asking for help on the internet are people who might be classified as populists. They appear to be mainly younger men, who want compromise in government, favor liberal policies like higher taxes on the wealthy, higher spending on education, and more corporate regulation, but also favor conservative policies like stricter immigration enforcement and stricter controls on government spending. Of course, perhaps taking the average of these undecided voters obscures differences among these voters. Also, these results are likely to generalize best to the types of individuals who are actively using the internet to figure out who to vote for, since our sample all typed in "Who should I vote for?" into Google and then took the VoteHelp quiz. On one promising note for these analyses, these results do seem to converge with the media's depiction of the voters who both campaigns appear to be trying to woo right now.
- Ravi Iyer
While some followers of this blog may be familiar with some of the ideas in this paper, the final version of our publication about libertarian morality has just been published in PLOS One. You can read the full paper here. In addition, in the spirit of the Khan Academy, I created the below video summary for more casual consumption.
Finally, here is the press release that is accompanying the paper, which is also a reasonable summary for those who do not wish to read the full version.
Press Release for Immediate Release: August 23, 2012
Newly Published Research Illuminates Libertarian Morality
A new set of studies published in PLOS One takes advantage of a unique sample of 11,994 libertarians to explore the psychological dispositions of self-described libertarians. 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.
“Data can tell you what is, but not what ought to be,” explained Ravi Iyer, the lead author of the paper. “This is commonly known as the ‘is-ought’ problem, most clearly defined by Philosopher David Hume. With data, we can objectively answer what the values that exist in the world are, and what personality traits often accompany those values. We hope to help people understand why some people are libertarian, while others are liberal or conservative, by showing you what ‘is’ with respect to libertarians.”
Using the writings of libertarian thought leaders such as Ayn Rand and Ron Paul to generate hypotheses, the authors - which included Ravi Iyer, a research scientist at the University of Southern California and data scientist at Ranker.com, Spassena Koleva and Jesse Graham, who are respectively are a post-doctoral researcher and assistant professor in the Values, Ideology, and Morality Lab at USC, Peter Ditto, a professor at the University of California-Irvine, and Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University - found that libertarians were less concerned with being altruistic or loyal, and more concerned with being independent and self-directed.
Convergent with previous research showing the ties between emotion and moral judgment, libertarians displayed a more rational cognitive style, according to a variety of measures. Asked directly, using a series of standard psychological measures available at YourMorals.org, they reported being less neurotic, less disgusted, and less empathic, compared to liberals and conservatives, while also reporting a greater need for cognition and systematic understanding of the world. When given moral dilemmas - e.g. being asked whether it is ok to sacrifice five people to save one - they reported fewer qualms than other groups, a pattern of responding that is consistent with a rational/utilitarian style. Libertarians tended to do better on logic problems that included answers designed to fool more intuitive thinkers.
“Ideologies can be thought of as narratives that allow us to make sense of our beliefs, feelings and preferences,” said Iyer. “Naturally, we gravitate towards ideologies that are consistent with these dispositions. This has been found consistently with liberals and conservatives across many research groups using many different methodologies. The current research extends these findings to libertarians, which are an increasingly influential group in the US national discourse.”
Previous research has connected moral judgment to social functioning, theorizing that moral judgment arose in order to enable the current ultra-social modern society. Libertarians, who generally were less morally judgmental, reported a corresponding desire for greater individualism and less attachment to their friends, family, community, and nation.
“This research is strongest when you consider it in context with other research on ideology and the origins or morality, which has found similar ties between emotion, social functioning, and moral judgment,” explained Iyer. “All social science research methodologies have limitations, but the findings of the current research converge well with research using other methodologies, and the complete picture painted by recent moral psychological research hopefully gives people a greater understanding of the social and emotional origins of their own value systems.”
The paper can be read in its entirety at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0042366. More information about the findings, including a video explanation that can be embedded in online media can be found at www.polipsych.com/libertarians. For press inquiries, please contact Ravi Iyer, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a line of research led by Matt Motyl, at the University of Virginia, we've been exploring ideological differences in preferences for where one lives. This project is informed by a few ideas already out there.
- The observation that cities are getting more and more partisan, as depicted in the Big Sort.
- Richard Florida's ideas about creating people-city matches.
- The observation that satisfying values, rather than material needs, is increasingly what society cares about (also see my SXSW presentation on this).
- Lots of psychological work conceptualizing ideology as a difference that reflects more than just political ideas.
Given these trends, we would expect liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to differ on what traits are most important in choosing a city to live in. To test this, we asked participants to allocate 100 importance points to the 10 (out of 46) most important traits that they would use to judge a city. The idea was to force people to make choices about what is and what is not important as most all of these traits are desirable. The results, based on over 2000 youmorals.org visitors, largely follow common sense and are shown below with the traits preferred by liberals at the top and by conservatives at the bottom. For the statistically minded among you, all correlations of .05 or higher are statistically significant.
Perhaps more interesting are the average number of points allocated by liberals, conservatives, moderates, and libertarians to each of these traits. There is actually a great deal of consensus as to what is important (clean air/water, safety, job opportunities, medical care) even as there are differences (public transportation, family friendly, religiosity). Also interesting is to note aspects of cities for which libertarians score highest (not too noisy, scientific community, many atheists), which dovetails well with our other research on libertarians.
Average points allocated by ideological group:
There are important plusses and minuses of using non-representative samples. However, these results generally conform to popular wisdom about these groups, so while the means may differ in the general population, the overall patterns seem likely to generalize. As with much of our research, the goal isn't to determine which way of being or which city type is best, but rather to help people more explicitly make choices that may align with their value orientation. I'm hopeful that the above lists will prove generative when people search the internet for ideas about where to live, a search which apparently is getting more and more common, according to Google Trends.
- Ravi Iyer
Over the past couple years, Jon Haidt has had press articles from various liberal leaning press organizations, including these articles from ThinkProgress, Alternet, Daily Kos, and the New York Times.
One of the great things about doing internet research is that web servers automatically collect information that makes it very easy to do cross-sample validation. This information can also be used to compare the people who visited us from these articles. Which group is the most liberal and how do they compare on their moral foundations scores?
First, I thought do a simple comparison of these groups.
There are fewer people from the Daily Kos to be able to be sure about conclusions (hence the larger error bars), but it looks like (unsurprisingly) all of these groups are liberal, compared to people who find us via search engines, who tend to be only slightly liberal. Their moral foundations scores show a similarly more liberal pattern with higher Harm/Fairness scores and lower Ingroup/Authority/Purity scores. Daily Kos readers are the most liberal followed by ThinkProgress & Alternet and then NY Times readers and finally people who found yourmorals.org via a search engine.
To me, the most interesting results are where groups appear to be equally liberal (ThinkProgress & Alternet), but have differences. ThinkProgress visitors appear esepcially low on Purity scores, while Alternet visitors appear significantly higher on Harm/Fairness scores.
An even stronger test of the kinds people who use these websites is to control for how liberal (slight, moderate, or extreme) individuals at these sites report themselves to be and examine individuals within each group of liberals. Those results are below.
This is the graph for people who said they were "very liberal".
These are the results for people who said they were "liberal".
These are the results for people who said they were "slightly liberal". Interestingly, there weren't enough slight liberals in the Daily Kos sample to include them in this graph.
The pattern seems fairly robust in that ThinkProgress visitors care less about Purity. Perhaps they are less religious? Alternet visitors seem to care more about Harm/Fairness. Perhaps they are more empathically motivated and ThinkProgress visitors are more rationally oriented. I don’t know enough about the liberal blogosphere to theorize well about why these differences exist, but I’m hopeful that by sharing these differences, others will be able to enlighten me. At the very least, I hope readers of these sites will find it interesting.
Would you be interested in seeing how your group compares to others on the moral foundations questionnaire? Or visitors to your website? You may have noticed a small "create a group" link on our explore page of yourmorals.org which lets you create a custom URL, whereby each visitor's graphs will not only let them compare their individual scores to other liberals/conservatives, but also to members of their group, and to compare their group scores to the average liberal/conservative. Once you create those URLs, you can put them into blog posts, articles, or emails targeting your group. We are still beta testing the feature, but would welcome anyone who wants to try it out and who perhaps has feedback on how we can improve it.
- Ravi Iyer
I've been watching a lot of comedy central lately and have been wondering why there does not appear to be a conservative equivalent, just as there is no popular liberal equivalent to conservative AM talk radio. Perhaps liberals value being funny more than conservatives?
To test this idea, I thought I'd look at the data from the Good Self Scale from yourmorals.org. In it, participants are asked how important it is to have various traits, and one of them happens to be "funny". If you look at the below graph, you'll see that liberals do indeed place a tiny bit more value on being funny, compared to others (p<.01 comparing liberals to non-liberals).
It is important to note that this does not mean that liberals are indeed funnier, but rather that they place a value on being funny. The results seem plausible given that the rest of the results conform to previous research (e.g. conservatives care about loyalty more and care about being more responsible). Some observations:
- All groups are above the midpoint (2.5) of the scale for all traits, except for libertarians and their valuation of being generous, outgoing, and sympathetic. Instead, libertarians score high on being intellectual and logical.
- Moderates actually score highest in terms of valuing fairness and honesty. A very interesting finding.
- Liberals, in addition to wanting to be funny, also want to be creative, kind, sympathetic, and almost as intellectual as libertarians.
- Conservatives value being responsible, loyal, and honest (comparable to moderates for honesty).
In all, these are fair descriptions of these ideological groups, and given that the other relationships are reasonable, I would conclude that it's also reasonable to say that liberals likely do place more value on being funny than other ideological groups. Whether they succeed or not is another question.
- Ravi Iyer
Today is Veteran's Day and I would like to express my profound thanks for the sacrifices that soldier's make in service to our nation. I may not agree with the decision to go to war in some cases or with the utility of war in general, but soldiers do not make those decisions. Politicians do. Once they are made, soldiers are the ones who make the sacrifices necessary as a result of those decisions, including the potential ultimate sacrifice, and there is something truly noble and selfless about being willing to risk one's life for others. While the decision to go to war can be partisan, supporting the individual people who carry out military policy is usually bipartisan, and today, Obama honored troops in Korea while incoming House Speaker Boehner joined Vice President Biden in a bipartisan show of support at Arlington National Cemetary.
However, some people have trouble separating their attitudes toward war from their attitudes toward soldiers, especially the more liberal among us. As a liberal myself, I can understand the cognitive dissonance that may arise from the idea of supporting those who carry out policies that we find destructive. On the conservative end of the spectrum, it may seem dissonant to think that people can oppose a war and still support the people involved in the war.
In our YourMorals.org dataset, attitudes toward our troops do indeed appear highly related to attitudes toward war.
And this no doubt contributes to lower feeling thermometer ratings among liberals in terms of attitudes toward troops, though I should point out in the below graph that the midpoint of the scale is 4, so the range of mean attitudes toward soldiers ranges from neutral (very liberal) to extremely warm (very conservative), with no group being against our troops. Of course, mean values are to be taken with a grain of salt for our dataset, given its non-representativeness, but here is a similar Gallup finding.
It may be hard to do, but especially on Veteran's day, I think the civil thing to do for liberals is to attempt to separate their negative attitudes toward specific war decisions from their attitudes toward our nation's troops, perhaps populating the upper left quadrant of the first graph above where negative attitudes toward war coexist with positive attitudes toward soldiers. At the same time, perhaps those who support specific war decisions can take liberals at their word, that most of us do support our troops, even if we might have made different decisions about the policies that led to their deployment.
- Ravi Iyer
ps. If you want to more fully explain liberal-conservative differences in feelings toward soldiers using our dataset (reducing ideology beta to .122, p=.055), you can add differences in identification with country ("How close do you feel to people in your country?", beta=.215) and authoritarianism ("Our country needs a powerful leader, in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today.", beta = .221) to attitudes toward war ("War is sometimes the best way to solve a conflict.", beta = .387) in a regression model.