The Republican National Convention is going to take place this week and one of the stated goals of many republicans is to "humanize" Mitt Romney. It reminded me of this graph that I pulled from our yourmorals.org database which looks at systemizing vs. empathizing scores. Based on work by Simon Baron-Cohen, the measure concerns how much one likes to analyze and construct systems as a way of understanding the world (e.g. being fascinated by how machines work) versus trying to understand social situations and empathize with others (e.g. I am quick to spot when someone in a group is feeling awkward and uncomfortable.). Men (in general) tend to systemize, while women tend to empathize and this difference tracks rates of autism (Baron-Cohen's main line of research), which strikes 4 males for every 1 female. Men also tend to support Romney vs. Obama.
This graph shows the correlation between favorability ratings of potential 2008 presidential candidates and the difference between systemizing and empathizing scores for those candidates' supporters.
Based on our libertarians research, we would have expected Ron Paul supporters to have the highest systemizing vs. empathizing scores and certainly his supporters do have a positive, and relatively high correlation. It is similarly unsurprising that Hillary Clinton's supporters in 2008 tended to be empathizers, or that Democrats generally tend to attract empathizers, rather than systemizers. What surprised me, however, was that Mitt Romney's supporters appear to have the highest systemizing vs. empathizing difference. Does this reflect something intrinsic about Mitt Romney, or at least his image? After watching some of the Sunday shows today, I think so.
Consider this quote from ABC's This Week, by George Will, a conservative who observed that "with most politicians, the problem is their inauthenticity. His (Romney's) problem is that he is authentically what he is...he has a low emotional metabolism. That's who he is. He can't turn to the country and say I feel your pain because the pain isn't his. It's other people's. What he can say is that I can fix your pain and that should be good enough for most people, unless we are electing a talk show host".
Mike Huckabee said something similar on Fox News Sunday about likability being less important than technical skill. These are perhaps inherent admissions by some of Mitt Romney's supporters that his strength is in appealing to systemizers, and therefore, they would like frame the debate in those terms. It will be interesting to see whether Mitt Romney aims his Republican National Convention nomination acceptance speech at empathizers or at systemizers.
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
A colleague of mine forwarded me this article in the New York Times, which compared the presidential candidates' usages of various terms. Some words require more context, but what struck him (and me, after I saw it) in this graph is the fact that Ron Paul doesn't use the words America or American very much, even as he talks a lot about war (usually in negative terms), the constitution, and liberty.
A simple possible convergent explanation comes from this graph of questions concerning how much how much a person identifies (e.g. feel's close to, has things in common with, uses the word "we") with people in their community, in their country, and around the world. Ron Paul and libertarians like him, may think of themselves as individuals, moreseo than the typical liberal or conservative, and less as members of a community, a country, or the world.
From a psychological perspective, this is a further illustration of the idea that moral reasoning is intimately inter-twined with social functioning in that people tend to have a moral profile that correlates well with the types of social functioning they desire.
I would argue that a healthy society needs all types of social concerns. Cohesive working units such as armies, companies, and to a lesser extent countries, are necessary for efficiently performing tasks and competing with/defending against other groups. At the same time, it would seem callous to be an extraordinarily efficient society that doesn't care about the plight of others who are not in our group. Finally, any society needs people who are less constrained by group concerns who can push society forward. We should be thankful for the diverse ideological perspectives in our country and rather than seeing politics as war, we could see it as an exercise in finding balance between worthy concerns.
- Ravi Iyer
Many people believe that war and violence are inherently immoral, and some psychologists have begun to explore the idea that celebrating heroism is an antidote to the problem of evil. In contrast, other psychologists have highlighted the dark side of moral conviction (Skitka & Mullen, 2002) and the notion of idealistic evil (Baumeister, 1997) to explain how moral motivations might actually lead to increased violence. I sometimes call this being hypermoral, not because I have any great further insight, but simply because I think it has a better chance of catching on as a pop culture meme.
President Obama started military action against Libya, following his belief in the concept of a “just war”, suggesting that Libya might be a useful example of morally motivated violence. This was somewhat informed by the fact that I personally support intervention in Libya on moral grounds, meaning that I see no gain for the US or myself, but rather would like to help those who are attempting to gain their freedom. Unfortunately, that requires violence. While I may see this as 'good', others likely see this as evil, and I do see the unfortunate parallel with violent actions anywhere, in that I could see a suicide bomber having a very similar thought process, even as they kill many innocent people in an act that I would term evil. The point of this research is to divorce normative judgments about which kinds of violence are good or evil from the more general psychological process, and simply to show that at least in this case, violence is often morally motivated, rather than being indicative of a person who is amoral.
As such, I conducted an experiment where participants were randomly assigned to answer questions about Libyan military intervention in terms of what is morally right or what is in the national interest. For example, one question read "Considering what is (morally right/in the US national interest), I support the recent American intervention in Libya."
Results are shown in the graph below, broken down by ideological group, and indicated that many individuals are indeed more supportive of intervention when framed in terms of what is morally right. Liberals (p<.05) exhibited significantly greater support for Libyan intervention, framed in moral terms. Conservatives exhibited a marginally significant effect (p=.06), though the magnitude of the difference is greater, so I likely just need to survey more conservative participants, who are a minority in this sample. Consistent with our research on libertarian morality, whereby libertarians are not moved by the typical moral concerns of liberals and conservatives, libertarians were unaffected by moral framing. Interestingly, moderates were also unmoved by moral framing.
This is one specific case and one specific study on a very specific sample, so there are certainly limitations in the conclusions one can make, as with most any social science research. However, this does suggest that for many people, the case of Libya is a concrete example of morally motivated violence. I'm hopeful that thinking about violence and war as morally motivated, divorced from whether you think the ends are good or evil, will be a useful paradigm for reducing violence and conflict more generally. Perhaps violence will actually be reduced if people become less moral and instead more tolerant of other people's views and actions.
- 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
We recently submitted a paper for publication about libertarian morality, along with co-authors Spassena Koleva, Jesse Graham, Pete Ditto, and Jonathan Haidt. The paper leverages our broad set of measures to tell a story about libertarians, which converges with previously reported findings about liberals and conservatives. Specifically, all ideological groups demonstrate the same patterns whereby preferences, emotions and dispositions lead to an attraction to corresponding values and ideological narratives. For example, liberals have greater feelings of empathy and are therefore more likely to moralize harm and be attracted to an ideology which prioritizes this moralization. Libertarians moralize liberty, both economic liberty, similar to conservatives, and lifestyle liberty, similar to liberals.
Libertarians believe in the importance of individual liberty, a belief that may be related to lower levels of agreeableness and higher scores on a measure of psychological reactance (e.g. “regulations trigger a sense of resistance in me”). They moralize concerns about harm less than liberals, in part because they have lower levels of empathy . They moralize principles concerning being a group member (obeying authority and being loyal) less than conservatives in part because they have less attachment to the groups around them.
If you want to read more about what the paper, says, you can click here or download the paper here, but right now, I’d like to focus on why we wrote the paper, as I have previously written about how people are attracted to why you write things as much as what you write.
Of course, some part of paper writing is driven by curiosity and the practical desire to publish. But in writing this paper, I have undergone my own personal intellectual journey, and I’m hopeful that others may have a similar experience. A lot of my impression of libertarianism was previously shaped by images of the Tea Party (who aren’t necessarily libertarians after all) and I thought of libertarians as uncaring, from my liberal perspective, in that they typically don't support progressive taxes and social programs. The original title of the paper was “the Search for Libertarian Morality”, implying that libertarians are potentially amoral, and in retrospect showing my own ideological bias.
But as I read more about libertarian philosophy and looked more carefully at the data, I found that libertarians do indeed have a coherent moral code, that simply differs from my own. Like my liberal leanings, which have some relation to my dispositions and preferences, libertarians also moralize their preferences and dispositions, in ways that mirror my own processes. For example, liberals and libertarians both score high on desire for new experiences and stimulation, which may be a common reason why both groups tend to emphasize individual choice over group solidarity, compared to conservatives, as cohesive groups can limit choice. Libertarians may be less moved by emotions such as disgust and empathy, which may lead them to moralize certain situations less than others. But who am I to say that my moral compass is any better or worse than theirs, given my view that at some level, the basis for my liberal moral compass is driven by subjective sentiment. I previously wrote about the dangers of liberal moral absolutism, and villainizing libertarians for not sharing my particular vision of morality would be a step down that road.
Why do we seek to publicize this paper? In a time when partisanship dominates, policy suffers, and people on both sides of the aisle villainize the other side, it is our hope that with greater understanding comes greater acceptance. We may not all agree about the relative merits of empathy, disgust, or reactance as moral emotions…but we all have some level of all of these emotions and can respect principles born out of these. Even liberals can find things so disgusting that they are seen as wrong, and conservatives actually give a lot of money to the poor. In attributing moral disagreements to dispositions, largely out of our control, perhaps we can learn to see others as different and attracted to other positive moral principles, rather than amoral and oblivious to the moral principles that are important to us.
- Ravi Iyer
I recently read the story of Motley Crue's wild ride in the 80s-90s, most of which blends together into a mess of outrageous behavior, impulsiveness, and hedonism. They drank a lot, did a lot of drugs, and had a lot of sex. I was fascinated by it (enough to keep reading), but also disgusted as well. In the course of the book, they assaulted innocent commuters, killed someone by drunk driving, vandalized hotel rooms, and otherwise demonstrated no respect for anyone other than themselves.
It was hard to be sympathetic, but the closest I can come is to think of them as having a radically different time perspective than most people. As Zimbardo says in the below video, addiction is related to a present hedonistic time perspective, and the members of Motley Crue certainly reaped what they sowed in terms of addiction.
The natural question that occurred to me was to determine the time perspective differences among liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. Unfortunately, I don't have specific time perspective data, but I do have scores on the Hedonism dimension (e.g. how important is "Enjoying Life"?) of the Schwartz Values Scale in the chart below, which equates to Zimbardo's Present-Hedonistic perspective.
Unsurprisingly, liberals and libertarians score the highest on hedonism scores. Obviously, Motley Crue went overboard, but I don't think hedonism is necessarily good or bad. Zimbardo's work doesn't say that any particular time perspective is superior, but rather that individuals should attempt to find a balanced time perspective.
In the same way, I would argue that the country needs a balanced time perspective, balancing respect for the past, enjoying the present, and considering the future. Conservatives policies might leave us constantly growing our economy and military, so that we can ensure our future security, but perhaps at the expense of the current welfare of many, especially those individuals who are less productive or less fortunate. Liberal policies might ensure that all individuals have basic needs met and that society cares about the happiness of it's citizens, but at the cost of preparing for the future. A balance of these concerns seems most prudent and perhaps appreciating the benefits of different time perspectives, as Zimbardo states at the end of his video, will allow us to make fewer negative attributions of those on the other side of the aisle....and maybe even of people as hedonistic as the members of Motley Crue.
- Ravi Iyer