At our recent meeting of social psychologists, I had a few conversations about a particular facet of our data, the fact that liberals in our dataset score higher on measures of neuroticism than conservativism. The effect in our data is small, but not insignificant (d=.24 of the standard deviation). This surprised some people in that there is a fair amount of research about conservatives being fearful that people are aware of, even as there is some contradictory evidence. A recent meta-analysis + study yielded mixed results, with some research and samples showing liberals as being more neurotic (including the lone non-student sample, though with a very small effect size), and some research showing conservatives as being more neurotic. One conclusion might be that this is all statistical noise. An alternative possibility is that it depends on the types of questions being asked or that it depends on the group being sampled. I thought I'd explore this in our yourmorals data.
First, you can see that within the yourmorals dataset, liberals appear more neurotic than conservatives regardless of the question that is asked.
This even extends to asking about symptoms in the recent past. The questions here are how often the participant has experienced "Being suddenly scared for no reason", "Spells of terror or panic", or "Feeling fearful" in the past 7 days, though the effect is tiny.
It appears that the effect is robust across questions. Our sample is not representative of the broader US, but in this instance, this may be instructive. Liberals may be more neurotic than conservatives within certain groups. Our data is a large enough sample that it likely represents a sizable group of people, and it is possible that there is something peculiar to the kind of people who visit yourmorals that makes our liberals more neurotic than our conservatives. As a broader test of this idea, I thought I'd examine those participants who visit yourmorals from sites like the New York Times or Edge, versus those who find yourmorals.org via search engines (e.g. searching for 'morality quiz'), with the idea that the NY Times and Edge readers are more like our core audience (people especially interested in social science).
Here is the graph by question for those who find us via search engines:
And here is the graph for those who find us via the New York Times and Edge.org.
It may be self-evident from the graphs, but put another way, the correlation between neuroticism and liberal-conservative identification (1-7) is -.03 (n=1634, p=.22) for those who find us via search engines, -.08 (n=7129, p<.001) in New York Times readers, and -.13 (n=2382, p<.001) for those who find us via Edge.org. Overall, the correlation is -.08 (n=35,793, p<.001).
To me, this supports the idea that there is something peculiar about the kind of liberal that reads the New York Times or visits Edge.org or a site like YourMorals.org. Perhaps the common thread here is the idea that these are people who are searching for answers in life. It somewhat converges with this paper by Napier & Jost, where they find that liberals are less happy than conservatives, a finding that replicates in our data and has been found by others, and they found that this relationship is explained by the liberal un-acceptance of inequality. It seems somewhat implausible that liberals walk around consciously thinking about inequality a lot. But perhaps the inability to accept inequality is part of a general questioning of the way things are and what the larger meaning of things is, which inevitably leads to anxiety about why things are not 'better'. I cannot show that with data, but I can say that, as a liberal, this rings true for me. My search for meaning and desire to create change inevitably lead me to anxiety producing situations when I try to swim against a tide. And yet it's a tradeoff I continue to be willing to make.
- Ravi Iyer
I was recently forwarded a question about the differences that exist between Democrats and Republicans amongst white men. The question was framed by the fact that white men appear to be leaving the Democratic party at fairly high rates and it would be useful to pinpoint the variables that lead some white men to desert the Democratic party while others remain.
Individual researchers have individual answers to this question. David Pizarro might focus on the emotion of disgust. At YourMorals, we've focused on moral opinions. Others might focus on approach-avoidance or on basic physiological differences between liberals and conservatives. Jon Jost does a wonderful job summarizing the importance of ideology in helping organize our beliefs to satisfy motivational needs, and then focuses on two organizing principles, resistance to change and acceptance of inequality. All of this research is well done and true, but I think we all suffer (my group included) from an over reliance on our particular perspective. I believe that Jost is correct in pointing out how ideology allows us to make sense of conflicting beliefs, and I would extend that more explicitly to our feelings, intuitions, and goals. Having conflicting beliefs or feelings (e.g. I believe in abortion, but it disgusts me) leads to unpleasant dissonance, and ideology represents a narrative that we can use to resolve this dissonance, as relayed by Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann.
From that perspective, there is no one answer to what causes some white men to grativate toward the Republican party and not others. Rather, it might be useful to look at the bigger picture.
To do this, I created the below table of effect sizes (the mean difference between liberals and conservatives, divided by the standard deviation), using only US white male respondents, sorted from those characteristics that are most characteristic of liberals to those that are more characteristic of conservatives. We have better data on liberal-conservative identification than party identification, so we have to use this as a proxy, but we will have analyses in the future concerning party identification specifically.
There is too much here to really address in one post. I did the same thing for women and the pattern is very similar, so it doesn't appear there are many gender interactions, though maybe someone will point something out. My main reaction is that it confirms my initial idea that all researchers are finding very real differences, but that no line of research has a monopoly on explaining differences. There is replication and support for a number of lines of research on ideological differences. Rather, ideology is a network of ideas, beliefs, and dispositions that encompasses all these findings.
Finding out what made white male liberals vote for McCain might be an even more interesting question, and perhaps I'll do that analysis next as we do have some of that data. I did this previously to examine supporters of Obama vs. Clinton within the Democratic party and feel that examining within party psychological (as opposed to demographic) differences is a vast untapped area for political psychologists. Indeed, if I had to point out one interesting thing in the above graph, it would be the relatively small effect sizes of demographics like age compared to personality variables like neuroticism. It might make just as much sense for Obama to target the "empathic" vote as it does to target the "youth" vote.
- Ravi Iyer
I have recently been following a discussion in my discipline about the peer review process, which led me to this very interesting paper about the history of and alternatives to the peer review process in psychology.
At the same time, I've been working with colleagues on a paper about experiential vs. material purchasing styles, for which we have found convergent correlations all suggesting that experiential purchasers are dispositionally motivated towards seeking new, stimulating experiences to promote positive emotion, while material purchasers often seek to avoid negative emotions. This is supported by the fact that, in the YourMorals.org dataset, experiential purchasers report higher levels of openness to experience, lower levels of neuroticism (both measured by the Big Five Personality Inventory), and lower levels of disgust (as measured by the Disgust Scale). The disgust finding does not necessarily fit with the idea that experiential purchasing is related to seeking new experiences, unless one looks at the literature on disgust. In particular, this study theorized about such a relationship and confirmed it by reporting correlations between disgust and big five personality dimensions.
It occurred to me that I could contribute to the original studies' findings, by examining the same correlations in our dataset, using a more diverse and far larger sample, and perhaps even including some internal cross-validation. The results are summarized in the table below.
The main hypothesis of the original study actually dealt with the two robust relationships found in our dataset, specifically that disgust is negatively related to openness to experience and positively related to neuroticism. In all, these two relationships stand out as robust across groups and in both studies. Interestingly, the correlation between openness to experience and disgust is weaker in the two most 'rational' groups, edge.org and libertarians, which might be worth pursuing later. Given the smaller sample size and restricted diversity of the original study, I'd be inclined to say that conscientiousness and agreeableness are not robust correlates of disgust, though this could be an effect of the fact that yourmorals.org uses a different measures of Big Five personality traits from the original study.
Can I publish this finding? It's only correlational and says nothing about causality. It really doesn't say much that is new, but rather confirms the original study, more or less. Still, the 26 papers which cited the original study would be slightly more improved if they could cite this finding as well, since it's the same basic study with a different (larger and more diverse) sample. This is where the discussion of the peer review system converges with this analysis. According to this paper, "many natural science fields operate on a norm that submissions should be accepted unless they are patently wrong." In contrast, psychology papers are often rejected, not because they are wrong, but because they are not interesting or novel enough.
The paper and the listserve discussion bring up many points related to this, but one relevant one to this finding is that it is hard to build a cumulative science when you don't reward replication, but instead reward novelty. The end result is that you end up with a series of slightly different perspectives on the same subjects, all named differently, where authors are constantly trying to come up with something new rather than building on something existing. This may help academics, but it makes it very difficult for these theories to be used in the real world. Any research on humans is likely flawed in some way. Can anybody do double-blind experiments on representative samples of people with behavioral measures? The public is wisely skeptical of any social science finding as are academics...but the solution might lie in publishing more replications rather than in restricting the publication process toward the mythical goal of the perfect, novel study. No single study proves anything when dealing with research on people. It's the convergence of lots of studies that might potentially be convincing enough to outsiders.
- Ravi Iyer
ps. if anyone wants to write this up and publish it traditionally, feel free to contact me
Recently, one of the grad students in my department gave a brownbag talk about the relationship between fear and aggression. On the one hand, one might expect fear to lead to aggression as one perceives threat to a greater extent and responds accordingly. On the other hand, fear is associated with withdrawal and so we may expect those who are naturally fearful to avoid aggressive actions, such as war.
I analyzed data on our support for war and peace measure (e.g. "War is sometimes the best way to solve a conflict" - Van der Linden et. al 2008) as well as a measure of trait anxiety (e.g. how accurately "get stressed out easily" describes you - from the IPPI BIS/BAS scale). Unfortunately, the analysis I ran isn't particularly conclusive, but part of science is hopefully sharing both conclusive and inconclusive results so that others can build on it. There is a small significant negative correlation (r=-.166, p<.001) between trait anxiety and support for war. From the below graph, this relationship appears strongest in moderates (perhaps because they have made up their minds less about war/peace), but is consistent across groups except libertarians.
The straight lines above are linear relationships and the curvy lines are if we allow SPSS to fit a curvy line to the data. There is a semi-consistent result, but the slopes certainly aren't dramatic. I also ran the analysis for Big 5 Neuroticism and the correlation between that and support for war was even smaller (r=-.052) though still negative and significant (p=.004 since there were 3,041 participants vs. 604 in the above graph).
The take home message? I would say that it seems likely that there is an overall slightly negative relationship between general anxiety and general support for war. However, it seems likely (and consistent with previous research) that in a specifically threatening situation, the results might be quite different as the chronically stressed individual might perceive much greater threat and therefore support war in specific threatening cases to a greater degree than a less anxious individual. I hope to have more to report on this in the future as to what these cases look like and I'd welcome any comments pointing to other relevant research as it's something I'm learning about.
- Ravi Iyer