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.
When the NY Times or Gallup reports that Obama or Romney has a lead in the polls, how do they know this? Typically, they pay people to randomly call people and they extrapolate from this sample, using established statistical methods, to make generalizations to the population. Some groups won't respond, especially young adults who often have cellphones and screen their calls. Many people I know are like this.
Polling guru, Nate Silver, has written about this issue extensively, and Pew has researched it as well. Cell phone users tend to be younger and more liberal. Pollsters are used to correcting for such selective non-response (e.g. men selectively non-respond more than women) by weighting their answers. However, this critically relies on having a variable that you can use to do this weighting. If cellphone users simply differ on demographic dimensions, weighting should work, but if they differ on other dimensions such as Big 5 personality traits or values, then pollsters will be unable to weight their data.
Do cell phone users differ from landline users on psychological dimensions? The answer is fairly common sense as this is an issue that we all have lots of anecdotal data on. Of course they do. The below chart compares cellphone users to landline users based on visitors to yourmorals.org who answered a question about their phone usage, with traits related to landline use at the top and traits predicting cellphone use at the bottom.
Cellphone users value stimulation, achievement, and hedonism more. They value tradition, conformity, and security less. They are less conscientious, more liberal (especially on social issues), and are younger. Some of these variables are things that pollsters can address by weighting their results (e.g. youth and liberalism), but other variables are things that pollsters do not measure and therefore cannot directly weight for.
Since some of these things vary by ideology, gender and age as well, we can statistically control for these factors and see if we get fewer significant predictors of cellphone usage. Valuing stimulation and achievement are the remaining significant predictors with valuing tradition and being socially conservative as marginally significant predictors. Other psychological variables such as being conscientiousness and valuing hedonism are accounted for by controlling for factors that pollsters likely can weight for. As such, perhaps these psychological variables are less problematic. It is worth noting that valuing stimulation remains by far the best predictor of cellphone usage (after age) in regression analyses controlling for demographic variables (beta = .13, p<.001).
The yourmorals.org sample is not a representative sample, but I think that might be better in this case. Trying to measure characteristics of people who use cellphones, which I would assume correlates with screening calls and generally being less responsive to surveys, might be better done using non-phone means so that your measurement interacts less with what you are measuring. The educated, internet savvy users who tend to answer yourmorals surveys are exactly the kind of people you might want to examine and be unlikely to poll via phone. Further, we aren't interested in whether the overall population has differences between cellphone users and landline users. That could be a function of youth (the biggest predictor here). Rather, we are interested in whether people who have the exact same demographic characteristics and vary only in terms of their cell phone usage may differ in meaningful ways as it is this variance that would confound pollsters. Using a particular non-representative sample can actually be better for answering questions about the relationship between variables, as certain differences are naturally controlled for with the whole sample being generally internet savvy, educated, and white. But certainly these findings (like all social science) need to be replicated by others in other datasets to have more confidence.
The take home message? As noted by Pew and Nate Silver, polls will have to have cellphone samples in order to avoid bias that likely skews against liberal candidates. Second, if my intuition that heavy cell phone users are unlikely to respond regardless is correct, then even pollsters that poll cellphones may have to start thinking about weighting for non-traditional variables that are a proxy for these psychological variables that predict non-response. Silver suggests "urban/rural status, technology usage, or perhaps even media consumption habits". Third, the psychological profile of cellphone users (seeking novelty, being socially liberal and not valuing tradition) suggests that polls might exhibit more bias on social issues such as gay marriage, and other issues which could reasonably be said to correlate with being a novelty seeker. These effects aren't big, but in a world where a few percentage points is big news, they are worth considering when digesting poll results.
- Ravi Iyer
I feel as if sometime in the early 2000s, society collectively decided that it was better to own a home than rent. Property values went up and it seemed like people were willing to go to great personal difficulty simply for the sake of being an owner. It probably didn't hurt that property values kept going up. Still, I never felt a strong urge to own and the prospect seemed more like a burden (fixing your own things, having trouble being able to move) than a blessing. Of course, that may say more about my personality than about owning or renting.
I thought I'd examine the Big 5 personality traits of people who think owning is "better" (e.g believing that home ownership is important to happiness) vs. those who prefer renting (e.g. believing that renting provides significant advantages compared to owneing a home) using ~800 people who answered these questions at yourmorals.org. I had 7 questions about owning vs. renting (alpha = .87). The Big 5 personality traits are 5 personality dimensions that are deemed most parsimoniously able to characterize people. The dimensions are Agreeableness (e.g. how well do you want to get along with others), Conscientiousness (e.g. how detail oriented and tidy are you), Extraversion (e.g. how outgoing are you), Neuroticism (e.g. how tense are you), and Openness to Experience (e.g. how much do you seek out new experiences).
Predictably, people who prefer owning a home vs. renting are more conscientious (r = .08, p=.016) and less open to new experiences (r = -.08, p=.03), but the differences are quite small.
People who want to be owners also also tend to be more conservative (r=.18, p<.001), older (r=.13, p<.001), and tend to prefer buying material things rather than experiences (r=.13, p<.001). Interestingly, there was no relationship to self described social status or gender. Obviously many of these relationships are small, but they certainly are as I would predict, with perhaps the exception of the lack of relationship with wealth and gender (my guess would have been that women and wealthier people would prefer home ownership).
Got any interesting hypotheses relating to the personalities of those who prefer renting vs. owning? I'd happily try them. I'm eager to examing values with regard to owning/renting next.
- Ravi Iyer