I made a recent post summarizing the differences between liberals and conservatives from our YourMorals dataset, using the effect size differences between groups and sorting the results from those constructs that are most associated with liberals to those constructs most associated with conservatives. I was asked a followup question as to whether the differences found were indicative of masculine-feminine differences. Indeed, some have written that the Democratic party has become feminized and that is a prime reason why white males generally vote Republican.
Is this true? One way to examine this is to compare the table from the previous post with the below chart of moral psychology differences between women and men. Below are the same constructs, sorted by effect size, with constructs at the top being more associated with men and constructs toward the bottom being more associated with women. I did the same thing for just liberal women/men and just conservative women/men and found the same result, so I feel fairly confident that these differences between men and women are somewhat robust.
The conclusion? First, in comparing the previous liberal-conservative differences to the differences here, it is pretty clear that male-female differences are far lower in magnitude than liberal-conservative differences. The effect sizes are much smaller, meaning that scores of women and men overlap much more than scores of liberals and conservatives. It is clear that male-female differences cannot account for a great deal of the variance in political attitudes.
Second, there are many constructs associated with being female that are indicative of liberalism (valuing universalism, empathizing) as well as traits indicative of conservativism (higher disgust scores, belief in a just world, and being collectivistic). Similarly, there are male traits associated with liberalism (individualism, utilitarianism) and conservativism (attitudes toward war, belief in proportionality).
It is still possible that the Democratic party is emphasizing certain traits, like empathy, that are driving away 'masculine' voters, at the margins. Perhaps overly individualistic and utilitarian individuals are actually identifying as libertarian, an overwhelmingly male group, that is characterized by rational and utilitarian psychological traits.
From a moral psychology perspective, the results are promising for the social intuitionist model that posits that emotional reactivity is the basis for much moral reasoning. The clearest pattern in the data is that women seem more emotionally reactive and men report being more rational. Both have their benefits as at either end of that spectrum are manic-depressives and psychopaths. But this data converges well with previous research indicating that women are, in some instances, more morally and socially conscious. Perhaps this is evidence for a social intuitionist basis of those previous findings.
- Ravi Iyer
I personally do not believe in torture, but I have to admit that when I think of it, my mind prototypically thinks of the potential harm that might befall an innocent person caught by an unscrupulous policeman who is all too sure of his moral superiority. What would I do if I knew with 100% certainty that torture of a known murderer/rapist would save countless lives, including the lives of many people I knew and loved?
Is support for torture restricted to the evil among us (e.g. liberals who think that Dick Cheney = Darth Vader)? When individuals say that they are torturing an evil few in order to save many innocents (an argument based in Utilitarianism), are they lying about their noble goals? A recent paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that individuals may not be honest about their utilitarian motives. From the abstract:
The use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects is typically justified on utilitarian grounds. The present research suggests, however, that those who support such techniques are fuelled by retributive motives.
This is a very well done experimental study, which illustrates an important point about other potential motives for torture, specifically a desire for retribution or vengeance. However, it may be nitpicking or splitting hairs, but I might instead have written "those who support such techniques may also be fuelled by retributive motives." Indeed, in the study itself, there is an increase in support for severe interrogation techniques when there is a greater likelihood that the suspect is withholding information that may save lives, especially among Republicans, the group most likely to be "those who support such techniques." The fact that retributive motives exist, does not necessarily mean that utilitarian motives do not. One could probably design a study that shows the opposite, where utilitarian motives dominate, given the total control one has in a lab environment.
Our yourmorals.org data suggests that utilitarian motives are indeed important in predicting attitudes toward torture. There are a number of measures that tap utilitarian thinking, but the most convincing to me are the classic moral dilemmas that ask people if they are willing to take some action (e.g. flipping a switch) to save 5 innocent people at the cost of 1 innocent life. They are convincing because they are generally free of any political content or judgment about the worth or guilt of individuals. Below is a graph relating responses to these dilemmas to attitudes toward torture. Higher scores on the Y axis indicate more willingness to sacrifice 1 life for 5. Higher scores on the X axis indicate willingness to support torture in more situations.
There is a fairly robust positive correlation between utilitarian judgments on these dilemmas and support for torture (the dip on the far right for liberals is likely due to there being such a small number of liberals who think torture is often justified).
If I look at other utilitarian measures such as moral idealism (using the Ethics Position Questionnaire - e.g. "The existence of potential harm to others is always wrong, irrespective of the benefits to be gained.", r=-.35) or moral maximizing (using an adapted version of Schwartz's maximizing-satisficing scale - e.g. "In choosing a moral action, one should never settle for a morallyimperfect action.", r=-.15), you find the same relationship. Controlling for political affiliation and beliefs about punishment and disposition toward vengeance, one still finds significant relationships between utilitarianism and support for torture.
My take home. Part of promoting civil politics is to take people at their word for their motives, rather than questioning them. There may indeed be some vengeful motive behind torture...but there are utilitarian motives as well and those of us who dislike torture might actually get further confronting torture on utilitarian grounds rather than attempting to question the motives of those who believe in torture.
- Ravi Iyer