Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why are conservatives, conservative?

From Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

The authors propose that the high levels of support often observed for governmental and religious systems can be explained, in part, as a means of coping with the threat posed by chronically or situationally fluctuating levels of perceived personal control. Three experiments demonstrated a causal relation between lowered perceptions of personal control and the defense of external systems, including increased beliefs in the existence of a controlling God (Studies 1 and 2) and defense of the overarching socio-political system (Study 4). ....The implications of these results for understanding why a high percentage of the population believes in the existence of God, and why people so often endorse and justify their socio-political systems, are discussed.

Basically, the more powerless you feel, the more rigidly you believe in authoritarian systems above you: a controlling God, rather than an accepting one; an authoritarian government, not a benevolent one. Us vs them.

Or put another way, if the rigid conservatives were not insecure, they might not be so rigid.

I suggest that one has to give oneself up to the insecurity and embrace it to be free of it.

Maybe that's just me.

IT

34 comments:

Cany said...

I am a dem... so I can easy believe this.

But wait a minute... someone is out to get me...

JCF said...

And where does this sort of Ur-insecurity come from? Is it not from the Parent Who Clobbered you?

[I reference George Lakoff]

Sigh: it's those who tout their "Family Values" who can be least trusted to raise a functional family (as opposed to endlessly recycling abuse, and abusive religion!)

Lord have mercy (as I trust God WILL ;-/)

The young fogey said...

This is the same penny psychology that says bad fathering turns boys gay.

Eileen said...

While it is good to view all research with an eye to healthy skepticism, I don't think this is quite so easily dismissed YF...this goes more to underlying ways the world is perceived and one's agency in the world, underlying personality characteristics that are part nurture and part nature - a very complicated mix to tease out, but which provides the interaction from which we know most of "life" comes.

It's likely that on an individual level, some people may, by their underlying personality makeup, be more influenced by nurture than others; by the same token, some people with certain strong underlying personality characteristics may not be particularly influenced by the environment they are raised in, showing little impact of "nurture" in their development.

But, statistically, the majority of people will be somewhere in the middle, and will experience a mix of nature and nurture - a struggle between how they are vs. how they are raised. If people are nurtured by those with a similar nature, there will be less struggle, and ideology that supports the basic personality structure would be easily perpetuated. Those with natures in opposition to the nurturing environment would experience more identity struggles, in likelihood, depending on where they stand in the continuum.

Additionally, there has been quite a bit of research done (by Seligman, et al) about learned helplessness, and how world view impacts the way we live our lives and perceive our agency (do we see things as stable or unstable, specific to a certain situation, or globally pervasive) to totally discount this type of research out of hand as "pop" psychology. It has been shown that these thought processes become automatic for some, and it requires a great deal of effort to change those world views and perceptions of agency.

The brain tends to like information to be easily chunked and categorized; those who either through nature or nurture or some combination, who see the world in certain ways, either because it is their natural tendency or they have "learned" to do so, may be more disposed to trying to make order out of something that is quite chaotic - placing a rigid structure on the world in order to reduce cognitive dissonance and discomfort. Is this an oversimplification - yes on some level, it is. But, it is a related concept to what is being posited here, and I think helps to expand the idea. It could just be me.

Interesting things to think about.

FranIAm said...

What Eileen said...

Wow, great post, very very thought provoking.

PseudoPiskie said...

Shucks. Isn't that what faith is for? To enable us to deal with the stuff that can't be stuck in this box or that? To allow us to get along with those who would prefer not to get along with us? To appreciate difference?

IMNSHO "conservatives" don't know what faith is so they have to rely on human constructs. Sad.

David said...

Woo hoo for Eileen! I was about to do the "long-winded post from a (former) psych grad student," but she did a much better job. :)

Fogey, it's really hard to say if this study is flawed or not w/o reading it. How was their research designed ? What did the statistical analysis look like ? These things are always important in doing good science - and most esp. with something as hideously complicated as human psychology.

But I'll admit that, IMHO, they might be on to something (with the caveats above, naturally).

Ann said...

UR-insecurity - IMO comes from when we are babies and we really will die if no "big" comes to feed and hold us. It is only when we accept that we will die - we can live (oh I think someone else said that about 2000 years ago). Interesting that the snake in the garden says "you won't die" --- and we want that more than anything - or something like that. More coffee now (Kaldi's roast - ERD)!!!

Kurt said...

“Maybe that's just me.”--IT

No, I don’t think so. Just as the “F Scale” demonstrates, the right’s mindset is definitely more authoritarian, so they believe in an authoritarian God.

Scott Hankins said...

I'll take a purely amateur shot at this one and ask, is it possible that any active listening process, formal (therapy) or informal (friendship), is a way to break through to those who may cling to authoritarian systems because of feelings of powerlessness?

We respond to the feeling of "being heard" with an increased sense of security that "I exist, I am not alone, and I am poweful." And how much more powerful the effect when the listening is mutual - when we "attend to one another."

I believe the Psalmist cries out for this kind of assurance, "Lord, attend to the voice of my prayer! (i.e., give me the sense that you have heard me)."

Is this "attending to one another" part of what Jesus means when he says, "Love your neighbor as yourself"?

Isn't this what are waiting for whenever we hear about the elusive "Listening Process" announced so long ago in the WWAC - this mutual assurance that "I exist, I am not alone, and I am powerful"?

Prayer for the Lambeth Bishops in retreat, that they may "attend" to one another.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I suggest that one has to give oneself up to the insecurity and embrace it to be free of it.

Maybe that's just me.


Amen to the words of an atheist. Am I excommunicated now?

IT, it isn't just you.

I also like what Ann said:

It is only when we accept that we will die - we can live (oh I think someone else said that about 2000 years ago).

Amen to that, too.

it said...

Mimi, you are definitely part of the Communion of IT.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

I suggest that one has to give oneself up to the insecurity and embrace it to be free of it.: IT

Exactly, powerlessnes is REAL...stridently striving to avoid facing unavoidable TRUTHS in REALITY is extremely demanding on ones peace-of-mind/sanity...I loath playing pretend no matter which side of the issue I'm on.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

This is the same penny psychology that says bad fathering turns boys gay. YF

No, heavy-hands-on fathering/preaching or beating doesn't even turn a boy Gay (mostly)...but when one is Gay and one has a "bad" father or mother the Gay son/daughter ought not be thought/found GUILTY of the sins of the father or mother...actually, improving most inner, and usually secret/sinful, personal character is a equal-opportunity sorta challenge don't ye think...doesn't much matter whom to blame when the innermost emotional/spiritual storm is raging out of control.

JCF said...

Bad fathering, YF, turns gay boys into dysfunctional gay boys (unless they make a therapeutic breakthrough---w/ or w/o a therapist)

*****

you are definitely part of the Communion of IT

Eeek! When you write it that way, IT, "it" looks so much more like the "It" of A Wrinkle in Time (the "Happiest Sadist" n' all that. When my fourth grade teacher read us the book, she pronounced it "saddest", and I dare say NONE of us kids got the joke! Did she not *know* about the Marquis, and his eponymous "philosophy", or did she not want to *tell* us? Probably the former...)

...which is by way of saying, IT, that while I'd always like to be part of your Par-Tay---maybe not so much "the Communion of IT"! ;-D

The young fogey said...

Thanks for your thoughtful answers, Eileen and David.

The Catholic view is we don't create and impose order; we receive it as objective reality and spend our lives trying to follow it.

Both sides in this row believe in absolutes... is not demanding the state license gay marriage authoritarian and dogmatic?

My position, against that and the conventional right's: get the state out of all marriage and go right ahead and do it.

Not all conservative Christians worship the state or want to spread the faith by coercion.

My position can best be described as anarcho-Catholic.

I've quoted a friend saying that logically to liberals Eastern Orthodoxy should be an embarrassment because you've got a voluntary communion of people not under a Pope who choose to be... Catholic.

(But you can come back with the fact that Eastern Europe historically is authoritarian politically.)

As recently as the 1930s the Southern Baptist Convention was as anti-war as I am. Conservative Protestants in America didn't start worshipping the state until after the late-1960s cultural upheaval, which partly backs up the psychology here about insecurity but my point remains that you can't pathologise conservative Christians like this.

Look at the Amish: Anabaptists who don't even force their own children to join and have as little to do with the state as possible.

So my point again is that pathologising all conservative Christians - that's a lot of people over nearly 2,000 years - this way is just as bad pop psychology as the conservatives who say a weak relationship with the father turns a boy gay. (I wasn't agreeing with the latter, Leonardo and JCF.)

Eileen said...

The point, YF, is it isn't pop psychology at all, nor is it pathologizing conservatism, because the other side of this coin is that people of a liberal bend have the opposite nature/nurture issues to conservatives, and can give us more information about how to approach one another and contend with one another (for those who have hope for such things).

It doesn't say one is better or worse than the other - it just seeks to explain how it happens.

The article doesn't seek to demonize, as much as to quantify, which is different. The problem is it can't be quantified definitively due to the slippery nature of human personality constructs and the way they interact with their environment.

To wit: I'm ex-RC - I don't believe what you stated Catholics believe despite having been raised by pretty conservative Catholic parents. My brother and I are both fairly liberal, and I'm fairly religious, just not dogmatically so. Why? How does that come to pass? That is what this study is looking at - here's the abstract:
The authors propose that the high levels of support often observed for governmental and religious
systems can be explained, in part, as a means of coping with the threat posed by chronically or
situationally fluctuating levels of perceived personal control. Three experiments demonstrated a
causal relation between lowered perceptions of personal control and the defense of external systems,
including increased beliefs in the existence of a controlling God (Studies 1 and 2) and defense of the
overarching socio-political system (Study 4). A 4th experiment (Study 5) showed the converse to be
true: A challenge to the usefulness of external systems of control led to increased illusory
perceptions of personal control. In addition, a cross-national data set demonstrated that lower levels
of personal control are associated with higher support for governmental control (across 67 nations;
Study 3). Each study identified theoretically consistent moderators and mediators of these effects.
The implications of these results for understanding why a high percentage of the population believes
in the existence of God, and why people so often endorse and justify their socio-political systems,
are discussed.


I have the pdf of the article as well, if you would like to read it.

David said...

YF wrote, The Catholic view is we don't create and impose order; we receive it as objective reality and spend our lives trying to follow it.

I'd say that good science tries very hard to do something like that. Good science doesn't seek to create or manipulate data to support someone's preconceived notion. Rather, it seeks to describe objective reality as clearly as possible.

This is harder in general when one's subject is human psychology. As Eileen and I have been saying, human behavior is one of the most complicated and multi-variant things science has ever tried to get a handle on. One of my psych profs used to tell us that psychology as a science is about where chemistry & physics was in the 19th cent. Making strides, but still having a long way to go.

Oh, and I agree WRT the State and marriage (sort of). If the State wishes to offer any benefits* to committed couples, then I say "Civil Unions for all consenting adults, gay or straight." Then let religious organizations define Holy Matrimony as they wish, with no interference - and with the results being in a purely religious context.

* tax breaks, right of survivorship, hospital visitation rights, etc...

it said...

YF, I agree, get the state out of marriage. In fact if Prop 8 passes, there is one theory that the State Supremes will say, "no gay marriage? Then everyone gets a civil union!" to which I say, huzzah!

JCF, has anyone ever told you that you are over-analytical? I was merely reflecting Mimi's "communion" language when I answered her post. Don't start with the "it" stuff, we beat that to death over at OCICBW.

IT

David said...

JCF, has anyone ever told you that you are over-analytical?

Heh, heh ::snort:: I have no idea what you mean, IT.

/me runs and hides before JCF can smack him, as much as he may richly deserve it...

Eileen said...

BTW..I have NO idea where David is...

Just in case you were wondering...

JCF said...

So my point again is that pathologising all conservative Christians - that's a lot of people over nearly 2,000 years - this way is just as bad pop psychology as the conservatives who say a weak relationship with the father turns a boy gay.

Yes, YF, but I don't think that's what the study says. Being actually scientific, this study is merely going to observe, and note correlates: that's all (NOT "pathologize", much less re "all" conservatives!)

*****

JCF, has anyone ever told you that you are over-analytical?

Heh-heh. ***IT*** calling lil' ol' me "over-analytical": that's rich! (Rich and yeasty *g*)

FTR, I don't over-analyze. I blather (usually, in the form of some autobiographical story that interests no one but myself ;-/)

JCF: smack-free, this Friday...

IT said...

I will admit to extremely analytical. But not to OVER-analytical. I'm too analytical for that.... ;-)

You have to remember that I am an (E/I)-N-T-J, with about a 95% T rating.

IT

David said...

I'm an INFP, so y'all don't be too harsh with me - or I might pout. Or cry. :D

RudigerVT said...

YF, what you don't know about psychology could fill a truckload of books.

This particular venue, aka JPSP, is one of the most competitive specialty journals (ca 70-90% rejection rate) in the entire field. The articles are overwhelmingly of the following character: experimental in design; multi-study in execution; and high in impact, as measured by later citation in follow-up work at a theoretical and descriptive level. In other words, the best of the best, if we're talking about science.

In other words, it has nothing to do with psychoanalytic theory. And even the Ur-daddy's attitude (that would be Freud) in the matter is debatable. That is, if we're talking about the matter of what causes homosexuality. However, that debate is largely confined to an ever-smaller side-field (and one where the ossified anti-gay faction can basically hold their world-wide convention in a medium-sized conference room). As time goes on, psychoanalysis and psychodynamic theory have less and less to do with academic psychology and bona-fide, theory-building and theory-testing research. That's because so many of their bedrock assertions are closed to disconfirmation and are, thus, inherently nonscientific.

Apparently you don't like the conclusions of this article (which, parenthetically, my social-psychology course students are reading at this very time, as an ancillary to their study of the broader topic -- that would be prejudice.)

Fine. You don't have to like it. Meanwhile, these results will be debated, explored, extended, and yes, perhaps rejected. But not because you don't like them, or don't like the obvious implication. And not through sophomoric broadsides. And quite possibly not because some conservative took umbrage and set out to disprove the results. Rather, it will be because of how all science works -- through self-correction, self-critique, replication (or not) and extension, aka science as usual.

Then again, maybe you're a special conservative. And the patters uncovered in this line of studies just fails to capture what's going on for you and all the rest of the special conservatives. Libertarians. Whatever.

LPR

eileen the uppity woman said...

LPR - I was SO hoping you'd run across this and comment! Excellent!

rick allen said...

IT's take on it:

"Basically, the more powerless you feel, the more rigidly you believe in authoritarian systems above you: a controlling God, rather than an accepting one; an authoritarian government, not a benevolent one."

How does one scientifically differentiate between a "controlling" God and an "accepting" one? Seems like in most theological system's he's both.

Anyway, this looks to me like one of those multi-year studies that prove that cheerful people are more happy than gloomy ones. You can't very well argue with them, as they mostly amount to complex truisms. But there use seems mostly to make religious or political differences some sort of psychological abnormality of one's opponents. As here.

Besides, who's a conservative? George Bush thinks that 9/11 changed everything. He's been trying to lead us into a bold future of American empire in a world where everything has changed, and he's willing to change the rules to get there.

I, on the other hand, think he ought to be restrained by an archaic 18th century document. I don't think 9/11 "changed everything;" I think it was more of what we've always seen, raised the same passions, and requires the same restraints. But I admit that, comparatively, I'm powerless.

So I guess I'm the conservative because unlike George I have a great fear of the chaos he's unleashed in the middle east. I don't share his forward looking optomism in the promise of an American New Thing in Bagdhad. And yes, I do hope there's a controlling God out there before we decide to liberalize the old archaic rules on first use of nuclear weapons.

Eileen said...

Religiosity, it seems to me, is as likely an individiual construct as anything else that makes up the person - intelligence, temperment, creativity, etc., and is as likely to run the gamut on continuums of measurement, as any other.

I'm puzzled as to why people feel that this correlation is "pathologizing", when all it's doing is correlating world view and perceptions of locus of control with a particular set of outward behaviors.

Makes me think a nerve has been struck.

rick allen said...

Of course it strikes a nerve; it's an insult. "You only vote that way because you're insecure." First, it's just possible that people's political opinions are based on experience and reason. I may disagree with them, but I can certain respect the fact that people may come to different conclusions about the best way to construct a society.

Secondly, perceptions may have a basis in reality. If I feel persecuted, I may have a persecution complex. Or it could be that someone is really after me.

Third, it discredits science when people try to use it to provide values. Knowing what truly is is terribly important. But that will never get you to what ought to be.

RudigerVT said...

I'm really struggling to see what discredit is done to science here.

Conservative objection to this is about as meaningful (and relevant) as creationist's sense of umbrage and insult when they found out that they were related to monkeys.

People have been playing "shoot the messenger" with experimental social psychology since Milgram and before, basically. We're sort of used to it.

LPR

IT said...

Rick,
Rather than conclude that the authors are saying "all conservatives are fearful" perhaps it would be useful to say that they are concluding "fearful people are more likely to like authoritarian constructs". Perhaps that explains the 28% rump of support for Bush's Constitionally questionable policies, which are authoritarian in the extreme.

Eileen said...

I still fail to see the insult Rick.

Seriously...

rick allen said...

I think it has become so common in internet discussions to say that one's opponents only feel the way they do because they are afraid of something that we no longer see the insult inherent in it. "You are such a coward that you won't or can't face the facts" is a way of paraphrasing it that may make the offense more palpable.

The question is put interestingly in the term "homophobia." I wish I could figure out where it came from. I think it probably comes from the era when homosexuality was thought more potentially universal, and extreme reactions to homosexuality were explained as a sort of "homosexual panic," the fear was that one might oneself become homosexual.

I don't know what happens to that conception of a psychological reaction to homosexuality when the conventional wisdom sees homosexual feelings as inherent in certain individuals rather than potential in all. But I suspect what was left over was that idea of a "phobia," a fear. The term conveniently classifies the doubter as a person of fear, with a word that sounds much like claustrophobia or agoraphobia. It is, again, an attribution of an opponent's position to fear, which is not only dismissive, but also insulting if, in fact, the fear is ungounded or exaggerated. "You big babies, what are you afraid of?"

Eileen said...

The study doesn't promote what you are purporting it to promote - even if certain liberals will feel as you think they will feel - it's not the reason for the study.

The construct itself, is neutral.

Homophobia, on the other hand, is the correct term...authority tells you it's bad, and that engaging in it will result in "bad" things..removal from God, and God's love. This creates fear - fear of the loss of God - fear of your place in God's Kingdom.

If you aren't homosexual, this isn't a huge fear, but it's also a meaningless feather in one's cap (not yours in particular) - well - at least I'm not a buggerer...I'm good on that score. Let's keep them out there...keeps me safer in here. Close to God, and following God's law (in an area that is NOT a challenge for me).

The problem is, it was always a construct of man...not of God. I've read nothing that convinces me otherwise.

I understand we are operating from a different perceptual view point...I have family members who feel the same way. I still feel it's misguided.

I read a really interesting book review/interview on Salon this morning, by a guy who talks about the differences between religions (long standing) and belief systems - such as those that were behind Stalin and Hitler - there were quasi-religious aspects - but NOT true religius aspects. THAT is the scary part of human behavior. THAT is what social and personality psychology is looking at and trying to quantify and predict..because the human cost is high - when authority is given over to without question.

I know that this is NOT, how you operate Rick. And, there are contiuums - it's far to complex a topic to be determined in one study - but - it needs to start somewhere, in order to help humanity, if we can. I have some doubts about that...but I pray, as I know you do too.

Blessings, Rick.