February 12, 2007

You're conservative because you're such an unsavory person quite aside from your politics, right?

Here's a little article in today's NYT about one of my favorite subjects: the way an individual's personality type determines his political affiliation.

(My interest in this subject was, you may remember, at the core of my big argument with Ron Bailey. He thought I was being unintellectual to want to consider such things, and I thought he was being shallow to exclude them.)

Anyway, what's so amusing about the article -- astutely written by Patricia Cohen -- is that the social scientists doing the research are pretty much all liberals, and as they try to figure out what sort of human psychology produces a liberal and which produces a conservative, their own psychology seems to leak all over everything.
For anyone who assumes political choices rest on a rational analysis of issues and self-interest, the notion that preference for a candidate springs from the same source as the choice of a color scheme can be disturbing. But social psychologists assume that all beliefs, including political ones, partly arise from an individual’s deep psychological fears and needs: for stability, order and belonging, or for rebellion and novelty.

These needs and worries vary in degree, develop in childhood and probably have a temperamental and a genetic component, said Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland....

What [John T. Jost of New York University] and Mr. Kruglanski say is that years of research show that liberals and conservatives consistently match one of two personality types. Those who enjoy bending rules and embracing new experiences tend to turn left; those who value tradition and are more cautious about change tend to end up on the right.

What’s more, these traits are reflected in musical taste, hobbies and d├ęcor. Dana R. Carney, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, who worked with Mr. Jost and Samuel D. Gosling of the University of Texas at Austin among others, found that the offices and bedrooms of conservatives tended to be neat and contain cleaning supplies, calendars, postage stamps and sports-related posters; conservatives also tended to favor country music and documentaries. Bold-colored, cluttered rooms with art supplies, lots of books, jazz CDs and travel documents tended to belong to liberals (providing sloppy Democrats with an excuse to refuse clean up on principle).
I agree with the basic assumption about personality types -- though I think people also learn their political affiliation from their families and develop it interacting with friends and are influenced by many complex factors, including some pure reason. I also think there are more than just two personality types. For example, there are people on both the left and right who hate to be told what to do and resist authority.

The neatness/messiness thing is interesting, and I note that everything is relative. For example, my office is pretty messy. I never put anything in drawers and have often joked that for me to put something in a drawer is the equivalent of throwing it in the trash. As a result, I have piles of things everywhere, including five or six piles on the floor. Nevertheless, people are constantly exclaiming, "Wow, your office is so clean!" (Pause to add the label "Madison.")

52 comments:

Doug said...

Yesterday, I was reading through some back issues of the Wall Street Journal that piled up at my house. One article was a review on a book that studied the messy desk vs. clean desk. The book basically said messy desks are better because it means the person is more creative or the person is doing work instead of housecleaning.

Unless I fight it, I am a slob, so at the beginning of the year, I vowed to keep my desk at work clean. As a CPA, I have to manage the inflow of paper and I have to know where documents are, so a cleaner desk has really improved my efficiency this year.

I too have noticed the efforts of researchers to link conservatives to mentally deficient traits. John Dean's recent book mentioned some of these studies

SteveR said...

Your office sounds like mine, pile management system. My history would predict that I would be a liberal, but for my father, who "liked Ike" and provided me with a very common sense way of seeing things. I am cautious but have bent my fair share of the rules.

Although many conservatives drive me crazy, my biggest rebellion is against snobby intellectuals who try to tell me what is right and wrong. Since those are usually liberals. stufffed away in some government office, MSM outlet, or college campus, I tend right.

MadisonMan said...

I have to ask: Why do conservatives need cleaning supplies or postage stamps in their bedrooms? Why do liberals need art supplies in theirs? Why are these people do in their bedrooms and why are they using them as storage spaces?

The beauty of Social Science: You can't be proven wrong and are therefore possibly right. I reject the notion that people can be put into slot A or slot B, as if the distribution is bimodal. Two Gaussian distributions with considerable overlap is more like it.

Pogo said...

I agree with MadisonMan.

More, I find most such "studies" pure garbage, merely opinon pieces laced with dubious numbers. They're about as meaningful as astrology profiles and are meant to say, "Face it, liberals like us are just better people".

Look, I used to be a far left liberal. By their stupid studies, I'm still a liberal. Sloppiness? Check. Art? Check. Avant-garde music? Check. All their studies show is that people who live in giant cities tend to lean left, and in small towns lean right.

Nonsense on stilts, horseshit science, onanistic self-congratulation.

Ann Althouse said...

"Your office sounds like mine, pile management system."

You're assuming it's a system. Now, I'm having a hippie flashback over the word "system." We were always perceiving the evil hand of "the system" oppressing us. The piles of things on my floor roam free. They're having a be-in, reveling in the sheer reality of being not-quite-trash. Live for today, man!

Simon said...

I do strongly reccomend a book by an author the story reccomends, Moral Politics by George Lakoff.

However, as to the rest of the story... I sit here typing this in my study, and can gaze at the deep-red walls, the piles of semi-organized paperwork, the wall o' books, the three cats (conservatives are supposed to be dog people, according to a million articles better-written than this one), the presence of several jazz CDs and the complete absence of anything country, I think to myself "gosh, this article's just so spot on."

(Isn't sarcasm supposed to be a liberal trait, too?)

Simon said...

Oh, and the thing about childhood traits is wrong as well, come to think of it. I played fairly fast and loose with the rules as a kid.

Palladian said...

This is so stupid! I love it!

Ok, I have piles of neatly arranged, organized art supplies in my studio, my bathroom is painted the color of the men's room in "The Shining", I have an extensive supply of postage stamps, cleaning supplies and books, I favor cautious change and rebellious tradition, I hate jazz and country music (Baroque music for me) and I don't store anything in my bedroom except clothing.

Does all this make me a "moderate"?

Does being a "liberal" really mean you favor massive government, weak foreign policy and high taxes? Why have we mapped pedantic political affiliations onto the ontological nature of the liberal and the conservative?

paul a'barge said...

the social scientists doing the research are pretty much all liberals ... their own psychology seems to leak all over everything.

Their politics doesn't leak because they're social scientists (there's an oxymoron), but because they're liberals.

This leak all over phenomenon is endemic to Liberals. Which is precisely why a Liberal can NEVER BE a scientist.

New York said...

One clearly liberal trait is the belief that complex phenomena such as the global climate and individual political preferences can be fully understood by cocoons of glib slightly-above-average-intelligence people with little life experience and graduate stipends.

Henry said...

conservatives also tended to favor country music ... [liberals tended to favor] jazz CDs

CDs. Good lord, nobody listens to jazz music. I write this as a person who loves jazz, but just turn on the radio. There's one station on my dial that plays jazz, public radio WGBH, and I live in an urban area. What kind of sample selection comes up with Jazz CDs as an indicator? "Me and some people I know?"

Balfegor said...

Re: MadisonMan

Why do liberals need art supplies in theirs? Why are these people do in their bedrooms and why are they using them as storage spaces?

Ignoring the "liberal" there, I use my bedroom as a storage space because my apartment is not particularly large, and my closet is already filled with clothing, luggage, and stuff I do not use much (including art supplies). In fact, so slovenly am I that I use half of my bed as a storage space.

Besides, sketching in bed is one of life's little pleasures. Even if I had a condo with a proper studio (or a house with one), I think I'd keep some pads of paper, a drawing surface, and a selection of pens in my bedroom.

Re: paul a'barge

This leak all over phenomenon is endemic to Liberals. Which is precisely why a Liberal can NEVER BE a scientist.

Hmm. I am somehow unconvinced . . .

RogerA said...

Jeez--I kept wondering why I like Jazz, Yo Yo Ma's "silk roads journeys," and other types of music: it clearly has to do with fact that I am a social liberal; so how to explain my enjoyment of late renaissance and early baroque music? ah ha! its the national security hawk in me.

Pogo said...

Henry,

Jazz CDs are a totem. They're something by which you can display your lefty bona fides, that demonstrates you're one of the elite to those in the know. Listening to them is not needed (or done).

Shelves of books unread, coffee table art books never opended, magazines untouched. It's a set for the play "I'm a liberal", a Potemkin village of Beliefs researched and understood no more deeply than a bumper sticker slogan.

Simon said...

Palladian said...
"Does being a 'liberal' really mean you favor massive government, weak foreign policy and high taxes?"

When did it stop meaning that? It has some other meaning?

Toby said...

Jazz CDs are a totem. They're something by which you can display your lefty bona fides, that demonstrates you're one of the elite to those in the know.

One of the great rules of thumb I developed while in my 20s (which was just a few years ago) was to be skeptical of anyone who listened to jazz as an activity, as something that they did. At that age, at least, it is almost always an attempt to establish one's hipster-intellectual bona fides. I always chuckle when I remember being at a party and seeing 7 or 8 people in the back bedroom silently passing around a joint while earnestly listening to "Kind of Blue".

Bruce Hayden said...

Part of why I don't see their investigation being all that fruitful, or really, being much more than merely a venue to express their personal beliefs is that one's politics, to a very great extent, are based heavily on a lot of other factors than how neat or messy someone is.

Some of these are:
- Personal and family history. Much of my family has been voting Republican since at least 1860. That is hard to break (not that I am trying, but have family members who seem to be).
- Which of course indicates that I am typically WASP. Other ethnic groups tend to move to the right as they assimilate (with a couple of notable exceptions).
- Ethnic identity - this seems esp. important with keeping Blacks and Jews over on the left.
- Age - Remember Churchill's famous quote about being liberal at one point in life, and conservative later? Part of this is based on the freedom versus stability, but..
- Another part of Churchill's dynamic is the difference between emotion and logic. A lot of liberal solutions are really a desire to want to feel better by doing something, whereas conservatives oppose these solutions seeing the problems inhearant in these emotional solutions.
- 9/11 and national security. Is there really an international problem right now with Islamic fundamentialism and disfunctionality in a modern world? Or can't we all just get along if we have good intentions and just try to do so?
- Occupation, employment, or lack thereof. The most conservative portions of the populace seem to be small business owners, whereas not working or having a government job (excluding the military) seems to push people to the left. BTW, I throw those with inherited wealth into the not working category. And the easier your money appears to have been for someone, again, the more to the left. So big firm attorneys are typically more liberal than small firm attorneys. Small firm lawyers worry about meeting payrolls, while their big firm compatriots have been on the fast track since prep school.
- Where do you live? In NYC, Madison, Austin, and Boulder, most everyone is pretty liberal, and that is who you deal with, who your friends are, etc. In Cody, Wyoming, they are conservative, and, hence Dick Cheney is a Republican.

And, I am sure that I have missed a number of factors here. But the reality is whether someone is more liberal or conservative has many more factors than whether you are neat or messy.

SteveR said...

Ann: I use the word "system" in the loosest form possible. Non- system would be more accurate. It does take some skill to pull it off andc I am sure not able to define it.

JorgXMcKie said...

My late friend and mentor, Jim Schubert, was both a liberal and a *very* good social scientist. His research was well-conceived, well-executed, and well-reported. He never, to my knowledge, let his politics get in the way of his research. He said that he was fairly frequently surprised by his results, but that he expected that because the 'science' in largely should consist of challenging one's own beliefs about people and their behaviors.

I miss him.

Palladian said...

Simon, I mean liberal in the grand, existential sense. That's what's so upsetting to me, that words like "liberal" and "progressive" have become mapped onto specific, often quite illiberal political positions. Do liberals seek liberty or rebellion? I believe actual liberals seek the former. I believe the Founders were liberals in this sense. I try never to sully the word "liberal" when I am describing leftists.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

Pogo - Jazz CDs are a totem. They're something by which you can display your lefty bona fides, that demonstrates you're one of the elite to those in the know. Listening to them is not needed (or done).

Aha! That's my problem. I actually listen to them.

Within the context of the article, I think you're spot on. At some point (like, immediately) the sloppy social science passes from dubious correlations to wholesale projection. Thus, we end up with this picture of the uber-liberal as Maynard Krebs.

Linc said...

I have two, somewhat unrelated points.

First, trying to characterize conservatives without differentiating whether their roots are on the libertarian or social side seems foolish. In particular, many social conservatives are statist (and as such similar to many leftists) whereas libertarian-rooted conservatives tend to be laissez-faire (which may be why my office is so messy). In my view, there are large personality differences between the two, particularly with regard to tolerance for others' views, orientations, etc.

Second, a major difference between liberals and conservatives is their "discount rates" with regard to the future, to use the economic term. Conservatives tend to take the long view, and liberals the opposite. For example, though both would like to see poverty eliminated, to a conservative a major path is through work, savings and investment, education (human-capital investment)--an approach that is probably reflected in personality traits. A liberal, on the other hand, may see such measures as minimum wages and income redistribution through government action as solving the poverty problem with less attention to the long-term consequences.

Bruce Hayden said...

The thing about whether someone is conservative because they are unsavory is in itself value laden. To some extent, it presupposes a set of values, and then applies those values to conservatives and liberals finding that when a liberal value set is applied to conservatives, they are unsavory.

But from a conservative point of view, liberals are just as lothesome, spending someone else's hard earned money to salve their emotional guilt, etc. To traditional conservatives, hard work and sacrifice are noble, while sponging off of others, or forcing you to support others sponging off your hard work is not.

Annie said...

What this completely leaves out (and I haven't read the comments to see if anyone else has mentioned it) is the age thing -- "If you're not a socialist when you're twenty, you have no heart; if you're still a socialist when you're forty, you have no brain." (Variously attributed to G.B. Shaw and Winston Churchill) If you enjoy rebelliousness and novelty when you're young, indulge in it and find out what's really worthwhile and what's just an empty thrill ride or even a train wreck, you often become more conservative not by assumption, but empirically.

I was just thinking about the '60s (reflections occasioned by and hidden in this post, which I could still find a way to disagree with, especially as a woman) and thinking that all that excess was probably necessary to open things up in certain crucial ways (civil rights, feminism) and that now that those expansions of our mental universe are largely accomplished, it is no longer necessary to live like a guinea pig. A lot of us were kind of sacrificed to that experiment -- do we deserve a monument, like Balto who carried the serum to Nome?

hdhouse said...

hmmmmm....

i didn't see anything about little tight assholes, pea brains, and 3 toes...walking upright was also left out.

must not be reliable.

ShadyCharacter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ShadyCharacter said...

To paraprase the Simpsons take on racial humor in America:

Conservative people drive like this "dee dee dee", but liberal people drive like this "dum de dum de dum".

-----
stupid Blogger ate my first attempt and then I screwed up my second...

The Drill SGT said...

Actually, labels are somewhat relative.

In Cody, Wyoming, they are conservative, and, hence Dick Cheney is a Republican.

No! In Cody, Cheney is probably a liberal :) Just as in Madison, Ann is considered to the far right.

All politics and labels are local.

Fritz said...

Never discuss religion or politics, gee I wonder why? Morals determine politics.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Jim Lindgren does a similar breed of analysis/pop-psychology with results that similarly mimick his own preconceived notions: conservatives are smarter and better educated and more generous than dumb, stingy liberals. Blecht! Many people have a soft spot for this kind of pop psychology, especially when it reinforces what they want to believe (like horoscopes), but when it enters the realm of politics, it loses credibility. Its just too convenient how liberals discover what good traits liberals have and conservatives discover how righteous conservative personalities are.

Mike said...

Hey, it's better than the smart people are liberal "research".

TMink said...

Boulder certainly IS a liberal town! I went to grad school in Denver and would make the drive to Boulder on occasion. I recall noticing a business with two signs on the front window. One was a blunt, perhaps rude statement stating that the store was a non-smoking environment thankyouverymuch.

The other sign said "Legalize Hemp."

Thank God for life's little ironies.

Trey

Kirby Olson said...

There has to be a border between liberal and conservative, just as there is a border (or at least some kind of middle) between East Coast and West Coast.

I think people that are to either extreme demonize the other side.

I like that there are two sides and a middle, and that they therefore offer checks and balances to one another.

The last thing I'd want is a one-party state.

In the last issue of Psychology Today (February 2007) there was a ridiculous article about how conservatives were insecure as children, while liberals were secure and happy.

Conservatives therefore got all rigid, and they like things to be rigid, while liberals are flexible, and so on and so forth.

If to one side you have loosey-goosey liberals who are so flexible they don't have a spine, and to the other side you have super-tight assed conservatives who are so rigid they can't move, then the way of evolution must be between those extremes.

The existence of moderates doesn't seem to make sense to either the far right or the far left, but it is we who win all the elections, and have all the fun.

Peter Palladas said...

Age - Remember Churchill's famous quote about being liberal at one point in life, and conservative later?

"If you're not a socialist when you're twenty, you have no heart; if you're still a socialist when you're forty, you have no brain." (Variously attributed to G.B. Shaw and Winston Churchill)

"Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat."

- Churchill's own assessment of his defection from Conservative to Liberal then later returning to the Tories, holding high office under both.

spice said...

"though I think people also learn their political affiliation from their families and develop it interacting with friends..."

You nailed it -- political socialization. Put a group of 1,0000 random people in a room, and in a party ID guessing contest, I will gladly wager $100 bucks on each one if I can be supplied with one piece of info: their parents' party ID. Bump that to $200 if both parents share the same affiliation.

It's been a while, but the research on personality types has been limited to the candidates themselves, not the electorate...very hard to measure.

I haven't seen the study in question, so it's really hard to speak to the conclusions. However, perhaps we could do a little experiment here; each commenter should identify his/her party id, and then we could do a quick correllation between it and the tendency to use mean spirited rhotoric.

Spice

johnstodder said...

I always chuckle when I remember being at a party and seeing 7 or 8 people in the back bedroom silently passing around a joint while earnestly listening to "Kind of Blue".

Toby, I didn't see you there!

Try to imagine prominent liberals and conservatives following these patterns. Who do you really think has more cleaning supplies in their bedroom, Bush or Kerry?

Does John Sweeney, chairman of the AFL-CIO strike you as a guy who's into "bending rules?" How about Eliot Spitzer?

And how could anybody say George W. Bush is "cautious about change?" The rap on him is that he launched us into war in Iraq blindly and recklessly. He went after privatizing social security, nationalizing education standards and setting up a Medicare drug benefit almost in total defiance of the facts and political reality. Hate him or love him, Bush is clearly the boldest president this country has seen since... Reagan! Oh, but Reagan liked to draw, so maybe he was really a liberal.

Hey said...

I revel in the attitude amongst young, large-city professionals that conservatives are evil, just as I did in university when dealing with arts students (engineering students typically had parents who owned small businesses and were themselves working and paying taxes by their 8th, if not 5th, month of school through a co-op program and were thus somewhere between Milton Freidman and Ayn Rand in terms of rightwing economics). Knowing that people think you are evil, and then exploiting this bigotry, is desperate fun. One can leverage another person's pre-conceptions and get them into complete spluttering outrage, then devastate them by noting that they're relying on purely emotional arguments and a long catalog of logical fallacies but offer that you'd be happy to return to the issues.

OK so I guess I am evil. But it's a different kind and it's really a great deal of fun.

hdhouse said...

this current crop of neo-cons are just too easy. takes away a lot of the fun :(

Revenant said...

You nailed it -- political socialization. Put a group of 1,0000 random people in a room, and in a party ID guessing contest, I will gladly wager $100 bucks on each one if I can be supplied with one piece of info: their parents' party ID. Bump that to $200 if both parents share the same affiliation.

Of course, you could also reliably predict whether they were messy or not by whether their parents were. You can predict just about anything about an adult based on what their parents are like, and be right more often than random chance would.

We're products of our genes and our environment. Parents provide all of the former and much of the latter.

Hayek said...

I've enjoyed most of the comments on this thread. An additional observation, based on my scientific study of blogs,is that conservatives have a great sense of humour and liberals are humourless.

Balfegor said...

Re: Johnstodder:

Does John Sweeney, chairman of the AFL-CIO strike you as a guy who's into "bending rules?"

Well, that's a union right? Hmm. I'd go with "yes." They probably aren't in league with organised crime these days, but those union leaders have always seemed awfully shifty to me. Just the kind of people who'd bend the rules so they could skim off the top.

How about Eliot Spitzer?

Uh, yes. I mean, isn't that kind of what people have been complaining about for the past few years, as he changed the Martin Act from an antique blue-sky law into an excuse to blackmail any corporation who looked at him crosseyed.

And re:
Who do you really think has more cleaning supplies in their bedroom, Bush or Kerry?

Bush of course. Kerry has servants to take care of that kind of thing.

Seven Machos said...

Come on, Hayek. hd house is a freaking riot -- coming in here and calling everybody dumb all the time. That's funny, man. Witty bumperstickers are also funny. Especially when they say how dumb those dumb people are.

hdhouse said...

seven nachos and hayek..

being smarter and more patient permits people like me to be able to put up with people like you.

sign me the sausage king of chicago.

Seven Machos said...

Hilarious.

Kirk Parker said...

"pile management system"

Around here, we call it the Geological Filing System. Absent a major catastrophic event, things tend to accumlate in the order received. When you need to find something, unless it's a very recent arrival, you have to mount an archaeological expedition; during which, once you find things that might have been deposited during the same time frame, you know you're getting close.

Simon,

What's to recommend about Moral Politics? Having been burned by Lakoff before, I'm a bit wary to dive in again unless there's something real people will vouch for.

And as far as "It has some other meaning? goes, have you ever heard of the 19th Century?

hdhouse said...

Oh brother. As easy as this set up is for a liberal (gasp...)even I can resist it.

cokaygne said...

I always thought that politics should be measured on 2 axes. One for the degree of control society or the state has over one's person and the other for the degree of control the state should have over the economy. Stalin (betcha his desk was tidy) and Mao (he seems not to have had any cleaning supplies in his bedroom, not even a toothbrush) favored total state (true only if that person had total control over the state, otherwise count them in if you're going to overthrow the state) control of everything. The fascists, I thought, were more liberal about the economy, but otherwise favored total state control of the person. Then there are the Catholics who would like the Church to control the whole thing. Mainline Protestant churches and other "liberals" want to run the economy and leave the individual free - that is as long as you don't say anything negative about today's favored underdog or anything positive about today's despised overdog.

cokaygne said...

if you ever manage people in a unionized workplace, you soon learn that no one is more of a stickler for the rules than a union shop steward. With unions it ain't about the pay and benefits so much as it is about the work rules.

I count myself as one of the dieing breed of Sccop Jackson-Joe Lieberman Democrats. National security comes first, then we can talk about helping the poor and legalizing marijuana, both of which I favor. I'll never vote Republican because too many of that party are old-fashioned bigots be they old-line Yankees like Bush 41 or rednecked Texans like Bush 43, (actually I don't think G. H. W. Bush is a bigot, it is just interesting how the 2 Bushes encapsulate the historic and present Republican demography) but it is getting very hard to find a Democrat that I like. For now, I'm in Bill Richardson's camp.

Balfegor said...

I'll never vote Republican because too many of that party are old-fashioned bigots

Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons I would feel deeply uncomfortable voting for a Democrat. Generally speaking, I don't think the candidates they put up are bigoted or racist (or if they are, like Biden, say, they are only mildly so in a way that doesn't particularly bother me), but so many of the people behind them, heading up interest groups and exercising influence over them, are utterly noxious, and utterly unashamed.

"Deeply uncomfortable" is not an absolute, of course -- there are Republicans whom I dislike so much that in the balance, I'd vote for a reasonable Democrat over them -- but the icky-icky and the sense of revulsion does bias me strongly against the Democrats.

Annie said...

On the age thing . . . to the empiricism of older-and-wiser conservatism, I should add ebbing hormones.

Part of what's pathetic about the gray-pony-tail set . . . the Viagra-fueled progressivism . . .

Seven Machos said...

The Republicans are historically the party of rednecks and racism? You must have several advanced degrees if you were able to reach that goofy conclusion without embarrassment.