(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.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.
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 décor. 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).
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.")