What Makes Conservatives Tick


| August 11, 2003


A landmark study by a team of psychologists from Stanford and UC Berkeley concludes that 'at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality.' According to a press release announcing the study, the four researchers reviewed more than 50 years of literature on the psychology of conservatism looking for common patterns and identified five traits that typify people who adhere to a conservative ideology:

  • Fear and aggression
  • Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Need for cognitive closure
  • Terror management

'From our perspective, these psychological factors are capable of contributing to the adoption of conservative ideological contents, either independently or in combination,' the researchers wrote in an article in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.

Conservatives are, not surprisingly, less than pleased. Many conservative webloggers decried the study as pseudo-scientific left-wing propaganda. 'In the Berkeley case, the fact that almost all psychologists have been saying the same thing about conservatives seems to be taken as good proof that what they are saying is correct,' writes John Ray in his weblog Dissecting Leftism. 'A survey taken in Galileo's day would have concluded with equal vehemence that the earth is flat.'

The study's authors also concluded that conservatives are less 'integratively complex' than liberals, meaning that they don't feel compelled to come up with complex justifications for their beliefs and are comfortable viewing the world in black and white.

However, said lead author Jon Glaser, 'it doesn't mean that they're simple-minded.'
-- Leif Utne

Go there>> Researchers Help Define What Makes a Political Conservative (UC Berkeley press release)