Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

June 12, 2012

We the People: The Psychology of Conservatism

CROSSVILLE — Politically conservative agendas may range from supporting war to opposing welfare. But are there consistent underlying motivations? What can psychology tell us about the way we think?

Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:

• A sense of fear and feeling threatened

• Intolerance of ambiguity

• Uncertainty avoidance

"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 published in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.

The researchers looked at patterns involving 22,818 participants, taken from  material originating from 12 countries (including the U.S.) that included speeches and interviews given by politicians, opinions and verdicts rendered by judges, as well as experimental, field and survey studies. Ten calculations performed on the material — which included various types of concepts and approaches from different countries and groups — yielded consistent, common threads, the researchers said.

The avoidance of uncertainty, for example, as well as the striving for certainty, is particularly tied to one key dimension of conservative thought — the resistance to change and a tendency to support the status quo, they said. Many conservatives appear to shun and even punish those who threaten the status of cherished conservative positions, they wrote.

Concern with fear and threat, likewise, has been linked to a second key dimension of conservatism — a tolerance for inequality, a view reflected in the Indian caste system, South African apartheid and the conservative politics in the US. According to the researchers, conservatives share a resistance to change and a greater acceptance of inequality in terms of race or income.

While most people resist change, the researchers said, liberals appear to have a higher tolerance for change and uncertainty than conservatives do. Liberals also tend to be less dogmatic and to feel less threatened.

As for conservatives' penchant for accepting inequality, they said, one contemporary example is liberals' general endorsement of extending rights and liberties to disadvantaged minorities compared to conservatives' opposing position.

The researchers found that being intolerant of ambiguity is associated with such conservative characteristics as unwavering certainty and strong loyalty to particular people and positions. This intolerance of ambiguity can lead conservatives to cling to the familiar, to arrive at premature conclusions, and to impose simplistic clichés and stereotypes.

Conservatives don't feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions. They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white, the researchers concluded

An important component of conservative psychology is repressed or displaced fear and the related sense of feeling threatened by various events, ideas and people around them. Conservatives often report feeling threatened by what they view as the “liberal media” or “ atheists” who they see as attacking them and jeopardizing their place in society. This often produces an anger response as a defense mechanism against the perceived threat. Anger expressed toward such people as homosexuals or Muslims is related to displaced fear and is a significant factor in understanding conservative psychology according to the researchers. It should be noted that the ultimate fear is the fear of death and a very strong desire to achieve life after death is particularly important in understanding the psychology of many religious conservatives. 

We all like to believe that our politics is based on rational thought, but the truth is that our politics comes from a much deeper place that we need to acknowledge. Our subconscious minds play a bigger role in our political beliefs than many of us would like to admit. Our early childhood experiences, our relationship with our parents, how we cope with fear, and how we respond to authority figures all play a role in our political views. Instead of simply declaring what we believe in, we need to explore why we believe as we do. If we want to understand politics, we must first try to understand ourselves.

• • •

This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. "We the People" is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in "We the People" columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at jwund@frontiernet.net.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Lion and the Lamb: Our war on women

    Jimmy Carter, who was president from 1977 to 1981, has had quite an impressive career as an author. His first book was published in 1975, and he has now written a total of 37 books, 23 of them after his presidency. He has set a high example for other past presidents, especially those who would like to find ways of being as beneficial to their nation as possible in the days after their retirement.

    April 22, 2014

  • Tidbits: "Selfie" destruction

    Technology continues to profoundly impact our daily lives, from the Heartbleed Bug that put hundreds of thousands of websites at risk of compromising customer usernames and passwords, to the little light that tries to tell me I'm about to run out of gas. Technology also impacts our language, with new words being created to describe the latest gizmo, gadget or trend.

    April 21, 2014

  • Stumptalk: It depends on what you mean

    A writer’s headline asks, “Do we really believe in democracy?” To which I answer, “What do you mean by democracy?

    April 21, 2014

  • LION AND THE LAMB: Four ways to demonstrate opposition

    Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan mention in their book, “The Last Week,” that Roman-occupied Palestine during the first century was under the control of Pontius Pilate who lived in the coastal city of Caesarea. Each year at the beginning of the Passover observance when Jews celebrated their liberation from Egypt, Pilate feared that they might be getting ideas about revolting from Rome, so he would come with additional soldiers on horses to beef up the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. 

    April 15, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: Is it (new) party time?

    The Democratic and Republican parties are toast, according to Joe Trippi. The Republican Party is coming apart at its Tea Party seam. Democratic candidates struggle to celebrate President Obama’s health care successes, while responding to criticism of his failed promises, e.g., government transparency.

    April 15, 2014

  • TIDBITS: I found it at the library

    I have such fond memories of going to my local library as a child, searching through shelf after shelf and finding a book that would make me a Little Princess in World War II England, or bring me along as Nancy Drew solved the Secret in the Old Attic.

    April 14, 2014

  • STUMPTALK: The reason words have meaning

    If words did not have accepted meanings we would not be able to communicate effectively and civilized society would not exist.

    April 14, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Do we really believe in democracy?

    The recent Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, is in a long line of debates about power in a democracy. Should power be in the hands of all the citizens or should it be in hands of those who have greater wealth and social position?

    April 8, 2014

  • We the People: Public education or business opportunity?

    A month ago, we followed the money trail left by a ‘think tank’ to the major sources funding an attack on our traditional, locally controlled public schools. We saw that a handful of billionaires provide major support to many organizations lobbying for change.

    April 8, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Just another government lie?

    There is a vault located in Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was built in 1936 and encased in 16 cubic feet of granite and 4200 feet of cement. The door is made of 20-inch thick material that is immune to drills, torches and explosives.

    April 7, 2014

Marketplace Marquee
Parade
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar
2014 Readers' Choice