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Monday, April 03, 2006

conservatives growing up... (needs editing)

In the 1960s, researchers Jack and Jeanne Block began tracking nursery school children in Berkeley as part of a study of personality. Years later, they checked back in with the grown-up kids, and found that the whiny, inflexible kids tended to grow up to be conservatives, while the secure, resilient kids tended to grow up to be liberals:
The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then.
...
A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.
A review of findings three years ago that made a similar conclusion drew controversy and ire:
Similar work by John T. Jost of Stanford and colleagues in 2003 drew a political backlash. The researchers reviewed 44 years worth of studies into the psychology of conservatism, and concluded that people who are dogmatic, fearful, intolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and who crave order and structure are more likely to gravitate to conservatism.



The results do raise some obvious questions. Are nursery school teachers in the conservative heartland cursed with classes filled with little proto-conservative whiners?

Or does an insecure little boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism?




Part of the answer is that personality is not the only factor that determines political leanings. For instance, there was a .27 correlation between being self-reliant in nursery school and being a liberal as an adult. Another way of saying it is that self-reliance predicts statistically about 7 per cent of the variance between kids who became liberal and those who became conservative. (If every self-reliant kid became a liberal and none became conservatives, it would predict 100 per cent of the variance). Seven per cent is fairly strong for social science, but it still leaves an awful lot of room for other influences, such as friends, family, education, personal experience and plain old intellect.




Even if they really did tend to be insecure complainers as kids, they might simply have recognized that the world is a scary, unfair place.

Their grown-up conclusion that the safest thing is to stick to tradition could well be the right one. As for their "rigidity," maybe that's just moral certainty.

The grown-up liberal men, on the other hand, with their introspection and recognition of complexity in the world, could be seen as self-indulgent and ineffectual.

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