Are conservatives more obedient and agreeable than their liberal counterparts?

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By Science Daily

 

Over the last few years, we’ve seen increasing dissent among liberals and conservatives on important issues such as gun control, health care and same-sex marriage. Both sides often have a difficult time reconciling their own views with their opposition, and many times it appears that liberals are unable to band together under a unifying platform. Why do conservatives appear to have an affinity for obeying leadership? And why do conservatives perceive greater consensus among politically like-minded others? Two studies publishing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shed light on these questions.

Loyalty to leadership

Historically, conservatives are viewed as being more obedient and more respectful of leadership. Whereas, liberals tend to be associated with protests and blatant acts of rebellion. Previous research has seemed to suggest that the act of obedience is divisive, and that this cultural war among liberals and conservatives may stem from the fact that obedience elicits different emotional responses. Researchers at the University of Winnipeg delved further into this perception of obedience to authority with three studies, and found that liberals and conservatives are more similar than they may appear.

Lead researcher Jeremy Frimer explains that “beneath the surface of some of these ideological debates is a fundamental need to belong to a group that has a strong leader. Both sides feel the need. And both sides believe that people should do as their leader tells them to do. The difference between the groups is not whether they value obedience to authority. Rather, the difference is about which authority they think is worthy of obedience.”

In surveying participants, the researchers found that the act of obedience itself elicits similar moral sentiments from both conservatives and liberals; the differences sparked only when participants perceived the authorities to advance a political agenda. Testing the participants perceptions proved trickier than expected, because the researchers found that the concepts of authority and obedience automatically elicit thoughts of a conservative authority. This finding may explain why obedience to authority appears to be a concept conservatives favor over liberals.

25 COMMENTS

    • On the one hand, I agree that individuals’ politics do not lie on a 1-dimensional plot, which is why the occasional Libertarian insists we use a Nolan chart or something like that. On the other hand, that the left-right divide works as well as it does is a bizarre sociological fact that needs an explanation. Why, when there are so many different issues for people to have opinions on, do we instinctively know “oh, the left-wing opinion is X and the right-wing opinion is Y”, and why are individuals who are in one wing on a given issue more likely to be in that same wing on others?

      You’ll notice I say left/right rather than liberal/conservative. The latter has an interesting feature worth commenting on. Why isn’t the “opposite” of conservative called “progressive”? It would make sense given what the words mean, and indeed the term “progressive” is sometimes used, but “the divide” is typically described as L/C rather than P/C. It’s partly because a description of the divide that becomes near-universal in, for example, US discourse has to use names both sides can agree on, e.g. right-wingers are hardly willing to call their left-wing opponents anything as complimentary as progressive. But the fact that any other name at all even works is another example of the correlations between political opinions. Why are people who want to try new policies more likely to be liberal?

      A 1-dimensional description of human politics is inadequate if we want to capture everyone’s views on every issue; I’ll agree with you on that. But a surprisingly large number of people take “the left wing side” on either the vast majority of issues or almost none of them. Why? I’m not sure. No doubt any number of ideas have been considered. A cynic might say it’s the political special case of crank magnetism.

      But whatever the reason, the world contains many liberals and conservatives (even if it doesn’t reduce to them), and the differences between those groups are worth studying. In fact, when such studies are conducted any number of differences are found. Oh, look; this study tells us yet more about it.

      • Jos Gibbons – But whatever the reason, the world contains many liberals and conservatives (even if it doesn’t reduce to them), and the differences between those groups are worth studying. In fact, when such studies are conducted any number of differences are found. Oh, look; this study tells us yet more about it.

        The terms are far from clear in international politics. Someone regarded as a Liberal in some US states, would be regarded as a Conservative in some European ones!

        ( I am reminded of the McCarthy era (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism), when pretty much any activist to the political left Genghis Kahn, was dubbed a “communist subversive”!)

        • That’s also true. The position of “centre” varies in time and place, and doesn’t always keep moving in the same direction. But studies such as these compare groups that are on opposite sides of their local centre, to understand how they end up their in the first place. Of course, if we construe politics as an N-dimensional space rather than a 1-dimensional space, a “centre” is still definable but people can be in any direction relative to it. But again, it’s remarkable how closely people generally cluster on that analysis.

      • Jos Gibbons Jul 1, 2014 at 3:37 am
        …I say left/right rather than liberal/conservative. The latter has
        an interesting feature worth commenting on. Why isn’t the “opposite”
        of conservative called “progressive”?…

        ‘Progressive’ is often used by people on the left to describe their views and has been used in the past. Remember Henry Wallace in 1948.

        Each side favors words it believes are favorable to itself. Why not?

        I prefer ‘leftist’ and ‘rightest’ because those words carry with them (some of) the smallest amounts of associative baggage.

        • Progressive has been used that way, but it goes unused in the usual two-word descriptions of left-right dichotomies. The mere fact that non-tautological dichotomies such as L/C even work illustrates the correlation of L with P. That correlation is part of the sociological efficacy of a 1-dimensional description of politics – an incomplete efficacy, but one that is good enough to warrant explanation, not to mention research in to its effects.

    • I (unfortunately) disagree. I think we want to think we’re not so divided, but we are.
      I like to ask people if they disagree on certain issues with the political side they choose and if so, which issues. They always agree with me that it’s better to decide for yourself (on individual issues). But when I remind them the question was which issues do you disagree with your side, I almost never get an answer. That leads me to believe most people (I talk to) are party line ideologists.

  1. I was very shocked during the recent government shutdown in late 2013 at how many conservatives I debated who actually devoutly wished the USA would default on its national debt. I tried to suggest to them what would happen to their retirement savings and their children’s future if the international financial system collapsed. I even pointed out that the DOW Jones had already dropped 900 points during the shutdown to bolster my argument. But I got answers like “Better we get hit now than later.” This desire to destroy the USA to “save it” is a new development that used to be the exclusive dream of leftist subversives (probably still is). I guess the conservatives now feel so alienated in a USA that isn’t as white, isn’t as religious, isn’t as conservative as it once was that they would rather destroy the whole thing so no one else can have it.

    • I’m sorry to say that I’ve noticed the same thing.
      Conservatives think we’ve become way too liberal and it seems they want the government to crumble so we could start again. That’s certainly what the militia wackos want.

      • KRKBAB – Conservatives think we’ve become way too liberal and it seems they want the government to crumble so we could start again. That’s certainly what the militia wackos want.

        The “military wackos” by stealth, clandestine funding, and arms sales, have certainly crumbled various foreign governments where they fancied a “regime change” to more pliable corruptible puppet regimes.

        The results are not pretty!

  2. These words (conservative and liberal) mean NOTHING. They are arbitrary and misleading.

    I always put a liberal slathering of butter on an English muffin. I am conservative when it comes to fiscal decisions.

    Now, from the meanings of the words, you’d think that liberals would always want lots of liberties and conservatives would want more controlling of the liberties.

    And they do….. or DO THEY??

    When it comes to guns and gun laws, the roles are swapped. Conservatives want more freedoms and liberals want more restriction. When the topic is women’s or homosexual’s rights, we flop again.

    The environment? Issue after issue after issue demonstrates that there is no actual logical consistency to the sides of an issue to which each “type” will adhere. It is MONEY that they all follow. Whatever earns them fucking money.

    That’s also where we part ways. I could not be persuaded to abandon who i am and what i stand for because some one dangles a dollar in my face.

    Look at congress and the senate, use the APP that that 16 year old kid developed (EDIT: it is called greenhouse and it is a browser plug in, not an APP) that allows you to see where the individual’s dollars are coming from (which lobby), and you will see their voting record reflect their allegiances. Once a politician accepts money from a specific lobby, they should be exempt from voting to support or deny legislation regarding said lobby. they should be allowed to advocate, but not vote.

    As far as obedience within the two meaningless labels, the difference seems to be that liberals do not give a rat’s ass if you see them being disobedient and conservatives favors their disobedience to be secret.

  3. If a brain scan could be devised so that various areas lit up in response to stimuli depicting acts of either obedience or disobedience, I wonder if the results would differ? Self reporting seems such an unreliable way to test attitudes. It seems that individuals do exhibit different “wiring” when it comes to their political leanings and I see evidence of this all the time, but I’m not sure that the response to a survey would reflect an unbiased mindset.

    My first thought on reading this article was that I tend to follow the rules though I consider my views to be left of centre (or to the far left by US standards). Maybe if images of various scenarios were put before me, my brain would tell a different story.

  4. The labeling is I think simplistic to the extent that it destroys all meaning. Australia has what others like to describe as a “Neo Conservative” government. To my mind they are simply the nastiest bunch of wealth pandering hypocrites that have been accumulated in one place by some form of social coriolis force, stirred largely by the Murdoch press.

    I can respect fiscally conservative ideas, although I agree with them less than I agree with policies that are considered less so, and it seems that the pendulum ever swings between rewarding industry and fixing the roads and school windows as “right” leaning, and “left” leaning governments alternate.

    This concept of “Conservative” now seems largely extinct, being replaced by an absolutist creed that delights in inverted snobbery, and believes the poor should return to their proper place, under the thumb of power, and that if they want comfort, they should go to church.

    • . . Australia has what others like to describe as a “Neo Conservative” government. To my mind they are simply the nastiest bunch of wealth pandering hypocrites that have been accumulated in one place by some form of social coriolis force, stirred largely by the Murdoch press.

      Ironically called the ‘Liberal Party’. We have a hard time explaining this overseas. Privately I refer to this side of politics as the ‘Tory’ Party. They were voted in by the very people they’re pillaging at the moment. Wonders never cease!

  5. The conservative side tend to embrace religion much more than the liberal side and it’s that attraction to “believe” that makes them easy to herd together under a single banner… Add to that a general lower income, and intelligence of a great number of conservatives, and you’ve got a great pool of persuadable individuals who stick to their “beliefs” as ardently as they do their “leaders”… Then there’s the coup de grace of the young following blindly in the footsteps of the elders and you’ve got a hard and fast group of like minded individuals easily manipulated by those in charge who KNOW how to “push the buttons”…

    Liberals as a general rule are all over the map simply because there’s no compliance to a “norm”… Liberals rebel… It’s the basic want of the liberal to “break out of the mold” and “be different” that makes them about as easy to herd as wet cats… Religion is more diversified for most liberals so there’s no “set dogma” under which they’re easily ruled. Higher incomes and intelligence are inherently going to make the liberal more challenged and able to do that different thing to avoid being so easily categorized…

    • Erik, I think you’re confusing being intelligent with being educated. You’ll also find that the Labour party depends on the working classs, inner city constituencies for their vote while the Conservative party are most popular in the middle class suburbs, gentrified parts of the cities and rural districts.
      .

      • dermotmeaney Jul 7, 2014 at 3:18 pm

        You’ll also find that the Labour party depends on the working classs, inner city constituencies for their vote while the Conservative party are most popular in the middle class suburbs, gentrified parts of the cities and rural districts.

        That is a UK issue, and is as much a perception of political affiliations to vested interests as much as anything else!

        • Well of course the working class do better under Labour, properly funded education and health services, for instance. My point was that in Erik’s post he seemed to argue that people on lower incomes are unintelligent and that it is only the “enlightened” middle classes who are smart enough to shun reactionary politics and religion. Both of which are untrue. In fact you will find that church attendances are highest in the C of E, middle class, Tory shires.

  6. I did an undergrad paper a number of years ago, in 2003, about deference to authority, and while the “conservative-liberal” divide appears in it, it does so in the same way as do a number of predictable divides, including rural/urban, male/female, etc. But the most interesting divide was that shown when comparing higher education level (and here the Canada/USA divide is particularly interesting, but the divide disappears at highest level of education). The study I did was to compare Canada and US and deference to authority, but the observations extend more broadly (globally). Have a look: http://web.ncf.ca/fs766/USCANdeferenceshort.pdf The longer paper is available, but don’t make me look for it!

  7. Are conservatives more obedient and agreeable than their liberal counterparts?

    Well certainly not the ones in the US House Of Representatives. Trying to repeal Obamacare 50 times?? Paralyzing the government? Defaulting on the rise of the debt ceiling? Talks of suing the POTUS?… Heckling him in Congress to call him a liar? Nothing sounds less obedient and agreeable to me than that.

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