Psychology/Psychiatry

Libertarians Are the WEIRDest People in the World

Liberals are WEIRD too, but conservatives are not.

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LibertarianPorcupine
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WEIRD is the acronym three social psychologists devised to describe people living in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies. In 2010, the trio—Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan, all based at the University of British Columbia—reviewed decades of behavioral science research and concluded that "members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans." Scientists, they concluded, "need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity."

One big distinction between WEIRD people and the rest of humanity, they argued, is a tendency to think analytically instead of holistically. Broadly speaking, holistic thinking is oriented toward context, preferring to predict behavior using situations and circumstances. Analytic thinking detaches objects from contexts, preferring to use categorical rules to explain and predict behavior. The research the trio referenced included a 2001 study in which American and Japanese subjects were shown a photograph of a wolf in a forest. The Americans were more likely to remember having seen the wolf even when it appears against a new background, such as a desert.

A 2010 paper in Current Directions in Psychological Science argued that these distinct modes of thought stem from differences in social orientation. Every person can and does switch between these two modes of thought. But people are more likely to think analytically when their culture endorses "self-direction, autonomy, and self-expression" and views the self as "bounded and separate from social others." People tend toward holistic thinking when their culture supports an interdependent, connected view of the self and emphasizes fitting in and harmony more than self-expression.

Analytic thinking is prevalent in the West, but it isn't monolithic. A team of researchers associated with the New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wondered if the distinction between holistic and analytic thinking might be relevant to America's notorious "culture war." The team including University of Virginia social psychologists Thomas Talhelm and Shigehiro Oishi, and Chinese psychologists Xuemin Zhang, Felicity Miao, and Shimen Chen report the results of five different studies in a recent for the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, "Liberals Think More Analytically (More 'WEIRD') than Conservatives."

The Haidt team notes that previous research usually did not pull apart the messy strands of economic and social politics that make up people's political identities. This leads to a problem they call the "libertarian exception." Libertarians have often been mixed in with conservatives, yet conservatives are the most socially interdependent group and libertarians are the least interdependent. "Because libertarians are so individualistic, they should be on the extreme analytic end of the spectrum," the researchers note. "Indeed, libertarians score the highest of any political group on a measure of 'systemizing' and the lowest on 'empathizing'. Mixing libertarian analytic thought with holistic conservative thought weakens the liberal-conservative differences."

To take account of libertarian thinking, the researchers separate "social politics," involving issues such as recreational drug use and gay marriage, from "economic politics," involving issues such as taxes and regulations. They found that differences in analytic versus holistic thinking account for differences in opinions over social issues, but not economic issues.

In the first study, university students were sorted by social politics on a seven-point scale ranging from very liberal to very conservative. They then were shown three items and asked to indicate which two of the three are most closely related. For example, they might see pictures of a scarf, a mitten, and a hand. Holistic thinkers tend to choose the more relational pairing (mittens are worn on hands), whereas more analytical thinkers tend to pair more categorically (the mitten and scarf are both winter clothing). Very liberal student participants choose relational pairings 61 percent of the time, while very conservative participants choose them 78 percent of the time.

Another study used Internet participants with a mean age of 35; it also included a libertarian option. It similarly found a distinction between liberal and libertarian analytic thinking and conservative holistic thinking, but all three groups tended to be more analytic than the college students. About 35 percent of very liberal participants chose relational pairings, compared to 45 percent of very conservative ones.

Interestingly, when the researchers did not separate social and economic politics, libertarians were the most analytic group and moderates were the least. "Consistent with their creed that people should stick to their own business and not interfere with the lives of others," the researchers wrote, "libertarians thought more like individualistic Westerners than collectivistic Easterners."

The researchers also went to China to test their social orientation hypothesis. They already knew that Mainland Chinese tended to score on the holistic end of the spectrum, but they wanted to see if differences in thinking styles had emerged in a rapidly urbanizing population. They asked Chinese university students at six sites to do a triad task like the one from the first study.

The political spectrum among the Chinese subjects ran from very liberal to slightly conservative. Liberal participants paired the objects relationally 70 percent of the time, while slightly conservative ones did so 79 percent of the time. Compare this to very liberal American students, who paired relationally 61 percent of the time, whereas very conservative Americans did it 78 percent of the time. So both Chinese and American conservatives have about the same tendency to think holistically. [Note, though, that the Chinese 78 percent were slightly conservative and the American 78 percent were very conservative.]

Next, the researchers wanted to see if a bit of "thought training" might change the subjects' orientation. In this experiment, American university students were once again sorted by social politics and economic politics. Then they were told to classify objects—say, a janitor, a mop, and a jackhammer—by either abstract categories or relational condition. The students then read purported news articles, one opposed to welfare programs and another opposed to mainstreaming special education students. Note that welfare spending in the U.S. is a partisan issue, whereas mainstreaming is far less so.

The scientists predicted that the analytic version of the task would push people to form more liberal opinions and that the holistic training would induce them to generate more conservative opinions. The thought training manipulation produced just that result. "If this were a vote, the liberal [welfare] plan would have won after we had people think analytically (64 percent support) and lost after we had people think holistically (38 percent)," they report. The mainstreaming article had no effect on political orientation.

Finally, the Haidt team did a similar thought training study using university students and visitors to YourMorals.org. Participants sorted by social and economic political views once again were instructed to classify items either relationally or categorically. Afterward, they read two fabricated news stories, one proposing to send convicted drug users to college for free and another advocating free trade. In this case, 52 percent of holistically manipulated participants would have supported sending convicted drug users to college, whereas 70 of the analytically thought-trained would have done so. The "training" had no effect on responses to the free trade article, a result that fits the earlier findings that cultural thought style is more strongly related to social politics than economic politics.

The researchers conclude that conservatives and liberals really do think about the world as though they come from different cultures. The obvious resolution to this conflict is for American liberals and conservatives to join with their libertarian comrades and think even more WEIRDly about freedom.

NEXT: Bus Driver to Eight-Year-Old: It's Too Dangerous to Read While You Ride

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  1. I’m glad Ronald Bailey added the definition of analytical used by the researchers because, at first, I couldn’t square very liberal people with the description analytical, seeing as how most of their positions on the issues depend heavily on their feelz.

    1. Stop reading the details, the only thing that mattered was all the headlines of “liberals are more analytical thinkers than conservatives” that this research produced. I remember seeing a lot of those articles with comment sections consisting of nothing more than SJW types congratulating themselves on the scientific prove they had now showing how smart they all were.

      Of course if they actually read and understood the research, they would be forced to to see the takeaway you found. But who needs understanding when you can feel good about yourself.

    2. It didn’t make sense to me either.. We know that according to several studies liberals are worse at understanding economics and other points of view. Given that, it doesn’t seem like they’d be especially good at analysis. But if you define it as “remembers things out of context”, sure I’ll give them that. They’re great at ignoring context.

    3. Did they ask about Mexicans, butt sex, and pot?

      1. I wish everyone would stop talking about this horrible study. This article made me want to drag a mattress around.

      2. Also, did they ask about abortion and deep-dish pizza?

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    5. The differences were small and I note
      that no error bars are given (hopefully
      they are in the paper itself). I’m guessing
      the results are close to being meaningless.

  2. Just wanted to let you suckers know that I’m sitting on a balcony on the ocean at Myrtle Beach, drinkin’ beer and gettin’ paid. So fuck, yes, I’m WEIRD. (OK – it’s a $45 room, and there’s graffiti carved into the headboards, but the linen appears to have been washed recently, and the beer store is right next door. Bwahahahaha!) Look — a wolf!!! (But I DO NOT empathize with it.)

    1. You’er clearly not drunk enough. I mean, dude, it’s after noon for you, you should be wasted. Step up the pace, lightweight.

      1. He did mention that he’s carving graffiti into the headboard. At least that’s how I read it.

    2. That reminds me. I forgot to rub it in when I was on vacation last week.

        1. I have to admit, I was expecting the link to point to the Silence of the Lambs “lotion” clip 🙂

      1. Just as long as you remember to lube it up before rubbing it in.

        1. I’m no gentleman.

      2. You wait until vacation to rub one out?

    3. That’s an…inexpensive…room for that area. Just sayin’. You inland, bro?

      1. He said “on the ocean”.

          1. Perhaps its a rental trailer?

              1. Could be a cardboard box…

          2. It’s only $45 because he is sharing the room with 37 other people.

      2. Even at $45/night, sounds like they are overcharging.

        1. Hey, the balcony alone is worth $45. Location, location, location.

          1. The Sea Gyspy Inn. Tell ’em CN sent you.

            1. Er, Gypsy. That’s the second (hehheh) beer talking’.

    4. Yes, but how about your sister Myrtle? Is she raking in even more? & do you have a link to where we can find out how?

  3. A sociological study? I can’t wait to see it express the biases and conceptualizations of its creators!

    1. I’ve always maintained that Haidt’s work is nothing more than horoscopes with statistics. There was one paper that he worked on with another guy about rice paddy culture vs wheat culture that was particularly bad. The entire paper managed to avoid the fact, out of ignorance or what have you, that dry rice farming not only exists, but is widespread throughout Asia. Fuck, there are two separate one-syllable words for the distinction in Thai alone.

      1. Next you’ll say that the chicken-entrail studies weren’t properly peer-reviewed.

  4. Where has it been shown that students at American universities are valid proxies for the rest of humanity?

    1. Analytic thinking is prevalent in the West, but it isn’t monolithic

      Exactly. See Universities of “higher learning”.

  5. WEIRD is the acronym three social psychologists[…]

    I almost stop reading but had this sudden and morbid desire to see how this car crash ends…

    devised to describe people living in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies

    That should include people living in North Korea and Cuba. People there are educated, industrialized (to a certain extent) and the populations all agree that their respective leaders are the most awesomest of all beloved leaders that have ever lived, and you can’t get more democratic than that.

    1. +104% turnout

    2. I dunno how industrialized Cuba is, and neither is rich by any definition.

      1. It’s all relative. People can democratically decide they’re rich enough. Who are we to say they’re deluded?

        I am still left with the stupidity of the term “Social Psychologist”. Minds are individual, not social. Having three mountebanks and charlatans call themselves “social psychologist” raise all sorts of red flags for those of us who love logic and accurate language but it seems not to faze Bailey in the least.

        1. I am still left with the stupidity of the term “Social Psychologist”. Minds are individual, not social.

          Well, it could refer to the study of an individual’s minds when he or she interacts with other individuals. However, I have the feeling these folks believe “society” (that is, an organic emergent entity composed of individuals) to be the unit of analysis, as they believe individuals only “exist” in the presence of others. Thus, it is only possible to study humans in aggregate. It’s called Social Constructivism, and it’s the ethos of gulags and death camps.

        2. “Soc Psych” was one of the few courses I dropped in college. Cause it was THAT stupid.

        3. I think the term is supposed to relate to the ‘psychology of groups’, which as any angry mob of villagers with pitchforks can show is a real thing. Individuals sort of lose themselves in these groups if they’re, as far as I’m concerned, weak minded enough.

          But the field of study itself, is basically just represents a bunch of socialists trying their hand at creating a New Man.

      2. Cuba is industrialized in a 1950’s kind of way.

      3. Cuba is industrialized. Why their population has access to toilet paper ten and a half months out of the year.

  6. This seems to me like a general trend in the development of modern society. The Left has recognized for a long time the dissolution of traditional communities in the masses of modern cities. Being part of a mass makes one an individual, as the group is too big and diverse to identify with. It is no coincidence that urbanization and individualism have arisen hand-in-hand.

    I think libertarians recognize and accept this trend and are comfortable with it and have figured out how to adapt to it. Leftists recognize it and do not feel membership in a traditional community but are not comfortable with it, and so keep trying to forge artificial communities to convince themselves that its something they can have back. Cultural conservatives, on the other hand, are people who haven’t lost it yet, but see it slipping away.

    1. I don’t think urbanization led to individualization. Even in the biggest cities you see people clumping together by culture. Little Italy, Chinatown, etc. Instead, I think prosperity is what leads to individualization. As we each become more prosperous we don’t need as much social support to weather bad times or unexpected events. Strong social ties based on culture are all about comfort and risk avoidance. But prosperous people can be comfortable anywhere and are thus free to form social bonds based on other perceived values.

      1. Urbanization leads away from individualization, I think. Urbanization leads to many more people that can’t do things for themselves–like grow or hunt food–thus them wanting to make sure that there is a state that can help with those things. Lots more “there oughta be a law” mentality as well, with people living in much closer quarters and much larger groups than we were probably designed to do.

        1. You’re describing self-reliance, not individualization.

          1. Yes. I can buy food from you without having to “depend” on you or socialize with you in any way. It’s not like you’re the only food shop in our big urban area.

        2. On the flip side, urbanization also leads to specialization. Not many subsistence farmers have the time to sketch out their plans for the latest Apple gadget.

  7. The researchers conclude that conservatives and liberals really do think about the world as though they come from different cultures.

    Of course. Conservatives think the world is there to be bombed and liberals think that the world is there to be depopulated. So far, the liberals have raked up more dead than conservatives in the last 115 years.

    1. Seems like they’ve been cooperating.

      1. Go synergy!

  8. Wouldn’t WIRED be a better acronym to describe modern educated westerners?

    1. +1 Conde Nast

    2. Damn you, I feel like Ted S.

    3. But it wouldn’t be as disparaging.

  9. Seen in my in-box:

    A Lesson In Irony.

    The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department
    of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing the greatest amount of
    free meals and food stamps ever, to 47 million people.

    Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S.
    Department of the Interior, asks us “Please Do Not Feed the
    Animals.” Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals
    will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of
    themselves.

    This ends today’s lesson.

    1. I still don’t understand why they don’t allow you to buy beer and wine with food stamps. Now you have to buy energy drinks instead, sell them on the black market, and then use the cash money to pay for your PBR. How inconvenient!

  10. Taking to heart the strategy employed by Labour in England that has led to such sterling results, the Obama admin is trying to get as many illegals as possible naturalized so they can vote in 2016:

    http://pjmedia.com/jchristiana…..-election/

    1. And the libertardians eagerly agree with such national self-destruction. Everyone has rights except Americans, get it?

  11. It’s a common pattern dating back to the Frankfurt school for cultural marxists to attempt to describe the psychological attitudes of the enemy as being pathological, even when they are found in the vast majority of the population. Indeed, the fact that a small portion of the population is “rational” gives them a “scientific” justification to rule over the masses.

    “Because libertarians are so individualistic, they should be on the extreme analytic end of the spectrum,” the researchers note. “Indeed, libertarians score the highest of any political group on a measure of ‘systemizing’ and the lowest on ’empathizing’. Mixing libertarian analytic thought with holistic conservative thought weakens the liberal-conservative differences.”

    Had they found the opposite pattern, they would have used the same language. Had conservatives scored low on “empathizing” they would have said it was because conservatives hate women and poor people. It shouldn’t be surprising that liberal researchers find a scientific reason to assert liberal superiority.

    1. It’s all about intentions. Collectivists have great intentions. They want everyone to be equal and have all their basic needs satisfied. So anyone who opposes collectivists seeking their well-intentioned goals through government violence must have bad intentions. What else could possibly explain someone disagreeing with collectivists’ good intentions other than bad intentions? This way collectivists can paint anyone who disagrees with them as bad people. After all, they must have bad intentions so that makes them bad people.

      1. “Collectivists have great intentions. ”

        Stop saying this.

        Collectivists *intend* to rule their neighbors by force and bend them to their will. That is the worst of all intentions.

        1. No. Their intentions are good. Their methods are evil.

          1. Their intentions are evil too. Equality of results is evil because not everyone is equal in ability. And progressives intention isn’t to have everyone’s basic needs satisfied, it’s to have the government redistribute from one to another.

          2. Altruism is evil, if you understand that human life (and that which serves it) is the only rational, reality-oriented standard of morality. Life pertains to the self; metaphysically, there is no such entity as an “other” who can live or think for you, or vice versa.

    1. “My ass has finally decided to EAT MY HAND! It hungers…FOR MORE!”

  12. The researchers conclude that conservatives and liberals really do think about the world as though they come from different cultures.

    Might it be because very often they DO come from different cultures? The liberals are much more likely to be non-White, an ethnic White or a northerner, whereas conservatives are more likely to be White people who come from the South and West.

    1. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    2. race != culture

    3. “Sherman’s dashing Yankee boys will never make the coast!”
      So the saucy rebels said and ’twas a handsome boast
      Had they not forgot, alas! to reckon with the Host
      While we were marching through Georgia.

      So we made a thoroughfare for freedom and her train,
      Sixty miles of latitude, three hundred to the main;
      Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain
      While we were marching through Georgia.

    4. If you’re attempting to make the point that people tend to inherit their political beliefs from their family and friends, yes, you’re correct, you have stated the obvious.

      1. You sir are an idiot.

        1. Oh, so that’s not what you were saying? You were attempting to make some kind of crude and stupid racist point or something? Well don’t let me stop you, go on, please.

  13. I feel stupider for having read this article. It just oozes out of the subject matter and their laughably bad procedures.

    Thanks for nothing.

  14. I guess “liberal” State-fellators think we’re all-caps WEIRD. “Imagine–people who think their lives belong to themselves and don’t want to be our serfs! How very odd!”

  15. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,

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  16. I have two dicks

    1. George Washington had – like – 30 goddamned dicks….

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbRom1Rz8OA

      1. I can’t compete with that 🙂

      2. 6 foot 20, weighs a fucking ton. He also had a pocket full of horses and fucked the shit out of bears.

      3. “Father of His Country” takes on a whole new meaning.

  17. I think WIRED is a better acronym for this than WEIRD.

  18. Seems like

    Don’t Tread on Me

    was universally applied, it would be equal to

    Don’t Tread on Anyone

  19. Felicity Miao has to be the best woman’s name ever.

    1. Totally a Bond babe name.

  20. Weird, or Wired?
    Decisions, decisions…..

  21. I’d like to know the crazy people who put the scarf & hand together.

    1. You strangle people with a scarf using your hands.

  22. I think it would be interesting to see the gender split.

  23. tl:dr

    once again, libertarians are the better thinkers. hard to imagine.

    -FFM

  24. “The Haidt team notes that previous research usually did not pull apart the messy strands of economic and social politics that make up people’s political identities. This leads to a problem they call the “libertarian exception.””‘

    Yeah, I’ve noticed that people have a hard time understanding PLAIN FUCKING ENGLISH!

  25. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

  26. Are you talking about the people who vote for liberals or the people that run as liberals?

  27. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

  28. as Stephen answered I didn’t know that any body able to make $9158 in a few weeks on the computer . check my source.. http://www.MoneyKin.Com

  29. pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

  30. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

  31. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

  32. my Aunty Sophia just got a nearly new BMW X4 SUV just by some parttime working online with a lap-top
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

  33. Psychologists? That’s where this article took a U-turn on reason. Psychology is the fad of projecting one’s own fears/desires/dreams via unverifiable, non-reproducible “studies” on an unsuspecting public and calling it science.

  34. my roomate’s half-sister makes $71 /hr on the computer . She has been laid off for 5 months but last month her pay was $17321 just working on the computer for a few hours
    …… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

  35. Besides the old b.s. about libertarians lacking in empathy, this study lost me on applying the same labels of liberal and conservative to study participants in mainland China. Wouldn’t those identifiers have almost opposite meanings in a country that has until recently been communist and totalitarian in both the economic and social realms? (And likely still is in the social sphere.)

    For example, an American conservative might express sympathy for the idea days of the mid-1950s: tighter public morals and censorship of sex in the media, less government handouts, a very aggressive foreign policy, and congressional witch hunts against real and imagined commie sympathizers. A Chinese “conservative” might wish to travel backwards to that same time period would be craving Maoism in full force. By the same token, an American liberal wants the government much more involved in people’s personal lives and private business, while I can imagine a modern Chinese liberal would be desiring increased freedom from the heavy hand of government.

  36. An excellent article by Mr. Bailey after his mental breakdown regarding Global Warming. The subject of why libertarians, liberals and conservative think the way they do is both interesting and practical. Notably, libertarians, whether WEIRD or WIRED, are the most analytical group, and as such, the most evolved, advanced, useful, intelligent and obviously, rare groups of people. Every liberal and conservative idea always suffers from “not thinking that through very well”, and libertarian ideas are always thought through, realistic, reasonable, and workable .

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