Social Science

Liberals, Not Conservatives, Express More Psychoticism

Psychoticism: Uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, socially withdrawn, manipulative, and lack of feelings of inferiority



Social science can be so amusing. There is a bit of a contretemps over several recent articles that used datasets supposedly measuring the personality traits of liberals and conservatives which has resulted in several abashed corrections. The researchers used the data in an effort to show that personality traits are not the cause of political attitudes, but instead both are correlated with some other factor, most likely genetic. Interesting enough. This finding is not what is being corrected.

Instead, what is being corrected is the rather casual assumption in the studies by the researchers that a personality factor identified in the datasets they used is supposedly associated with conservative political views. That factor is called Psychoticism. They hasten to explain that Pyschoticism is not the same thing as psychotic. The original article, "Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies," in the American Journal of Political Science explains:

Having a high Psychoticism score is not a diagnosis of being clinically psychotic or psychopathic. Rather, P is positively correlated with tough-mindedness, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and authoritarianism (Adorno et al. 1950; Altemeyer 1996; Eysenck and Eysenck 1985, McCourt et al. 1999). In social situations, those who score high on P are more uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, and socially withdrawn, but lack feelings of inferiority and have an absence of anxiety. At the extremes, those scoring high on P are manipulative, tough-minded, and practical (Eysenck 1954). By contrast, people low on P are more likely to be more altruistic, well socialized, empathic, and conventional (Eysenck and Eysenck 1985; Howarth 1986). As such, we expect higher P scores to be related to more conservative political attitudes, particularly for militarism and social conservatism.

There is one big problem, as the invaluable Retraction Watch noted: The dataset used in the studies actually found that liberals scored higher on Psychoticism. From the erratum:

The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck's psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.

Whoops! In their errata, the chagrined researchers deploy a cloud of social-science-speak to obscure the fact that the dataset they use actually shows that it is liberals who tend to have a deep and wide mean streak. That is what uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, socially withdrawn, manipulative, and lack of feelings of inferiority means. Does this incident tend to confirm the recent finding that liberals are more simple-minded than conservatives?

For details of this brouhaha, go over to Retraction Watch.

In any case, social science research shows that libertarians are more open to experience, think in more systemizing ways, have a stronger need for cognition, and kowtow less to authority than do conservatives or liberals. Just saying.