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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Liberals, Conservatives, and Complexity

Lucian Conway and colleagues have an article at Political Psychology titled "Are Conservatives Really More Simple-Minded than Liberals? The Domain Specificity of Complex Thinking."  The abstract:
Prior research suggests that liberals are more complex than conservatives. However, it may be that liberals are not more complex in general, but rather only more complex on certain topic domains (while conservatives are more complex in other domains). Four studies (comprised of over 2,500 participants) evaluated this idea. Study 1 involves the domain specificity of a self-report questionnaire related to complexity (dogmatism). By making only small adjustments to a popularly used dogmatism scale, results show that liberals can be significantly more dogmatic if a liberal domain is made salient. Studies 2–4 involve the domain specificity of integrative complexity. A large number of open-ended responses from college students (Studies 2 and 3) and candidates in the 2004 Presidential election (Study 4) across an array of topic domains reveals little or no main effect of political ideology on integrative complexity, but rather topic domain by ideology interactions. Liberals are higher in complexity on some topics, but conservatives are higher on others. Overall, this large dataset calls into question the typical interpretation that conservatives are less complex than liberals in a domain-general way.
Full text here. 

The authors find that conservatives are dogmatic on religion, liberals on environmentalism.
[C]onsider that for dogmatism, liberals scored higher on the following questions:
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are for the truth that the planet is warming and those who are against that obvious truth. 
When it comes to stopping global warming, it is better to be a dead hero than a live coward.
A person who thinks primarily of his/her own happiness, and in so doing disregards the health of the environment (for example, trees and other animals), is beneath contempt.
The subjective tone of those statements is not merely “I am an environmentalist” but rather “all people who disagree with me are fools.” In these and other items from the scale, liberals are consenting to (1) categorizing the world into only two kinds of people, those that are right and those that are wrong, (2) a scorn of those unwilling to die for a cause, (3) a belief that persons who disagree with them are “beneath contempt,” (4) a belief that the only method for understanding the truth is to rely on experts, (5) an expression that true living involves believing in their cause, and (6) an appeal to the
temporal urgency of the cause. Those are not just statements about having an environmental position: They are explicitly and overwhelmingly dogmatic statements. And liberals are more likely to agree with such sentiments—for an environmental domain.