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Study discovers Conservatives see things in "Black and White"

Hitler, Mussolini, and former President Ronald Reagan were individuals, but all were right-wing conservatives because they preached a return to an idealized past and condoned inequality in some form.
Researchers help define what makes a political conservative
Kathleen Maclay, July 22, 2003

BERKELEY - Politically conservative agendas may range from supporting the Vietnam War to upholding traditional moral and religious values to opposing welfare. But are there consistent underlying motivations?

Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:

- Fear and aggression
- Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
- Uncertainty avoidance
- Need for cognitive closure

Terror management
"From our perspective, these psychological factors are capable of contributing to the adoption of conservative ideological contents, either independently or in combination," the researchers wrote in an article, "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," recently published in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin.

Assistant Professor Jack Glaser of the University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and Visiting Professor Frank Sulloway of UC Berkeley joined lead author, Associate Professor John Jost of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, and Professor Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland at College Park, to analyze the literature on conservatism.

The psychologists sought patterns among 88 samples, involving 22,818 participants, taken from journal articles, books and conference papers. The material originating from 12 countries included speeches and interviews given by politicians, opinions and verdicts rendered by judges, as well as experimental, field and survey studies.

Ten meta-analytic calculations performed on the material - which included various types of literature and approaches from different countries and groups - yielded consistent, common threads, Glaser said.

The avoidance of uncertainty, for example, as well as the striving for certainty, are particularly tied to one key dimension of conservative thought - the resistance to change or hanging onto the status quo, they said.

The terror management feature of conservatism can be seen in post-Sept. 11 America, where many people appear to shun and even punish outsiders and those who threaten the status of cherished world views, they wrote.

Concerns with fear and threat, likewise, can be linked to a second key dimension of conservatism - an endorsement of inequality, a view reflected in the Indian caste system, South African apartheid and the conservative, segregationist politics of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-South S.C.).

Disparate conservatives share a resistance to change and acceptance of inequality, the authors said. Hitler, Mussolini, and former President Ronald Reagan were individuals, but all were right-wing conservatives because they preached a return to an idealized past and condoned inequality in some form. Talk host Rush Limbaugh can be described the same way.

This research marks the first synthesis of a vast amount of information about conservatism, and the result is an "elegant and unifying explanation" for political conservatism under the rubric of motivated social cognition, said Sulloway. That entails the tendency of people's attitudinal preferences on policy matters to be explained by individual needs based on personality, social interests or existential needs.

The researchers' analytical methods allowed them to determine the effects for each class of factors and revealed "more pluralistic and nuanced understanding of the source of conservatism," Sulloway said.

While most people resist change, Glaser said, liberals appear to have a higher tolerance for change than conservatives do.

As for conservatives' penchant for accepting inequality, he said, one contemporary example is liberals' general endorsement of extending rights and liberties to disadvantaged minorities such as gays and lesbians, compared to conservatives' opposing position.

The researchers said that conservative ideologies, like virtually all belief systems, develop in part because they satisfy some psychological needs, but that "does not mean that conservatism is pathological or that conservative beliefs are necessarily false, irrational, or unprincipled."

They also stressed that their findings are not judgmental.

"In many cases, including mass politics, 'liberal' traits may be liabilities, and being intolerant of ambiguity, high on the need for closure, or low in cognitive complexity might be associated with such generally valued characteristics as personal commitment and unwavering loyalty," the researchers wrote.

This intolerance of ambiguity can lead people to cling to the familiar, to arrive at premature conclusions, and to impose simplistic cliches and stereotypes, the researchers advised.

The latest debate about the possibility that the Bush administration ignored intelligence information that discounted reports of Iraq buying nuclear material from Africa may be linked to the conservative intolerance for ambiguity and or need for closure, said Glaser.

"For a variety of psychological reasons, then, right-wing populism may have more consistent appeal than left-wing populism, especially in times of potential crisis and instability," he said.

Glaser acknowledged that the team's exclusive assessment of the psychological motivations of political conservatism might be viewed as a partisan exercise. However, he said, there is a host of information available about conservatism, but not about liberalism.

The researchers conceded cases of left-wing ideologues, such as Stalin, Khrushchev or Castro, who, once in power, steadfastly resisted change, allegedly in the name of egalitarianism.

Yet, they noted that some of these figures might be considered politically conservative in the context of the systems that they defended. The researchers noted that Stalin, for example, was concerned about defending and preserving the existing Soviet system.

Although they concluded that conservatives are less "integratively complex" than others are, Glaser said, "it doesn't mean that they're simple-minded."

Conservatives don't feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions, he said. "They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm," Glaser said.

He pointed as an example to a 2001 trip to Italy, where President George W. Bush was asked to explain himself. The Republican president told assembled world leaders, "I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right." And in 2002, Bush told a British reporter, "Look, my job isn't to nuance."

See:  http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/07/22_politics.shtml

Libertarians want to END Segregation 25.Jul.2003 08:05

William J. Watkins, Jr

from "The Free Market - The Mises Institute monthly"
December 1995
Volume 13, Number 12

Schools and Judicial Tyranny
William J. Watkins, Jr.

...Neighborhood schools, with a maximum local control, offer parents an opportunity to take an active role in their children's education. For those who are unable to homeschool or send their children to private schools, local control of public schools makes the best out of a bad situation.

A return of local control would mean a REPUDIATION of the statist, centralizing, and egalitarian principles of BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION. But that is exactly what is needed to end judicial control, return to fiscal responsibility, create coherent communities, and reinvigorate an educational system that works for students and parents.

The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, LIBERTARIAN political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Working in the intellectual tradition of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Murray N. Rothbard.

See: www.mises.org/freemarket_detail.asp?control=211

Re: Libertarians Want To END Segregation 25.Jul.2003 08:16

William J. Watkins, Jr

END Segregation? Hell no, by REPUDIATION we mean to RENEW segregation - don't you know that's what Liberty means?

You say that like it's a bad thing... 25.Jul.2003 08:32

Arnold the Pig

At least conservatives don't revise history to fit a trendy political agenda du jour.

Now I don't know a lot about history, or politics either for that matter, but wasn't Hitler considered a counterculturist in a way?

this is news? 25.Jul.2003 11:46

I knowed dat

"Conservatives don't feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions, he said."

Wow. Complex, intellectual hoop jumping, eh? I had not idea I had any parts that were so athletic. Suddenly it sounds very agile and accomplished to simply not radiate a deceptive air of confidence, or to make things fraudulently simple. I guess maybe that's there to soften the blow since it also seems to state that conservatives
may not feel the need to actually understand their positions, in the event the world should happen to have more colors than black and white. But they could have found all this out and then some just by asking anyone who's a bit frustrated with conservatives.

Well, give or take that I still can't quite figure out why they're called conservatives. They don't seem to conserve much. I'm in favor of conserving money and history and natural resources and all kinds of things, and Bush is incredibly liberal with America's money, freedoms, and etc. Why am I not the conservative, and Bush the liberal? Sigh. Sorry, just some of the complex, intellectual hoop jumping there that conservatives do to disguise their positions or dodge heat. When this study gets any deeper, maybe they can study whether conservative leaders actually believe the issues are as simple as they try to make them sound, or whether they themselves actually believe they are as confident as they try to sound. That would be good to work out -- if it's the honest man who says he's not sure and no one wants to hear that, it's the liars and "confidence men" - con artists- that'll get voted in every time.

"At least conservatives don't revise history to fit a trendy political agenda du jour."

Right. Let's go back to the good old days, that Great Depression and that Cold War were sure some good times, weren't they? Thank you Mr. Bush. You comments on historical revisionists and revisionist historians and whatever else you like to call them have already been duly noted, although they do sound kind of tacky coming right in the middle of revising the history of 9-11 and why we're in Iraq. "It was the weapons... uh sorry, we meant, it was the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection.... no? People aren't going to buy that one forever? Oh. So... Okay, uh... we said it was, the weapons programs... what? weather balloons? really?... okay, so... wait, it was... the oil? oh wait. Shhhh. Wolfowitz, don't say it was the oil. No, it wasn't that, it was... we said it was... um... um... well, let me put it this way, it was a good thing to do, but it was all the CIA's fault..."

cartoon illustrating how Libertarians deal with non-white people 25.Jul.2003 14:13


sad but true

Comics? 25.Jul.2003 14:37

Arnold the Pig

So, does this mean that because it's in a cartoon it must be true? Or maybe you're finally figuring out how to "know" your audience?

Interesting, but 26.Jul.2003 00:14


I have not read the original paper by Glaser etal; so, I don't know if they use the word "terror". In the current political climate, I would think its use in the context of this research to be unethical. Also, it would be unethical for Maclay to inject it into the story; alternately, she would be irresponsible to repeat it without comment.

One cannot legitimately say, "[t]he terror management feature of conservatism can be seen in post-Sept. 11 America", because the shunning and punishing of outsiders, the very definition of those outsiders, was so clearly orchestrated and directed by political forces.

Besides, scientific research ought never use such emotionally (and politically) charged words as "terror", especially when the field has a traditional, respected term such as "fear".

To conjure up Stalin as a "left-wing ideologue", and to say he "might be considered politically conservative", reveal an ignorance of Stalinist and Russian politics which moves me to distrust their understanding of "conservative".

Their ignorance (as presented by this article) about the politics and career of Fidel Castro is even more profound ... more fantasy than ignorance.

Furthermore, "left-wing ideologue" is not the same thing as "left-wing" and it makes no sense here, except in the most careless sort of way. I'm wondering whether Glaser etal said it -- either expression, or whether Maclay inserted it.

Earlier, they use (it is quoted) the term, "unwavering loyalty", where "blind obedience" is surely more accurate. ...

I have seen these same sorts of terms (I'm dredging old memories) associated with a proposed personality trait, "F-score". The "F" stands for Fascist. The proposed trait won't go away, despite being 'commonly' discredited.

I read above and see the concept proposed, at least by Maclay, in such careless terms as to invite being discredited, once again.

Is that the intent? Or is it that Glaser/Maclay simply don't understand ... something ... well enough to present credible research?

see : The Educational System Was Designed to Keep Us Uneducated and Docile


More on the F-score 26.Jul.2003 01:23


Searching for "F-score" on google yields thousands of matches, of which only the one of the first 100 is relevant.

Searching for "F-score" with "Adorno" returns nine links :

 link to www.google.ca

The second and third, by Jon Jay Ray, University of New South Wales, among other things, sort of say, F-score is discredited, although it won't go away, and it definitely measures something, and it was being used in credible research at least until the late 1980s.

The first is the same as the only relevant one in the more general search :


'' Fifty years ago, the Authoritarian Personality studies attempted to "construct an instrument that would yield an estimate of fascist receptivity at the personality level." ''

Chuck Anesi presents an online self-test, a table to interpret your score, and "The following table shows the personality variables the F Scale attempted to measure, and the questions in the F Scale instrument that were deemed to measure these variables" (I have extracted the 'variables') :

Conventionalism : Rigid adherence to conventional, middle-class values.

Authoritarian Submission : Submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the ingroup.

Authoritarian Aggression : Tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values.

Anti-intraception : Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded.

Superstition and Stereotypy : The belief in mystical determinants of the individual's fate; the disposition to think in rigid categories.

Power and "Toughness" : Preoccupation with the dominance-submission, strong-weak, leader-follower dimension; identification with power figures; overemphasis upon the conventionalized attributes of the ego; exaggerated assertion of strength and toughness.

Destructiveness and Cynicism : Generalized hostility, vilification of the human.

Projectivity : The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses.

Sex : Exaggerated concern with sexual "goings-on."

Followers of Doonsbury might remember Duke.
Followers of politics might remember Newt Gingrich.

Anesi finishes with this :

'' Well, there you have it. For more information, consult T. W. Adorno et al., The Authoritarian Personality (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1950). It should be noted here that that the authors concluded that it had "still to be demonstrated" if the F-scale actually did, in fact, measure fascist receptivity at a personality level. They were sure it measured something --- but not exactly sure what. T. W. Adorno returned to the University of Frankfurt, where he amused himself as a principal figure in the Frankfurt school of "critical theory", producing a Freudian-Marxist melange of pseudo-scientific speculative foolishness that is now, thank God, thoroughly discredited. ''

Note that it is the "Freudian-Marxist melange" which Anesi claims is discredited. And some folks thought he is credible enough to convene an international conference, last year, at York University :


'' Since his death in 1969, Adorno's oeuvre has been subjected to two main lines of engagement. On the one hand, critics have found fault with Adorno's alleged cultural elitism, his totalizing—and therefore unworkable—critique of reason, and his political resignation. On the other hand, defenders of Adorno have sought consistently to retrieve and extend the range of Adorno's contributions to radical social theory.

'' In the last decade, a marked attempt has come to the fore to advance key aspects of Adorno's thought in such areas as ethics, aesthetics, and politics. The Symposium seeks to contribute to this renewed interest in Adorno's work. In light of globalization, the intensified commodification of culture and concomitant instrumentalization of human relations, and finally the impoverishment of the political sphere and organized alternatives to the status quo, Adorno's critiques—like a message in a bottle—persist as essential insights into our immediate situation. ''

A google search for Adorno indicates that, outside the USA, he is far from discredited :

 link to www.google.ca

This link might be a good start (although the bibliography of works in English is unfortunately gone) :


In defence of Adorno's F-score, he was working at a time when Fascism was still hidden in a cloud of hysteria, war-time propaganda, and outright disinformation, and when US politics and culture was battered by Red-scare, black-listing, HUAC was not quite underway : the kind of society where an Marxist academic would be discredited, qua Marxist, before ever uttering a word; the kind of society, although in deep denial, where his research was describing the official cultural norm.

In short, it was virtually impossible for him, in USA at the time, to define what he sought; and he would have been crucified, if he had found it. Perhaps he was.

The F-score was revived, in the sixties, and some research was conducted by explicitly leftist sociologists. As JJ Ray indicates above, despite being called discredited, it continued in credible use, at least until the late 1980s, and for all I know until the present day.

Here, in Glaser etal, as presented by Maclay, we have the same general concepts, now tied to "conservative", in a way which seems all too likely to become discredited.

A bit more up to date 26.Jul.2003 14:17

Mulbery Sellers

You might find Robert Altemeyer's "The Authoritarian Specter" interesting. Altemeyer has been researching authoritarian attitudes for many years, and has developed a survey for these that has more empirical backing than Adorno's work.

A worthwhile though scary read.

"...At least conservatives don't revise history...? 26.Jul.2003 21:32


That's interesting when you consider the fact that conservatives are revise history to
suit their agendas every day.

Whaddya mean? 27.Jul.2003 00:31

Arnold the Pig

What do you mean by that? Conservatives are MAKING the history right now!

Mulbery 27.Jul.2003 03:59


Thank you.
Very, very much!
Altemeyer was the key link which I needed.

The (only) review posted by the publisher is horribly ironic :


This German student, Friedrich Funke, may be onto something.
The PDF (in slightly fractured English) is 306 KB :


Jon Jay Ray pops again, claiming to refute Altemeyer. However,
he just waves his arms real fast whilst spraying a thin mist
of sophistry.

Scanning his 'LEFTIST MOTIVATIONS' is instructive.
Look for a Libertarian, if you want to see a stereotypical
(almost cruelly caricatured) product of the schools Gatto
describes (OZ has them too).


arnold's half right 27.Jul.2003 13:59


The current administration is not conservative in any traditional sense of the word, but they are making up history, every day, as they change their stories about the reasons for invading and occupying Iraq.

Argh 28.Jul.2003 00:17

Arnold the Pig

This is how you people make me feel:

A part of the problem 28.Jul.2003 01:28


'concerned' has put his finger on a part the problem.

There is, no longer, any traditional sense of the word, "conservative".

When and where I went to school, "conservative" refered to forces,
in the 18th and 19th centuries (ce), which had sought to preserve
the "Divine Right of Kings" and the hegemonies of the "aristocracy"
and of the dregs of the Roman Empire; "liberal" refered to those
who had sought to overthrow them.

There even developed political parties who called themselves,
more or less legitimately, Conservative and Liberal.

To use "conservatives" as the example : they sought to preserve
the past, as the word suggests. The past was also "authoritarian"
and "inequal" and "nationalist". And a bunch of other things.

We are no longer fighting for or against the decendants of the
barbarian conquerors of Europe.

However, those who claim to teach us still use these meaningless
words. They, and we, attempt to form theories about our world,
based on definitions extracted from dictionaries and ancient legends.

Our theories don't work.

They are nonsense.

Which is just fine for the owners.