A Psychology of Liberals and Conservatives

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt presents five moral values he claims form the basis of our political choices, whether we’re left, right or center. Haidt isolates the moral values that liberals and conservatives tend to honor most. What’s interesting to me are those values we generally share with our opponents (harm/care, and fairness/reciprocity) that we don’t take advantage of to find common cause – our differences have been discussed at length elsewhere. I think you’ll find the talk interesting and entertaining, but if your computer is like mine, the sound comes on very loud at the beginning (you’ve been warned). Haidt has a test you can take to see how you score.

12 thoughts on “A Psychology of Liberals and Conservatives

  1. I did a DailyKos diary entry on Haidt’s paper in Science a while back. It has a bit more detail, a link to one of the charts and a link to Haidt’s original article at:

    Another interesting paper in Science, more recently, suggests that people who startle more strongly and gross out more easily are more likely to be conservatives.

    Is it nature, nurture or just plain old fashioned evil?

  2. I thought this talk was fascinating. Thank you so much for posting it!

    I think it applies incredibly well to what is going on in Gaza at the moment. Personally, I cannot fully support, nor fully condemn, either side. I am horribly distressed with what is going on, but I feel there is some fundamental, important truth on both sides and I have yet to read or hear anyone talk about how to reconcile these truths and find a road toward a real, sustainable peace.

  3. Ooo, he talked about the Hsin Hsin Ming. Cool.

    The Hsin Hsin Ming isn’t a suggestion that we float through life in a fog of indecision. The famous line “To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind” points to finding equanimity between attraction and aversion, and to not divide the world up into what you “identify” with and what you don’t. But the value of loyalty to a group or tribe is in opposition to that — choosing what’s right or wrong based on what side you are loyal to. You see that clearly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the loyalists are blind to the wrongdoings on their side and only see the wrongdoings on the other side. Disease of the mind, indeed.

    I think group loyalty is a kind of vestigial morality. I can see that it is useful to ensure the survival of a tribe, but in the 21st century it has little other function except to induce group insanity.

  4. As a father, I have often marveled at the pre-school trait that my kids have exhibited to be young lawyers, arguing a case with sometimes flawed, but totally earnest conviction and occasionally briliant logic. And I wondered, where does it come from…

  5. Among many other interesting points regarding the evolution of morality, Haidt stated that without punishment there is chaos and suggested that conservative tendencies have unified people and reduced chaos at points in history. I found myself gritting my teeth listening to that until I detached myself from our recent political landscape, realizing that he is speaking in the most general way and also that what has posed as conservatism for the last 8 years is something altogether different and possibly even nascent fascism.

  6. Over at the Edge.org website, Roger Schank replied to Haidt’s ideas by writing that at the street level, the “conservatives” he dealt with every day in his community were xenophobic, racist, and narrow minded.That is the practical consequence of the broader “moral matrix”. It results in modern tribalism. We (and the Iraqis) are paying a huge price for this.

  7. Hmm what about people like my sister, who startle at the drop of a hat but don’t get grossed out at all. Hell, she’s planning to become a surgeon.

    Anyhow, on that test I rate very high on fairness and harm and near zero on everything else.

  8. Without the tribalism inherent in most humans we’d be more like cats than dogs. I’d rather train a dog to herd my sheep. Comes with the territory of being social animals I guess. But Republicans have obviously been better at spotting and herding potentially useful sheep.

    How else could many small government bathtub drowners unequivocally defend Bush during his campaign to build an ever larger government on the backs of American children, only to then turn 180 and criticize him as being “too liberal” after some ‘anointed’ authority decreed so?

    I’ve been able to successfully use logic on these creatures, in some cases, but the ‘call of the tribe’ makes things an uphill battle.

  9. “I’ve been able to successfully use logic on these creatures, in some cases, but the ‘call of the tribe’ makes things an uphill battle.”

    You didn’t pay attention to the video, did you?

    A main point: The beliefs of those “creatures” are as valid as your own.

    The beliefs that Obama is a terrorist, Muslim, Arab, communist, homosexual, child molester, radical black, not really black, with a fake American birth certificate are morally equivalent to your own. And you should accept that ideas like this should not just be respected but are necessary for the proper functioning of our society.

    Oh yeah, and don’t forget that Sarah Palin is an expert on Russia.

    Needless to say, the video was a comedy routine, don’t take it seriously.

  10. But I’ll admit that this little devil prefers to assist in accelerating the drain circling of movement conservatism. ; )

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