Sunday, December 5, 2010

To Be Fair: A Methodology Critique in Defense of Those Wascally Wepublicans (Commentary)

Elsewhere I have referenced a study that suggests political conservatism is a mild form of insanity. To be fair, I came across this critique and decided the rules of evidence compel its disclosure.

Smith's critique has valid points of argument. Still, I think Jost is on to something: maybe it is simply confirmation bias (a factor amply argued by Smith), but the psychological factors underpinning Jost's motivated cognition model jibe with my personal observation [admittedly non-professional].

A Methodology Critique in Defense of Those Wascally Wepublicans (Commentary): "IronShrink - Restoring your faith in psychology on brilliant answer at a time...
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January 16, 2007
Denver Psychologist
Dr. Shawn Smith

A Methodology Critique in Defense of Those Wascally Wepublicans

(Part 1 of 3)

You may have heard the news by now. People who hold conservative political opinions are suffering from a syndrome in need of a cure. How do we know this? Because a professor of psychology has demonstrated it to be so. The news has been getting a lot of press lately.

Since his graduate school days, John T. Jost, who currently holds position as an Associate Professor of Psychology at New York University, has been studying the reasons by which people adopt conservative political ideology. His most publicized achievement is a 2003 article titled Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition (from here on out, I’ll refer to it as “the study.”) It was touted in the February issue of Psychology Today (Dixit, 2007) as, “the most comprehensive review of personality and political orientation to date.”

Don’t confuse comprehensiveness with integrity. The study maligns half of the U.S. population and much of the population of the world. Research resulting in mass vilification always causes the Iron Shrink to raise an eyebrow, so I examined the methodology that the authors used to arrive at their conclusion. Regular readers will know that I have little tolerance for intellectual sloppiness.

Regular readers will also know that it is not my habit to tear down the work of others. Doing so takes little talent and too much of that sort of thing rightfully drives people away. But at times, one must defend the integrity of one’s profession.

What They Discovered

Jost, along with his co-authors Jack Glaser, Arie Kruglanski, and Frank Sulloway (“the authors”), concluded that there is “a clear tendency for conservatives to score higher on measures of dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, needs for order, structure, and closure and to be lower in openness to experience and integrative complexity than [are] moderates and liberals” (Jost, 2006, p. 662). In other words, conservatives are pigheaded, closed minded, anal retentive, and less intelligent than everyone else. The authors also believe that conservative ideology is driven by “the psychological management of uncertainty and fear” (p. 369).
There is “a clear tendency for conservatives to score higher on measures of dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, needs for order, structure, and closure and to be lower in openness to experience and integrative complexity than [are] moderates and liberals.”

The study has received glowing reviews from the field of psychology. In its uncritical account of the piece, Psychology Today made reference to its “impeccable methodology” (p. 84). In a short piece ironically titled Psychological Science is Not Politically Correct, the president of the American Psychological Association cited the study as an example of “high quality behavioral research” (Koocher, 2006).

Impeccable methodology? High quality research? Let’s look at the research methods that have the experts all atwitter. But first, I ask for your informed consent.

Buyer Beware

I generally keep free from political ideology because it is irrelevant to discussions on general psychology. But this topic is different. Political beliefs are at the core of the issue, and politics can motivate writers (like me) or researchers (like the authors) toward comfortable conclusions.

One of the most basic responsibilities of a psychologist is to provide informed consent. In my clinic, I have a legal duty to explain my methods and remind clients that I’m not the ultimate authority. That responsibility doesn’t extend to this website, but I think you have a right to know my political leanings before you read any further. Telling you is the right thing to do, so here goes...

I am a libertarian and a capitalist. I trust the free market more than I will ever trust government policy makers or university professors. I have noticed that social programs work only up to a point, after which they create resentment and entitlement in recipients. I find it unconstitutional that gays are not allowed to marry and I am reluctantly pro-choice. Ayn Rand was a sexy goddess and Ronald Reagan was correct when he said that government is the problem, not the solution. And yes, I voted for George W. Bush because his policies were, and sadly still are, better than the alternative.

Now you know where I stand and you’re free to dismiss me as a ranting extremist. Jost and his colleagues offer no such courtesy. They give the appearance of harmless, objective observers rather than armed combatants in the war of ideas.

A Brief Outline

Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition is a long, complex analysis of 88 studies that have examined conservative ideology. It weighs in at a hefty 37 pages and 23,000 densely-packed, agonizing words. (I put myself through a lot for my readers.) It examines more than 20 theories, contains complex statistical operations, and is peppered with political opinion and historical threads. Copyright law prohibits me from providing you with the study, but you should be able to find it at any university library. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to sum it up briefly.

The authors begin by summarizing the struggle of social scientists and psychologists to understand conservatism over the last half century. The rise of Marxism and World War Two figure prominently in this struggle. They point out that there has been no such effort to understand political liberals – that population has barely been studied. The authors hypothesize that the beliefs of conservatives are defined both by psychological needs and by practical motivations.

They offer a two-part definition of conservatism that serves as the foundation for their study and establishes the parameters for the theories and the data they examine. They hypothesize that a meta-analysis [1] of previous studies will reveal that “people embrace political conservatism (at least in part) because it serves to reduce fear, anxiety, and uncertainty; to avoid change, disruption, and ambiguity; and to explain order, and justify inequality among groups and individuals” (p. 340).

The authors outline theories that have been developed by others to explain conservatism, and they describe some of the measures that have been developed to test those theories. After analyzing 48 pieces of literature containing 88 samples, the authors boast that “almost all of our specific hypotheses were corroborated” (p. 366). Unfortunately, proving themselves right involved at least three very serious methodological flaws.

The first methodological flaw is basing the entirety of their work on a definition of conservatism that is both maligning and simplistic. The second is a biased and unrepresentative description of the population of conservatives, including a selective use, disregard, and reassignment of statistical outliers. The third is a degree of confirmation bias that is baffling in its depth.

Let’s take them one at a time.

Methodological Flaw #1: “Webster’s Dictionary Defines Conservatism as…”

If I were setting out to understand a complex social phenomena such as conservatism, I would want to get to know conservatives. I’d want to talk to them and watch them. I would ask open-ended questions about their thoughts on government. I’d try to find out how they relate to their families, friends, and communities. I’d ask about their educations and their religions. I’d look at their voting patterns, the history of their ideology, and their desires for the future. And that’s just off the top of my head.

I would absolutely not forgo all of that in favor of a Webster’s dictionary definition. Yet, that is precisely what the authors did. Worse still, they used a Webster’s dictionary from 1958. (I own a 1949 edition. I’m poised for some serious research, baby!)

The authors’ dictionary states that conservatism “stresses the disposition and tendency to preserve what is established” and “the disposition in politics to maintain the existing order” (p. 342). That’s the first of their two-part definition of conservatism.

The second part concerns equality. Turning to the sentiments of others who have written about conservatives, the authors endorse opinions such as, “the left favours greater equality, while the right sees society as inevitably hierarchical” (p. 342).

Resistance to change and promotion of inequality. That’s the study’s definition of conservatism. It provides the foundation for the research they sought out and the hypotheses they sought to confirm. Let’s look at each of “the two core aspects of conservatism” (p. 343).

Conservatives Resist Change

The authors rely on little more than their dictionary to support this half of their definition. Other evidence that conservatives resist change comes from previous writers who have used similar definitions. If enough people repeat it, it must be true.

This description of conservatism is childishly simplistic and demonstrably inaccurate. To be sure, some conservatives resist some changes. But they also favor changes that are resisted by liberals, who are characterized in the study as open-minded and groovy. (Liberals exhibit “the highest levels of integrative complexity and flexibility” [p. 356]; “tolerance is an important attribute of the cultural worldview for [liberals] but not [conservatives]” [p. 365]; and conservatives are “prevention-oriented” whereas liberals are “promotion-oriented” [p. 348].)

One example of change favored by conservatives is the Fair Tax initiative. American conservatives tend to support the abolition of the IRS in favor of a system that would change the face of federal funding. It is perhaps the most profound change initiative in the public arena, and it is liberals who resist it.
It’s a complex world and sometimes we all want to rearrange the furniture.

Another example is public school vouchers. Conservatives would like to upend the administration of public education. Liberals vehemently resist this change.

A third example is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some Republicans (18%; 6 Senators) resisted this change while 31% of the Democratic majority (21 Senators) filibustered and tried to kill the act. Democrats such as Mike Mansfield (Senate Majority Leader), Robert Byrd and Albert Gore Senior resisted that change.

We could go on with examples of changes that conservatives would like to see, changes that liberals resist, and vice-versa. People seek change when it suits them, and they avoid it when it doesn’t. It’s a complex world and sometimes we all want to rearrange the furniture.

There is a massive body of research concerning change behavior. Since the authors base their argument on the assumption that attitude toward change is one of two variables that define political allegiance, one would expect them to have consulted that literature. Instead, they ignored it in favor of a 45-year-old dictionary and a collection of self-affirming critiques on conservative ideology.

Conservatives Support Inequality

This half of the definition relies on the opinions of previous writers and it is an unfortunate illustration of political naiveté. Views on equality comprise perhaps the single most important delineation between conservatives and liberals. It is not a particularly subtle distinction, but it eludes the grade school definition used in the study. The ongoing debate regarding equality – and I’m not sure how the authors managed to miss this – is a debate of over equality of outcomes versus equality of opportunity.

In America, conservative ideology tends to fight for equality of opportunity. Conservatives want everyone to have an equal chance at success. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to fight for equality of outcome. They want everyone to be equally comfortable.

We can’t have both. Equality of opportunity means that there will be inequality of outcome. Some people are more talented or will work harder than others. Conversely, equality of outcome means that there can be no equality of opportunity. In order for everyone to reach the finish line at the same time, some must be hobbled.

The authors’ juvenile definition of conservatism captures none of this nuance, which is vitally important to understanding the differences between conservative and liberal ideology. Americans on both sides of the aisle take equality very seriously. By framing the issue in such simplistic terms, the authors play on emotions and paint conservatives as aristocratic and oppressive.

What’s more, this simplistic definition limits the populations and the studies to be included in the meta-analysis. If you define conservatives as those who support inequality, then you will focus on studies concerning conservative anti-egalitarianism. Ditto for resistance to change. What about other issues?

What about conservative attitudes on micro- and macro-economics? The role of government? The role of business? International policy? Work habits and productivity? Individual rights and responsibility? These seem like important considerations in the definition of a political ideology.

By ignoring inconvenient issues in their definition of conservatism, the authors have fixed the game from the outset. That’s just the beginning of the methodological problems.

Methodological Flaw #2: Finding the “Right” Populations

Statistical operations, no matter how complex, can’t add quality or objectivity. Like a food processor, they can only operate on what the user inserts. If the ingredients are biased, simplistic, or incomplete, so will be the results. Accurate data begins with accurate selection of study participants.
Statistical operations, no matter how complex, can’t add quality or objectivity. Like a food processor, they can only operate on what the user inserts.

One common problem in sample selection is the lack of willing participants, and so researchers frequently resort to populations of convenience. Undergraduate college students are arguably the most heavily studied segment of the population because they are readily available on college campuses, where this type of research typically takes place, and they can be enticed. This sometimes makes it difficult to generalize the findings to the larger population, particularly in matters involving maturity and experience.

A second problem is in defining the target population from which the study sample will be drawn. Before researchers can study a phenomenon, they need to understand what it looks like in the general population. Often, going into a study, they don’t know whether their sample will be representative of the population in question because the population is still somewhat undefined.

For example, in earliest studies of schizophrenia, researchers were unclear about prevalence and symptomology of the disease in the general population. There were many unanswered questions, and this made it difficult to find study participants who were representative of the population of schizophrenia sufferers.

If a researcher doesn’t understand the population in question, he or she may draw an unrepresentative sample and end up studying the wrong thing. Of course, sometimes the population is quite well defined, but the researchers don’t bother to do their homework.

A third problem in sample selection is the presence of statistical outliers. These are people who are so endowed with the quality being measured that they skew the data, much like the genius in high school who blew the grading curve on math tests. These folks must be accounted for statistically. If not, the results of the study cannot be generalized to the larger population.

Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition suffers from each of these problems. In sample selection, population definition, and handling of outliers, we find examples of egregious methodology. Let's look at each.

Sample Selection Bias: Psychology Majors Ain’t CEOs

The authors report that “sixty percent of the samples are exclusively composed of college or university student populations, but they account for only 37% of the total number of research participants included in our review” (p. 352). 53 of the 88 population samples were composed exclusively of undergraduate college students.

It’s rather meaningless to point out that undergraduate students comprised only 37% of the subjects across studies (even though that’s still a phenomenally inflated sample pool, given that the U.S. Census Bureau (1999) reported that college students comprise roughly one half of one percent of the general population). What really matters in a meta-analysis is each study’s effect size, not the distribution of subjects across studies. Even though effect sizes are weighted (meaning that studies with larger numbers of participants count more), meta-analysis measures the simplified results of multiple studies, not the actual participants or particularities of those studies. Effect sizes go in, effect sizes come out [2].

Alan Kazdin (2003), author of one of the most widely accepted textbooks on research design, discusses the problem of using undergrads in psychological research:

“Typically, students are enticed into participation in an experiment by receiving credit toward an undergraduate psychology course, by being given monetary incentives, or by being solicited as volunteers by experimenters who circulate among psychology classes. An issue of concern is whether the findings obtained with college students will generalize to other samples (p. 101).”

According to the research, says Kazdin, those who volunteer for experiments tend to be, among other things, higher in need for social approval, more socially active, less authoritarian, less conforming, more altruistic, more self-disclosing, and are more maladjusted when volunteering for experiments that involve unusual situations (p. 103). Each of these factors could greatly confound studies concerning dogmatism, openness to experience, and the other characteristics sought after by the authors. However, they seem to have made no effort to explain or account for these possible interactions.

Another potential problem is the possibility that undergrads tend to be – pardon my bluntness – politically, professionally, and economically illiterate. I know I was. For the most part, this tiny segment of the population has little or no experience of life outside the safety of academia. They have not been educated by the real-world trials that shape political ideology over the course of a lifetime.

In addition, there’s good reason to believe that students spend most of their educational career with left-leaning public school teachers and college professors [3]. This is another source of subject selection bias and a potential source of interaction; the authors acknowledge this (p. 366).

Ill-Defined Study Populations and Creative Use of Statistical Outliers

Before the authors could measure the negative traits associated with conservatism, they had to define the target population. What societies exemplify conservatism? Which ones illustrate liberalism? What historical figures serve as useful examples? Admittedly, the answers to these questions are subjective, but what the authors came up with doesn’t comport with my history books.

The face of conservatism, some say.

In their attempt to identify the qualities of left-leaning or socialist populations, the authors lament that “unfortunately, little or no empirical data are available from the major communist or formerly communist countries such as China, Russia, and Cuba” (p. 343). They thus eliminate leftist outliers from their data pool.

Nevertheless, they say, “we have made a special effort to seek out and incorporate results obtained in 12 different countries, including those with historical influences of socialism or communism,” including Sweden, Poland, East Germany, West Germany, Italy, England, Canada, and Israel. All of these, despite their “historical influences” are currently pleasant, peaceful, productive countries. If you are an American liberal, this is your comparison group.

In their search for examples of right-leaning populations, the authors turn to Hitler’s Germany [4], Stalin’s Russia, and Pinochet’s Chile. If you are an American conservative, your comparison group contains the likes of Dr. Mengele. In a separate article, Jost (2006, p. 658) painted what most people consider to be mainstream, thoughtful conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, and Barry Goldwater as right-wing “fringe activists.”

In this meta-analysis, left-leaning populations are devoid of ideological extremists or statistical outliers, while the right is defined almost exclusively by outliers. The authors quote Robert Altemeyer's feigned attempt to locate left-wing dictators:

“I have yet to find a single ‘socialist/Communist type’ who scores highly (in absolute terms) on the [Left-Wing Authoritarianism] Scale.... the ‘authoritarian on the left’ has been as scarce as hens’ teeth in my samples” (p. 353; brackets in original).

Perhaps the reason that Altemeyer is unable to locate authoritarian leftists is because this line of research tends to plead the Fifth (as with China and Cuba) or define them away (as with Communist Russia).

Perhaps the reason that Altemeyer is unable to locate authoritarian leftists is because this line of research tends to plead the Fifth (as with China and Cuba) or define them away (as with Communist Russia). You may be wondering how the authors managed to lump Stalin in with conservatives, thereby avoiding the sticky business of Marxist authoritarians. The authors explain that Stalin,

“…secretly admired Hitler and identified with several right-wing causes (including anti-Semitism). In the Soviet context, Stalin was almost certainly to the right of his political rivals, most notably Trotsky. In terms of his psychological makeup as well, Stalin appears to have had much in common with right-wing extremists” (p. 343).

So there ya’ go. Stalin was less Marxist than others, mind readers have determined that he had a crush on Hitler, and he kinda looked like a conservative by our defnition. Ergo, Stalin was a conservative. Impeccable logic.

Let’s review the ideological assumptions that underlie the study’s sample selection: left wing societies are best represented by contemporary Sweden, while right-wing societies are exemplified by Nazi Germany. Joseph Stalin – the same Stalin who murdered tens of thousands under the banner of Karl Marx – is a conservative, while Milton Friedman – who earned the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on consumption analysis – is a right-wing fringe activist. Meanwhile, authoritarianism does not exist on the left, or at least it can’t be located because there are no records of such things. Mao? Castro? Lenin? Guevara? Chávaz? Pol Pot? Never heard of ‘em.

Now that’s creative use of statistical outliers! The authors have built a wonderful foundation and are set to prove their point. All that’s needed to complete the job is a healthy does of confirmation bias.

Methodological Flaw #3: May I Help You Find What You're Looking For?

It seems as though the authors weren’t interested in studying conservatives as much as they were interested in studying the opinions that liberals hold in regard to conservatives. Many of the theories included in the meta-analysis stem from the work of Theodor Adorno. The authors themselves appear to embrace Adorno's ideas, though they never openly admit as much. They don’t tell us much about Adorno other than a brief, offhand observation that he was a member of the Frankfurt School. They also explain that he “sought to integrate Marxist theories of ideology and social structure with Freudian theories of motivation and personality development to explain the rise of fascism throughout Europe in the 1930s and 1940s” (p. 345).

As a member of the Frankfurt School, Adorno was a Marxist ideologue, a vehement anti-capitalist, and a supporter of communism. Among his beliefs were that humans are motivated by fear. This is the same conclusion reached by the authors, with the exception that the authors confine this shortcoming to contemporary conservatives. Adorno’s beliefs are the ideological thread that connect many of the theories the authors chose to include in their meta-analysis. How did they go about confining fear-based motivation to conservatives? By forgoing open-ended research in favor of a narrow, almost incestuous lineage of ideologically-charged political theory.

Take the example of Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) theory, which figures prominently in the study and is held up as an unquestioned explanation for conservative ideology. RWA theory was advanced by the Frankfurt School and seeks to explain the development of fascist cultures. According to RWA theory,

“harsh parenting styles brought on by economic hardship led entire generations to repress hostility toward authority figures and to replace it with an exaggerated deference and idealization of authority and tendencies to blame society scapegoats and punish deviants” (p. 345).

If this seems overly complex and theoretical, the kind of pointy-headed, impractical nonsense that only a privileged intellectual could devise, it is. There are too many unanswerable questions for this to be supported empirically. How is “harsh parenting style” quantified? Where is the evidence that entire generations “repressed” hostility? Is it possible to locate a repressed hostile act in a person’s brain? What is “exaggerated deference” and how is it quantified? What is the mechanism by which one feeling is “replaced” by another, and how is that measured? How does one measure scapegoating? And how can all of these questions be brought together into a coherent, empirically-supported theory?

The questions can go on and on, but one gets the sense that the answers don’t really matter to the authors. And never mind that theories such as this fly in the face of demands for parsimony (the rule that researchers should accept simple explanations over more complex ones). Once a theory like this takes hold, others begin to repeat it and devise measures to support it.

For example, Robert Altemeyer, following the theories of Adorno, has devised ways of measuring obedience to authority in an attempt to “test” RWA theory. When such measures support the theory, they tend to be adopted into the body of work (recall the above quotation in which Altemeyer concludes that, according to his measures, there are no authoritarians on the left). Eventually, a mountain of patchwork evidence accumulates for supporters.

The beauty of theories like RWA is that, while they can’t be proved, they can never be disproved. Once a group of theorists and researchers begin quoting and citing each other, the body of work takes on an air of legitimacy, regardless of the quality of empirical evidence.

The upshot of all this? When researchers look for evidence to support their theories (as opposed to searching for objective truth) they tend to find it. Using just that approach for each of the following, the authors found affirming evidence in 22 domains of “research” that has accumulated regarding conservatives. They are:

* The theory of Right-Wing Authoritarianism (see above)
* Intolerance of Ambiguity (in relation to conservative prejudice)
* Mental Rigidity, Dogmatism, and Closed Mindedness (as characteristics of conservatives)
* The Theory of Ideo-Affective Polarity (black and white thinking in conservatives)
* A Dynamic Theory of Conservatism as Uncertainty Avoidance
* Regulatory Focus Theory (a theory related to parenting styles that explains the supposed lack of closeness in conservative homes and other conservative characteristics)
* Terror Management Theory (fear of death as a motivation for conservative ideology)
* Social Dominance Theory (group subjugation as a conservative goal)
* System Justification Theory (blind self-interest as a motivation for conservative ideology)
* Dogmatism (as a characteristic of conservatives)
* Intolerance of Ambiguity (in relation to ethnocentrism in conservatives)
* Integrative Complexity (the conservative lack of, including the desire to obtain new information)
* Openness to Experience (the conservative lack of)
* Uncertainty Avoidance (as a motivation for conservative ideology)
* Personal Needs for Order and Structure (as a characteristic of conservatives)
* Need for Cognitive Closure (as a characteristic of conservatives)
* Threats to Self-Esteem (as a motivation for conservative ideology)
* Fear, Anger, and Aggression (motivations of conservatism)
* Pessimism, Disgust, and Contempt (characteristics of conservatives)
* Fear and Prevention Loss (as motivations for conservative ideology)
* Fear of Death (as motivations for conservative ideology)
* Threats to the Stability of the Social System (as a motivation for conservative ideology)

If these pre-selected domains sound unflattering to conservatives, they are. In each case, the authors found precisely what they were looking for - unquestioned arguments that conservatives are mentally deficient. Clearly, the authors are not interested in discovering what makes conservatives tick, they are interested in demonstrating that conservatives have damaged souls.

It’s Tough to Get Respect

According to the authors, “we now know” (p.369; such unequivocal claims are generally not tolerated in respectable research) that variables significantly associated with conservatism include fear and aggression, dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance, need for cognitive closure, personal need for structure, terror management, group-based dominance, and system justification. Conservative ideology is a “syndrome” (p. 347 & 369) and those who are caught in its dogmatic clutches are “ideal candidates to follow the next Hitler or Mussolini” (p. 346).

Beneath such rhetorical excess is a thinly veiled contempt for those who hold conservative beliefs. In a discussion concerning System Justification Theory (one of the lead author’s pet projects), the authors note that the theory is “especially well suited to address relatively puzzling cases of conservatism and right-wing allegiance among members of low-status groups, such as women and members of the working class” (p. 350).

The authors are “puzzled” as to why a woman or someone with a job (both of whom they categorize as low-status) would disagree with their viewpoint. Could it be that the woman or the worker weighed the evidence and simply arrived at a different conclusion than the authors? Impossible. Commoners cannot be trusted with such matters.

I won’t take it upon myself to apologize to conservatives on behalf of my industry. That seems presumptuous. But I am embarrassed by the methodology in this study and I am deeply troubled by the response from the psychology community. This study is being held up as exemplary research when it is better suited to the editorial pages of Mother Jones than a peer-reviewed journal.


Hear the Iron Shrink on 850KOA's Mike Rosen Show, Feb 01, 2007. 10:00 A.M.; 11:00 A.M.

The first round of reader comments is available here.

1. Meta-analysis is a study of several other studies; it is a numerical evaluation of a body of research. Since different studies use different measures, meta-analysis uses each study’s effect size as the common metric. Effect size is a way of describing differences between experimental conditions. The goal of meta-analysis is to draw inferences from a multitude of studies that cannot be drawn from single studies alone. Return to article.

2. Imagine a company board of directors in which each member holds a different number of voting shares. They are asked to vote on how much money to invest in a given venture – a little or a lot? The distribution of shares matters, but not as much as the fact that each board member is being asked to invest some amount of money. In this meta-analysis, the authors are essentially asking each study, “how screwed up are conservatives – a little or a lot?” The weight of each answer matters, but not as much as the answer itself. Return to article.

3. In a 2006 National Education Association survey, 36% of members reported having voted for “mostly Democrats,” while 8% reported having voted for “mostly Republicans.” (Education Intelligence Agency, 2006). Among 1,208 college professors surveyed in a different study, 79.6% reported having voted for mostly Democrat candidates over the last 10 years, while 9.3% reported having voted for mostly Republican candidates (Current Review, as quoted in Saunders, 2006). Special thanks to Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute for his help with these statistics. Return to article.

4. Some readers may wonder, as I did, why the authors categorize Nazi Germany as a right-wing dictatorship when, functionally, there was little difference between the National Socialist party and the Communist party of Russia. Both believed in government control over production, property, education, and resources. Both insisted that the desires of the collective are more important than the rights of the individual, and both followed a philosopher-king (to quote Plato) for the glorification of the collective. These all appear to be far-left ideals and actions. However, I don’t wish to be drawn arguments over peripheral issues so I will remained focused on the methodology of the study. Return to article.

Dixit, J. (2007). The ideological animal. Psychology Today, 40(1), 81-86.

Education Intelligence Agency (2006). Data from NEA’s most recent member and local president survey. Downloaded on January 15, 2007 from

Jost, J.T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A.W., & Sulloway, F.J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 129(3), 339-375.

Kazdin, A.E. (2003). Research Design in Clinical Psychology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Koocher, G. P. (2006). Psychological science is not politically correct. Monitor on Psychology, 37(9), 5.

Saunders, D.J. (2006). Don’t think outside the college box. Downloaded on January 15, 2007 from:

U.S. Census Bureau (1999). Scholarship of all ages: School enrollment in 1998. Population Profile of the United States, 35-37. Downloaded on January 14, 2007 from:

Copyright © 2005-2010 Mesa Psychological Services, Inc.

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1 comment:

  1. The author, Denver psuchologist Shawn Smith a/k/a the Iron Shrink, argues the Jost study is methodologically flawed due to [among other things] an invalid definition of conservatism, specifically relating to attitudes towards & behavioral reactions to "change":

    "There is a massive body of research concerning change behavior. Since the authors base their argument on the assumption that attitude toward change is one of two variables that define political allegiance, one would expect them to have consulted that literature. Instead, they ignored it in favor of a 45-year-old dictionary and a collection of self-affirming critiques on conservative ideology."

    But nowhere does Smith himself consult or utilize such massive body of literature on change behavior to show that Jost's definition is untrue.

    Smith's criticism - that the literature could possibly upen Jost's definition and so inavalidate Jost's findings - might be true.

    Or it might not.

    We don't know, because neither Smith nor Jost provide any evidence from the change literature. Lacking evidence, the Iron Shrink's critique here is little more than a signpost for future investigation, and NOT a convincing refutation of Jost's methodology.