Monday, November 23, 2009

Moral Psychology and Political Leanings

Over the weekend I relaxed with the December issue of Scientific American. The Skeptic column by Michael Shermer explored the psychological differences between liberal and conservatives. We all know the stereotypes of these political entities; research can now explain some of the differences:

Like many other stereotypes, each of these contains an element of truth that reflects an emphasis on different moral values. Jonathan Haidt, who is a psychologist at the University of Virginia, explains such stereotypes in terms of his Moral Foundations Theory (see, which he developed “to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes.” Photoxpress_2554644Haidt proposes that the foundations of our sense of right and wrong rest within “five innate and universally available psychological systems” that might be summarized as follows: 

  1. Harm/care: Evolved mammalian attachment systems mean we can feel the pain of others, giving rise to the virtues of kindness, gentleness and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity: Evolved reciprocal altruism generates a sense of justice.
  3. Ingroup/loyalty: Evolved in-group tribalism leads to patriotism.
  4. Authority/respect: Evolved hierarchical social structures translate to respect for authority and tradition.
  5. Purity/sanctity: Evolved emotion of disgust related to disease and contamination underlies our sense of bodily purity.

Liberals generally score high on 1 and 2 with lower scores on components 3, 4, and 5. Conservatives usually have similar scores for all 5 themes, with 1 and 2 lower than self-reported liberals.

Want to know how you stack up? Go to and take the quiz! There are 5 “morality” quizzes (the one summarized above is fifth on the list). After taking each brief quiz you see your results and how they compare to others in the study population. A number of other studies and tests are included on the site as well.

An “informed consent” check box precedes each question set, so the site generates data for the group. Assist a psychologist with their research today!

My results? I am an admitted liberal who provided further validation of their findings.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link! I never doubted my liberal tendencies and was not mistaken. However, they desperately need error bars on those graphs...