Culture Wars/Current Controversies

New Psychology Research Reframes Fundamental Differences in Conservative, Liberal Worldviews

Chicks on the Right

The psychology behind political beliefs has long challenged and fascinated professionals and hobbyists alike. Lots of explanations have been put forward– from upbringing to fear responses to brain chemistry— but the puzzle of conservatism vs liberalism is still missing a pretty big piece.

Until, possibly, now.

Jer Clifton, who holds a doctorate in psychology, recently published some of the preliminary findings of his ongoing research on “primal world beliefs,” or “primals.” He arrived at a list of 26 of these basic, fundamental worldviews through an exhaustive, five-year-long research project in which they ” combed hundreds of the most influential texts in world history, 80,000 tweets that began with phrases like ‘The world is. . .,’ hundreds of the most-used adjectives in English, and much more, to identify a comprehensive set of primal world beliefs people could hold.”

Clifton and his team then surveyed people on their primal world beliefs and took a look at what correlations they could find, expecting their research to further confirm psychology’s long-held belief in the relationship between conservatism and fear. As it turned out, though, what they found was. . . not that at all.

“At that point, having made what most researchers would agree is a more rigorous measure of dangerous world belief, we thought that we’d now find even bigger correlations showing conservatives see the world as more dangerous. It was, after all, well-established. Instead, correlations dropped to almost nothing.


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