Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Politicization of Psychology Continues

Shrinkwrapped discusses yet another study casting a negative light on (shockingly) Conservatives. The Toronto Star "interprets the study for us:"

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.

The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.

By the end of the Toronto Star article, the author summarizes the study to conclude the following:

It could be that whom we vote for has less to do with our judgments about tax policy or free trade or health care, and more with the personalities we've been stuck with since we were kids.

What about people who change their political orientation over time--were they really just whiny kids or self-reliant ones originally who fooled themselves?

Update: Michelle Malkin has a copy of the entire study if you would like to read more.


Blogger DADvocate said...

I'm one of those who switched during my 40's. Both my parents are quite liberal. I doubt they have ever voted for anyone other than a Democrat in any election. Perhaps they are "uncomfortable with ambiguity."

I voted for McGovern and Dukakis as well as Al Gore (Sr. and Jr.) for Senator. But, I began having doubts when Affirmative Action started. As my liberal mother taught me, two wrongs don't make a right. Although they did, somehow, in this case, even to my mother.

I also got tired of supporting a movement that continuously told me that I, as a white male of European descent, was the source of nearly every problem in the world. Now I'm just a "fascist Nazi" (or is it "Nazi fascist") for not supporting all the appropriate liberal causes.

1:38 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Catholicgauze said...

My time in DC showed both sides (but especially the anti-American Anarcho-Commies) were whinny when they did not get their way.

The study was from Berkley, no basis there.

1:55 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger John Doe said...

What was it Churchill said? "If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 40, you have no brain."?

2:15 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Helen,
My personal studies indicate that anyone who pays attention to a Berkley
social scientist is probably suffering from incurable hysteria and in need of much needed rest.
Honestly.....I am forever amazed at the number of people who refuse to think for themselves.

2:15 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The line that cracked me up was: "Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. "

Heck, this study in good news for those of us who had children whom we were required to train not to whine. It means they're less likely to parade around downtown naked. I've seen pictures of some of those Berkley festivals and protests.

2:43 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but this is the kind of trash study that gives psychology a bad name.

3:21 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


I thought psychology already had a bad name.

4:13 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee... I must be a raging liberal and never even knew it! How strange.

No whining... check
Self reliant... check
Thinks the Berkeley professor is a moron... check (oops I wonder what group that puts me into)

4:27 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Thom said...

Now now, let's read the whole article, like this passage:

"Part of the answer is that personality is not the only factor that determines political leanings. For instance, there was a .27 correlation between being self-reliant in nursery school and being a liberal as an adult. Another way of saying it is that self-reliance predicts statistically about 7 per cent of the variance between kids who became liberal and those who became conservative. (If every self-reliant kid became a liberal and none became conservatives, it would predict 100 per cent of the variance). Seven per cent is fairly strong for social science, but it still leaves an awful lot of room for other influences, such as friends, family, education, personal experience and plain old intellect." (Emphasis added)

Or this one:

"For conservatives whose feelings are still hurt, there is a more flattering way for them to look at the results. Even if they really did tend to be insecure complainers as kids, they might simply have recognized that the world is a scary, unfair place.

Their grown-up conclusion that the safest thing is to stick to tradition could well be the right one. As for their "rigidity," maybe that's just moral certainty.

The grown-up liberal men, on the other hand, with their introspection and recognition of complexity in the world, could be seen as self-indulgent and ineffectual."

In my MBA statistics class a 7% correlation was considered essentially no correlation at all. And this is good enough for social sciences?!

4:38 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


Perhaps one of the other influences was living in Berkeley--frankly, I might be whining too--and find the world a scary place if I still lived there during my school years--luckily for me, we moved from Berkeley when I was three months old.

4:44 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wondner if that same study was done at Appalachian State University or Georgia Tech what the results would be. What if the secure kids were the ones who identified most with their parents' politics (i.e., red state politics) and the whiners were those who didn't fit in (i.e, liberal). What do you think the Berkley professor would say? Would he accept the findings?

6:26 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Mary Ann,

What--a liberal child in a red state? Why I bet the Berkeley professor would say that was child abuse!

7:03 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Patrick said...

At one point in my life I went to a psychiatrist to deal with depression.

The doctor quickly focused in on my libertarian/conservative attitude and indicated that he'd cure me of it and thereby allow me to be happier with my life.

He never saw me a second time.

8:39 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Gaius Arbo said...

Gee, maybe the kids who were "whiny and insecure" recognized even at that early age that Berkeley was completely disconnected from the real world. And that the lunatics were running the asylum.

Did that sound harsh?


9:05 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who's from Berkeley, I would agree that it's a very liberal community.

I think that the most reasonable conclusion that should be drawn is that a second study would need to be done in an anti-liberal environment.

My prediction would be that happy kids are more likely to end up with the political orientation that is popular around them. Why? Because happy kids will generally fit in better with people around them, and are likely to adopt their tastes. Whereas unhappy kids are more likely to grow up in a state of perpetual opposition to whatever is the usual orientation.

So I wouldn't necessarily doubt this professor's measured results, but I would be careful about drawing specific psychological conclusions, until some such control study has been done.

9:27 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is odd. This isn't a study in any sense I am familiar with.

Maybe just a few questions will illustrate my problem with all this: (1) Are the parents conservatives? Do we know if that matters? Do conservative parents create conservative children? (2) Where did each of the kids go to school? i.e. what were the influences on them as they developed in the sense of making conservative vs. liberal attitude choices? Anyone beaten senseless by a liberal at some time? Abductions? Abuses? Anyone have real issues with their mom, "Moonbeam?" (3) Please define "whining." Also define "conservative" and "liberal" and ... (4) The teachers had a political philosophy--what was it? Do we know if kids being reared in conservative homes "whine" when being forced to fit into liberal social structures? The other way around?

... I guess it could go on for some time :) My point is that this seems to be the opposite of anything that could be called "good science;" it isn't so much a study as something to drool into a beer after losing an election or two.


Great blog :)

10:08 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger E Buzz said...

I was a Reagan hating little Marxist shit for my adolescence and young adulthood.

And it was SOLELY because of what I was force fed in school.

It finally dawned on me ow leftists shade truth and spin every little thing to reflect their viewpoint and ideas. they don't teach you (me) to look through that stuff...when I did, I became much more unpopular with the people I used to know. Then again, Imade friends with people who had the same experience, one of which is a research chemist with Eli Lilly.

This report is as bad as those awful texts written to indoctrinate that the wonderful teachers educated in the 60's taught out of.

But, it's all water under the bridge...

Great blog, btw, and you're really hot. :o)


10:11 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Cityside said...

Wait, I thought conservatives were supposedly the popular kids and jocks from John Hughes movies writ large?

10:15 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personal anecdote: when I was in grad school at Berkeley a Berkeley professor (conservative by Berkeley standards, i.e., someone who wanted some education actually to take place at the secondary level) was a member of the school board. He had a son in Berkeley High who regularly got his ass kicked solely for that reason (according to a friend who attended high school with him).

I would have thought insecurity and paranoia would have been an entirely warranted response on that poor kid's part.

11:00 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Axe, I don't have a link, alas, but the subject has been studied and the correlation between parents worldview (including political) and their children is around 85%.

11:03 PM, March 22, 2006  
Blogger Spacemonkey said...

Dr Helen, are you available for an interview for an IMAO podcast?

11:06 PM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm. Weren't you all discussing a psych study of liberals here within the last month or so? You all seemed pretty happy and convinced by that one, if I remember correctly.

12:33 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Mark said...

Anonymous, you'd love "Vision of the Anointed" by Thomas Sowell.

12:38 AM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(A link to the full text of the study can be found at Michelle Malkin's site.)

The author's biases show up pretty clearly in their summaries, which are anything but objective. For example, their take on conservative women is summarized as;

(Their summary:)
"Relatively Conservative young women were characterized as: conservative, uneasy with uncertainties, conventional, as sex-typed in their personal behavior and social perceptions, emotionally bland, appearing calm, and candid but also somewhat moralistic."

Their correlation table, however, is equally consistent with the following description;

(My summary:)
"Relatively Conservative young women were characterized as favoring conservative values, calm and relaxed in manner,straightforward and candid, moral, behaving in an ethically consistant manner, and regarding themselves as physically attractive."

The authors claim that their study "speaks for itself", but still feel the need to cherry-pick the data and shade the descriptions when telling us what it "really" says.

What would have been really interesting is to see how primary skills like the ability to draw correct conclusions from data and reason logically correlated with the "LIB/CON" index -- however, it is possible that Berkeley pre-school teachers may not be able to recognize these qualities.

2:29 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Mercurior said...

What about those who are in the middle.

my mum is one party my bro is the other, i am stuck in the middle and not the stealers wheel song.

5:15 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Bruce said...

Let's go back and imagine a similar study done on people who pioneered the Civil Rights Movement in the South in the 1950s and compare them to Southerners who were for the status-quo. It's entirely likely that even as children, the eventual pioneers of Civil Rights were considered "whiny" and not self-confident by their status-quo loving teachers. Imagine if someone had published a "study" which attempted to show that the Civil Rights leaders who were upsetting things were whiny as children. Imagine if someone stooped that low?

That's what we're seeing here.

6:45 AM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its easy to laugh off this kind of junk science. But in some low-probability distant future where an extreme left-wing regime comes to power through some kind of crisis, 30-40 years of this kind of "research" sitting on a library shelf could be exploited to serve as the "scientific" foundation for political persection. Junk science can be dangerous.

6:57 AM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I find most interesting, most of the Liberals I know are unhappy with their lives. I once worked with a lady who was a serious Dem. She would talk about how her father would no longer loan her money, how you have to spend 200 bucks on a dinner once a month to feel better.

Me conservative, grew up poor, we never got along. And I said that to a person who worked with us, he said, "You ever seen her happy?" I said no, well are you ever really sad, I said no. There it was right there, she was angry and bitter.

7:05 AM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at all the whining and paranoia rampant in this thread. Science, you win again!

7:20 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Yosemite Sam said...

This study has to be one of the most hilarious ones yet. Liberals are the ones that are self reliant?!?! ROTFLMAO. These are the people who can't even flush the toilet without government regulations and forms signed in triplicate. They want the government to control every aspect of their(and our) lives and they are the self reliant ones?

9:28 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Clayton Cramer said...

GayPatriotWest writes:

"It would seem that growing up in Berkeley, an insecure kid, wanting to attract attention from his parents (and his peers) could do easily so by challenging their political orthodoxy. Since the political orthodoxy there is so uniformly left-wing, he would do so by becoming conservative."

When I attended Santa Monica High School, in a very liberal community, I was one of a small number of non-liberals. (I fancied myself a liberal Republican, which is to say that my leanings were proto-libertarian.) The class valedictorian came from two VERY liberal (even by Santa Monica standards) parents. And so what was our class valedictorian big on? "International Jewish bankers conspiracy." He was an unapologetic John Bircher.

Last I heard, he had been accepted to Reed College, and was planning to go there. Oddly enough, I never heard anything about him being lynched there.

Bezerkeley is not only atypical of the United States--it is atypical of the very liberal San Francisco Bay Area. As I discuss here, a relative growing up in Bezerkeley created himself a bunch of peer group problems when he decided, at age 12, to stop doing LSD.

Using Bezerkeley kids as a representative sample of Americans makes about as much sense as doing a study of violence and aggression in South Central Los Angeles. Or studying attitudes about poverty in Beverly Hills. Or examining skin cancer rates by sampling people on Santa Monica Beach. Or understanding how Jews feel about their place in the world with a survey of Jews in northern Idaho. We would all laugh at anyone that tried to pass off a study of such highly atypical populations as serious science.

10:47 AM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my MBA statistics class a 7% correlation was considered essentially no correlation at all.

Same here in a college statistics class. Doesn't the fact that 7% is considered a decent correlation in social science sort of undercut all of social science? 7% would be considered no correlation in any other science. You could probably get 7% out of astrology and palmistry.

11:20 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger JAM said...

I recalled something to a guy I was corresponding with the other day that seems relevant to me. We were discussing the difficulties of being atheists who are politically conservative. That is, if you hang out with fellow atheists, they all tend to be knee jerk, Bush-hating liberals. If you hang out with fellow conservatives you end up getting an earful of God-ism. Can't win.

We got into a mention of what it's like to live in a community that is largely made up of people who hold beliefs that are completely at odds with your own. I told him:

Yes, there are some headline-grabbing grandstanders around who would think nothing of enforcing their religious beliefs on the rest of us, but they really aren't that significant. Like the wackos on the far-left who equate Bush with Hitler, they are an overly loud minority who get an inordinate amount of attention. I've lived amongst the religious zealots all my life and while they can be a nuisance at times, they generally don't make bad neighbors. Maybe I've grown more tolerant or lowered my expectations as I've gotten older, or maybe I've noticed that for all of the griping done by the left over the past 26 years (since Reagan first took office) the "Religious Right" has not managed to turn America into a fascist dictatorship.

I was a huge fan of the band Styx in the late 70s/early 80s (I know, I know) and I remember when Kilroy Was Here came out and I was right there with them. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and their ilk wouldn't take my music away or make me conform, damn it! But it was Tipper Gore at the head of the PMRC (seeing Dweezil and Moon performing on stage with Tipper playing drums years later I could hear the thunder as Frank rolled around in his grave.) And all these years and all those labels later, the music industry is a cesspool and rock seems all but dead and the government didn't have anything to do with it. Prince has sworn he won't sing Darling Nikki again all on his own. Sad.

11:37 AM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


Sure, email me with what you want to talk about:

11:56 AM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More statistical tomfoolery: the asterisks indicate each "p" value that's below 0.10. That means that there is a 1/10 chance that random data could produce the result. In real sciences, you could only publish if the p value was below 0.05.

Even worse, there's good reason to doubt the statistical worth of even this p value. The last election produced a 90/10 Dem/Repub split in Berkeley, which means that the data for Repubs could be based on only 3-5 male subjects. This would allow one extreme outlier ot prejudice the entire analysis, which I suspect is the case b/c we are never given the actual political distribution - only the fact that it skews heavily liberal.

It's also hard not to call BS when you read gems like this:
To the extent there is skew, it follows that individuals toward the Conservative end of the
score distribution can be expected to be characterologically more homogeneous than individuals
toward the Liberal end.

Funny, no citation for that one. ;)

12:15 PM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Doe, it was Ben Franklin, and what he actually said was that to be young and conservative is to have no heart, but to be old and liberal is to have no head. This explains the study results perfectly. The kids who were whiny and dependent upon authority at a young age had an early opportunity to learn the liabilities of that approach to life, and experience taught them to abandon it. They learned early through experience - adult liberals are slow learners.

A liberal is just a conservative who hasn't been mugged yet.

12:16 PM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a simple formula for this sort of advocacy research:

1. Use a small, non-representative sample - here we have Berkeley, 'nuff said.

2. Define complex, constructed measures that can be made to come out any way you want depending on which factors are included, weighting, etc. - their 6-factor measure of liberal/conservative based on a variety of checklists, instead of just asking the subjects to rate themselves on the political spectrum.

3. Highlight any differences in your favor, no matter how meaningless - their tiny correlations of .2 to .3, explaining less than 9% of the variance (also using a 10% significance level, usually considered unacceptable).

4. Spin results your way, such as labeling a trait "confidence" if your favored group has it, "arrogance" if the other group has it- several examples here that others have noted.

5. Wait for media to simplify it down to sound bites that further obscure the truth.

It's a shame, since human behavior is something we really need to understand better, but this is the sort of thing that leads people to use scare quotes when discussing social "science".

12:43 PM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Rizzo said...

I written a fairly long response to the article for those who are interested here:

Many of the points are already made more succintly here by others, though, but it's there if you want it.

I do, however, want to point out my favorite, unintentionally humorous line from the article:

“Ironically, the sheer variety of changes and improvements suggested by the liberal-minded under-controller may explain the diffuseness, and subsequent ineffectiveness, of liberals in politics where a collective single-mindedness of purpose is required.”

My response:
Um, yeah. That’s why all of us social and religious conservatives, free marketers, libertarians, etc. are united in our complete agreement about everything, while liberals have so many different ideas (which ones exactly?) that it’s hard to get them to rally around one (Bush Lied!).

1:02 PM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Pat said...

I tried to read the study but it was impenetrable. I do know enough about statistics to find it risible that somebody would cite a .27 correlation in a study with 95 subjects as significant. I could not determine what would seem to me very important data, such as how many of the 23-year-olds were classified as "conservative". It would not shock me to learn that there were fewer than 20.

BTW, I looked up Jack Block (the study's author) at Open Secrets, and yes, he's a moonbat--contributions to Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean and Move-On.

3:42 PM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Rizzo said...


The thing is, all the variables were measured continuously, so no one was classified as a "liberal" or "conservative," but placed on a continuum. Based on this, and the fact that the author didn't report the characteristics of the score distribution, there's no way to tell just how many conservatives there were. For all we know, the range could have gone from extreme left to moderate.

I don't doubt that there were a few true conservatives in the bunch, but I also find it quite telling that Block didn't go into much detail discussing the charateristics of his sample.

4:14 PM, March 23, 2006  
Blogger Rizzo said...

Check out Michelle Malkin's newest post on the study here:

If I knew all that before I read it, I wouldn't have wasted my time.

4:47 PM, March 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but have you seen this Dr. Helen?

5:45 PM, March 23, 2006  
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