Settled Science: Liberals Are Simple-Minded

The nation’s best science reporter, Reason’s Ron Bailey, has the story:

It is almost a truism among psychological researchers that conservatives are simple-minded and dogmatic. Liberals, meanwhile, are supposed to be more complex and open-minded thinkers. But a new paper is calling those conclusions into question.

Writing in the journal Political Psychology, a team of researchers led by the University of Montana psychologist Lucian Gideon Conway III reports the results of four studies that together call “into question the typical interpretation that conservatives are less complex than liberals.”

You’ll want to take the time to read Ron’s entire story if you can, which shows that a lot of the social psychology studies that supposedly find that conservatives are more dogmatic or unintelligent are badly skewed in their methodology. But there’s some additional material Ron brings along to the party that is especially fun:

In one study, the researchers analyzed the responses of nearly 1,500 undergraduates sorted along the usual liberal-conservative continuum to a questionnaire asking them to think about various social and political issues. Their answers were then coded for integrative complexity and compared. It turns out that conservatives showed more complexity when dealing with topics like the death penalty, socialism, and refugees. Liberal responses were more complex when considering pre-marital sex, biblical truth, and alcohol. Overall, they report that liberals showed no greater complexity in thinking than conservatives did.

A similar study analyzed liberal and conservative responses to a 30-item questionnaire. Again, conservatives exhibited more complex thinking on some topics, including open-door immigration, smoking, castration, and easy access to birth control. . .

And the coup de grace:

Their final study analyzed the integrative complexity of arguments on 15 different topics made by President George W. Bush and his Democratic rival, John Kerry, during 2004’s presidential debates. They randomly selected five paragraphs on each topic from the candidates. The results are that Bush expressed more complex thinking than Kerry on religion, terrorism, stem cells, health care, and affirmative action. Kerry, on the other hand, was [more] complex than Bush on Iraq, general foreign policy, economic issues, abortion, and education.

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