News & Politics

Are Liberals More 'Simple-Minded' Than Conservatives?

Psychological researchers generally think conservatives are more single-minded and dogmatic than supposedly sophisticated and open-minded liberals, but a new study cracks gaping holes in that theory. According to a team of researchers writing in the journal Political Psychology, “the highest score for simplicity was for liberals” (emphasis theirs).

The term “simplicity” here does not apply to all issues, but rather to liberal college students’ responses to environmental questions. The study focused on determining which side was more dogmatic — i.e. fixed in their conclusions and less willing to look at arguments on the other side. It found that “conservatives are indeed more dogmatic on the religious domain; but liberals are more dogmatic on the environmental domain.”

Liberals scored high in “dogmatism” for agreeing with these three statements:

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are for the truth that the planet is warming and those who are against that obvious truth.

When it comes to stopping global warming, it is better to be a dead hero than a live coward.

A person who thinks primarily of his/her own happiness, and in so doing disregards the health of the environment (for example, trees and other animals), is beneath contempt.

“Those are not just statements about having an environmental position: They are explicitly and overwhelmingly dogmatic statements,” the researchers explained. “The subjective tone of those statements is not merely ‘I am an environmentalist’ but rather ‘all people who disagree with me are fools.'”

Overall, as Reason’s Ronald Bailey put it, “the researchers… found that both liberals and conservatives hold stronger attitudes for the topics on which they are more simple-minded.”

This does not necessarily mean liberals are more dogmatic or simple-minded, just that conservatives are not as dumb and set in our ways as psychologists have long believed.