Leftists never learn

I reproduce below an article by some VERY uncritical thinkers. What they write reveals their thinking to be just about the same as the thinking of Adorno et al. in 1950.   The great mass of criticism and refutation thrown at the Adorno work (See for instance the first half of Altemeyer's first book) has had no impact on them at all.

But there is a reason for that. In the minds of most psychologists, the Adorno work is impervious to criticism.  No matter how aware they are of the criticisms and refutations of it: Its conclusions are just too delicious to let it go.  In the best projective style, it accuses conservatives of all the faults that liberals themselves have, such as authoritarianism.  Its conclusions are emotionally irresistible.  So the authors below are not alone in continuing to produce "research" that repeats the old catnip.  They quote many others who have not learned from the criticisms either.  Their article is in fact mainstream among Leftist psychologists.

But it takes only a  moment of inspection to show that the latest study, like most before it, is entirely reliant on value judgments.  What seem like sober empirical findings are in fact all "spin".  As is so common among psychologists, they take some highly detailed laboratory task and draw huge conclusions about all humanity from it.  They do not rest at saying that liberals and conservatives respond differently to a particular experimental task but rather claim with great expansiveness that this shows how conservatives think generally.

And they do it all on the basis of responses from an available group of university students -- and students have often been shown as responding very differently from the population at large. The authors conclude that "liberals" behave in a certain way rather than "A non-random selection of 44 students from Northwestern university" behaved in a certain way.  In the absence of representative sampling the latter is the only conclusion they are entitled to draw from their data but they are far more expansive than that.

But two can play at their silly game.  Where they conclude that:

"Liberals solved significantly more problems via insight instead of in a step-by-step analytic fashion"

I would conclude from the same set of results that liberals leap to conclusions whereas conservatives are more careful.  Broadly, "conservatism=caution" so that is hardly a startling conclusion.

An amusing feature of the article is that they accept that liberals have a need for novelty.  They are sensation seekers.  I reported the same many years ago -- and my sample was a random one.  I interpreted the finding as showing that liberals are impulsive airheads but the authors below seem to see it as a good thing.  "De gustibus non disputandum est", I guess.


Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950) The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper.

Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University Manitoba Press.

The politics of insight

Carola Salvi et al.


Previous studies showed that liberals and conservatives differ in cognitive style. Liberals are more flexible, and tolerant of complexity and novelty, whereas conservatives are more rigid, are more resistant to change, and prefer clear answers. We administered a set of compound remote associate problems, a task extensively used to differentiate problem-solving styles (via insight or analysis). Using this task, several researches have proven that self-reports, which differentiate between insight and analytic problem-solving, are reliable and are associated with two different neural circuits. In our research we found that participants self-identifying with distinct political orientations demonstrated differences in problem-solving strategy. Liberals solved significantly more problems via insight instead of in a step-by-step analytic fashion. Our findings extend previous observations that self-identified political orientations reflect differences in cognitive styles. More specifically, we show that type of political orientation is associated with problem-solving strategy. The data converge with previous neurobehavioural and cognitive studies indicating a link between cognitive style and the psychological mechanisms that mediate political beliefs.

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2016 Jun; 69(6): 1064–1072. doi:  10.1080/17470218.2015.1136338

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