Moral Beliefs Shape your Politics

Lately there has been an explosion of interest and research about what shapes political beliefs.  The evidence that has emerged, points firmly toward political beliefs being rooted in moral perceptions. Jonathan Haidt, social psychology professor at University of Virginia, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion has found that people who take flag burning seriously for example, unsurprisingly tend to fall to the political right; this belief in the sanctity of certain symbolic objects was in fact a major predictor of political conservatism. Conservatives also according to Haidt, seem to be dominated by more moral rules than liberals. 

Haidt isolated six different moral foundations innate to humans which essentially are:

1. Caring about the suffering of others.

2. Fairness.

3. Loyalty to the group.

4. Sensitivity to authority and status.

5. Awareness of the sanctity of some objects and the revulsion to others.

6. Personal liberty

Moral Beliefs

Liberals in comparison to conservatives, are really only concerned with the caring and suffering of others, fairness and liberty. Most Liberals couldn't care less about a burning flag and are often suspicious of loyalty, authority and sanctity, which can be tied up with privilege and corruption. According to Haidt however, we all in general act like lawyers, in trying to skewer the evidence to support our beliefs, rather than acting like scientists looking for evidence without bias. Conservatives however seem to take the cake when it comes to distorting facts in order to support their belief systems. The outrageous gaffe by Missouri Republican, Todd Akin who claimed that women who are raped, have an inbuilt mechanism to stop pregnancy, is one such example.

Left/rightCredit: Flickr Donkeyhotey

Liberals and Conservatives

Research has also been conducted on the libertarian ideological group, by the Department of Psychology, University of Southern California. The libertarian style is exemplified by the ideas of Ayn Rand and Ron Paul. As a group libertarians tend to be systematizers, who are less concerned with empathy, sympathy or the misfortunes of others. Most libertarians tend to be men and have a rational cognitive style. Libertarians also value liberty more than either liberals or conservatives and it seems that individual and economic freedom is valued by this political group, more than the six aforementioned moral concerns. 

According to Peter Ditto, professor of Psychology & Social Behavior at Princeton University, liberals are more concerned with vulnerable people and groups, than conservatives. Haidt however claims that conservatives also value caring and fairness, but are more tribal in their values of loyalty, authority and sanctity. Haidt also claims that conservatives have been more succesful politically than liberals, as they are concerned with the full spectrum of moral values. And yet research by The University of Arkansas has found that less complex thinkers and those of lower intelligence may also be attracted to conservative ideology as the messages are easier to process and require less thinking. While there seems to be less cognitive effort involved in being a conservative, this does not imply that all conservatives are lazy thinkers.

So what political ideology is right? The answer it seems depends on what your world view is.

For those who are interested, it is possible to take a test at, which can predict where you sit on the left/right spectrum. 

Where is the FoxCredit: Nevada Tumbleweed

Flickr Nevada Tumbleweed


Johnny Cash - The one on the right is on the left with lyrics