Political conservatives are more resolute and confident in their judgments than political liberals, according to new research published March 1.
Their study was published March 1 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
In a series of 14 studies involving 4,575 participants, researchers Benjamin C. Ruisch and Chadly Stern also found found that conservatives tend to make quick judgments based on their initial reaction.
Liberals, on the other hand, prefer to consider a wider range of responses before making a decision. And this, the researchers suggest, lowers their self-confidence.
Researchers have long studied how self-confidence is related to the strength of people’s beliefs. For example, more confident people tend to be more persuasive but are also more resistant to persuasion. They also generally gather less information before making a decision, but are more likely to participate in voting.
But until the present study, researchers had yet to examine whether differences in judgment and decision-making ability are influenced after one’s own political ideology (i.e. left or right).
Measuring decision-making and self-confidence
To find out, Ruisch and Stern conducted 14 studies with a total of 4,575 participants.
Many were recruited through Mechanical Turk, others through Qualtrics research panels. A few hundred participants were pedestrians in a northeastern American college town. There were roughly equal numbers of men and women among the subjects, with an average age of around 30 years.
In each study, the participants also provided information about their political affiliations. They rated themselves on a seven-point scale, ranging from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. They also answered the question “How important is politics to you personally?”
Participants then answered questions designed to test various aspects of their confidence and determination. For example, in the first study, they were asked to provide specific details about a friend’s house, their usual hair salon or salon, or a favorite restaurant. They then indicated their confidence in their answers.
Of course, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to verify the accuracy of their answers. But that wasn’t the point; The aim was to determine participants’ relative confidence in their answers.
Conservatives more confident and determined in all 14 studies
This first study, like all 14 studies, found this research paper found that the conservative participants felt more confident about the accuracy of their judgments.
And this relationship remained significant even after adjusting for demographic variables such as age, gender, education, race, and income. This was also the case in all 14 studies.
Regardless of task difficulty, conservatives were more decisive and confident
The other studies tested how confident and decisive the participants were across a wide range of tasks. For example, they had to guess the number of dots displayed on a computer screen, or remember as accurately as possible a pattern of colored squares on the screen.
The authors made a point of choosing such neutral tasks rather than the “ability to distinguishing a Rothko from a Mondrian” or testing knowledge of “NASCAR, hunting or country music”.
Some tasks were easy, others difficult. However, the results were consistent: Conservative respondents consistently reported greater confidence in their answers.
Determination does not mean being correct
Important, in the tests that had an objectively correct one Answer, the Conservative respondents were no more specific than the Liberal respondents. “We found that liberals and conservatives generally had comparable levels of accuracy,” the authors write.
One study allowed respondents to bet small amounts of money on their answers. The researchers found that, again, conservative respondents were more likely to bet on the accuracy of their answers, even though they were less likely to answer the questions correctly.
Conservatives and the need for closure
Some of the studies also asked respondents to respond to statements such as “When faced with a problem, I want to find a solution very quickly” and “I would rather make a decision quickly than sleep on it.” These Items of determination were taken from a larger scale known as the need-for-closure scale.
Ruisch and Stern found, as they had assumed, that conservatives were significantly more likely to agree with such statements .
One of the studies also found that when given the option, conservative participants listed fewer alternative answers and considered fewer possible options before making their decisions.
Understanding the Critical Mind: “Epistemic Motivation”
Why do conservatives feel more secure in their judgments? And why do they tend to be more determined? The researchers suggest that differences in “epistemic motivation” may explain the relationship between conservatism and self-confidence. For example, previous research has found that conservatives prefer more “order, structure, security, and seclusion in everyday life.”
Previous research has also found that conservatives tend to display a greater “intolerance to ambiguity”.
These traits, the authors suggest, lead conservatives to “priority to quick and efficient judgments rather than engaging in broad reasoning.” And that, in turn, makes them more likely to stick to their initial judgments, “whereas liberals tend to consider a wider range of possible response options.”
In other words, ideology affects “basic epistemic Motivations such that conservatives place more emphasis on making quick judgments to resolve ambiguity.”
And these results suggest that “conservatives are more likely to stick to an initial judgment that comes to mind , while liberals might be more inclined to question and possibly change an initial judgment before a final decision is made.”
Ideological extremity is not the cause
The researchers also found that ‘ideological extremity’ did not play a role in the various ratings of trust.
This is important because some previous research has shown that it is ideological extremes, rather than conservatism or liberalism, that lead to greater self-confidence and determination.
In fact, the authors write that the magnitude of the relationship between extremity and self-confidence was close to zero, and in some cases even negative. This means that the extremists showed less, rather than more, confidence in their judgments.
In summary, the authors write that this research “documented and found the existence of large ideological differences in judgment and confidence in decision-making political conservatives showed greater confidence in a wide range of areas of judgment.”
In addition, they found, “conservatives showed a greater tendency to make quick and efficient decisions, which was associated with greater confidence.”
Liberals, on the other hand, “tended to consider a wider range of possible responses, which was associated with lower levels of confidence.”
Paper: “The Confident Conservative : Ideological Differences in Judgment and Decision-Making Confidence”Authors: Benjamin C. Ruisch and Chadly SternPublished in: Journal of Experimental Psych ology: GeneralRelease Date: March 1, 2021DOI: 10.1037/xge0000898Photo: by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash