A Lack of Diversity in Social Psychology?
Jonathan Haidt, who delivered a talk in 2011 on the overwhelming progressivism of his field, social psychology, has co-authored a paper titled “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science”.
In the paper, Haidt and his co-authors argue that social psychology suffers for lack of political diversity: in other words, that its domination by progressives severely impedes its ability to converge on the truth, to reject inaccurate theories that progressivism likes and replace them with accurate ones that may cause problems for the movement.
The pattern seen in social psychology, he points out, exists in the social sciences and humanities in general:
There are many academic fields in which surveys find self-identified conservatives to be about as numerous as self-identified liberals; typically business, computer science, engineering, health sciences, and technical/vocational fields (Zipp & Fenwick, 2006; Gross & Simmons, 2007). In the social sciences and humanities, however, there is a stronger imbalance. For instance, recent surveys find that 58 – 66 percent of social science professors in the United States identify as liberals, while only 5 – 8 percent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 8 to 1 (Gross & Simmons, 2007; Klein & Stern, 2009; Rothman & Lichter, 2008). A similar situation is found in the humanities where surveys find that 52 – 77 percent of humanities professors identify as liberals, while only 4 – 8 percent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 5:1 (Gross & Simmons, 2007; Rothman & Lichter, 2008). In psychology the imbalance is slightly stronger: 84 percent identify as liberal while only 8 percent identify as conservative (Gross & Simmons, 2007; Rothman & Lichter, 2008). That is a ratio of 10.5 to 1. In the United States as a whole, the ratio of liberals to conservatives is roughly 1 to 2 (Gallup, 2010).
This should not be surprising: social sciences and humanities are fields with direct political applications, unlike engineering or computer science; a movement that wants to take power would do well to capture them. Under a regime of scientific governance, any faction that wants to govern must first capture science.
The paper continues:
Psychology professors were as likely to report voting Republican as Democrat in presidential contests in the 1920s. From the 1930s through 1960, they were more likely to report voting for Democrats, but substantial minorities voted for Willkie, Eisenhower, and Nixon (in 1960). By 2006, however, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans had climbed to more than 11:1 (Gross & Simmons, 2007; Rothman & Lichter, 2008).
Furthermore, the trend toward political homogeneity seems to be continuing: whereas 10% of faculty respondents self-identified as conservative, only 2% of graduate students and postdocs did so (Inbar, 2013, personal communication). This pattern is consistent with the broader trends throughout psychology illustrated in Figure 1: the field is shifting leftward, the ratio of liberals to conservatives is now greater than 10:1, and there are hardly any conservative students in the pipeline.
This is detrimental because, “if left unchecked, an academic field can become a cohesive moral community, creating a shared reality (Hardin & Higgins, 1996) that subsequently blinds its members to morally or ideologically undesirable hypotheses and unanswered but important scientific questions (Haidt, 2012).”
There are, of course, examples of this blinding at work, though examples can only be found in cases where the progressive theory has already been refuted. Here is one listed in the paper: (with paragraph breaks added)
Since the 1930s, social psychologists have been proclaiming the inaccuracy of social stereotypes, despite lacking evidence of such inaccuracy. Evidence has seemed unnecessary because stereotypes have been, in effect, stereotyped as inherently nasty and inaccurate (see Jussim, 2012a for a review).
Some group stereotypes are indeed hopelessly crude and untestable. But some may rest on valid empiricism—and represent subjective estimates of population characteristics (e.g. the proportion of people who drop out of high school, are victims of crime, or endorse policies that support women at work, see Jussim, 2012a, Ryan, 2002 for reviews).
In this context, it is not surprising that the rigorous empirical study of the accuracy of factual stereotypes was initiated by one of the very few self-avowed conservatives in social psychology—Clark McCauley (McCauley & Stitt, 1978). Since then, dozens of studies by independent researchers have yielded evidence that stereotype accuracy (of all sorts of stereotypes) is one of the most robust effects in all of social psychology (Jussim, 2012a).
Here is a clear example of the value of political diversity: a conservative social psychologist asked a question nobody else thought (or dared) to ask, and found results that continue to make many social psychologists uncomfortable. McCauley’s willingness to put the assumption of stereotype inaccuracy to an empirical test led to the correction of one of social psychology’s most longstanding errors.
Prejudice and intolerance have long been considered the province of the political right (e.g., Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950; Duckitt, 2001; Lindner & Nosek, 2009). Indeed, since Allport (1954), social psychologists have suspected that there is a personality type associated with generalized prejudice toward a variety of social groups (Akrami, Ekehammar, & Bergh, 2011), which they have linked to political conservatism (Roets & van Hiel, 2011). More recently, however, several scholars have noted that the groups typically considered targets of prejudice in such research programs are usually low status and often left-leaning (e.g., African-Americans and Communists; for more examples and further arguments, see Chambers, Schlenker & Collisson, 2013 and Crawford & Pilanski, 2013).
Using research designs that include both left-leaning and right-leaning targets, and using nationally representative as well as student and community samples, these researchers have demonstrated that prejudice is potent on both the left and right. Conservatives are prejudiced against stereotypically left-leaning targets (e.g., African-Americans), whereas liberals are prejudiced against stereotypically right-leaning targets (e.g., religious Christians; see Chambers et al., 2013; Crawford & Pilanski, 2013; Wetherell, Brandt, & Reyna, 2013).
Summarizing these recent findings, Brandt, Reyna, Chambers, Crawford, and Wetherell (2014) put forward the ideological conflict hypothesis, which posits that people across the political spectrum are prejudiced against ideologically dissimilar others.
Once again, the shared moral narrative of social psychology seems to have restricted the range of research: the investigation of prejudice was long limited to prejudice against the targets that liberals care most about. But the presence of a non-liberal researcher (John Chambers is a libertarian) led to an expansion of the range of targets, which might, over time, lead the entire field to a more nuanced view of the relationship between politics and prejudice.
Theden has covered this process before: Bob Altemeyer, who researched ‘right-wing authoritarianism’—a continuation of the ‘F-scale’ research carried out by Theodor Adorno, a Communist who thought support for rightism was caused by psychological defects—said that “there’s no such thing as a left-wing authoritarian”, and that such a person is “the Loch Ness monster of political psychology”. Subsequent research found this claim to be false.
In addition, some RWA researchers, including Altemeyer, believed that ‘right-wing authoritarians’ wanted to use authorities against all groups; but the research of George Yancey (a Christian) found a negative correlation between ‘right-wing authoritarianism’ and willingness to use authority to suppress conservative Christians.
Another example covered here before relates to Haidt’s own research on moral foundations theory. The original version of his theory, and the one that was widely reported on in the media (which itself is very progressive), stated that there are two different sorts of morality which correspond to the two political factions in America: whereas conservatives make judgments based on concerns of harm, fairness, loyalty, obedience to authority, and purity, liberals only care about harm and fairness. These results were later revised: Haidt added concerns of freedom to account for libertarians, and wrote a blog post about the possible existence of liberal concerns for purity.
These results are no surprise: some of the questions about authority (“[When deciding whether an action is right or wrong, I would give strong consideration to] whether or not someone conformed to the traditions of society.”, “If I were a soldier and disagreed with my commanding officer’s orders, I would obey anyway because that is my duty.”, “Men and women each have different roles to play in society.”) and purity (“Whether or not someone acted in a way that God would approve of” “Chastity is an important and valuable virtue.”) are framed in conservative terms; and it’s clear that liberals like to think of themselves as concerned only with harm and fairness, so measures of authority and purity that asked about those measures in exactly those terms would be likely to come up with Haidt’s results: even if a liberal agreed with the statements or give consideration to the questions that the moral foundations survey asks about, he would be less likely to recognize that he would do so than a conservative would be. It may be more revealing to also ask about, for example, obedience to the authority of college professors, or whether something is organic or in harmony with nature.
It’s clear that progressives are concerned with purity on some level: examples of them attacking their political opponents as ‘icky’, ‘gross’, or ‘repulsive’ are easy to find. The Prime Minister of Sweden called nationalism a “revolting disease” in a speech, and exhorted the Swedish people to “let go of the ancient and disgusting thought that what is deviant is dangerous”.
Jonathan Haidt used to be a progressive; though he now calls himself a moderate, his research may well have fallen prey (though at least he noticed) to exactly the bias he describes: working within the shared narrative of progressivism, assuming its presuppositions and buying into its narratives. What better example could there be for his thesis?
from A Lack of Diversity in Social Psychology?