Sunday, October 9, 2011

Moral Convictions Can Limit Political Legitimacy

Concerns about morality can predict willingness to acquiesce to institutional procedures that were minimally fair and even ones that were unfair (Bauman, 2006). Interestingly, when individuals believe that an authority has acted in contradiction to their moral beliefs, they are more likely to oppose any authority. Mullens and Nadler (2008) found that individuals were both significantly less likely to return a pen to the experimenter, despite having been asked at the beginning of the experiment to do so, and more likely to cheat on an experimental task, after reading about a legal decision with which they morally disagreed.

In Mullen and Skitka (2009), participants read about various criminal cases. Each of these cases had a few procedural violations that could influence evaluations of the fairness of the decision. Some participants read about a case where the defendant was acquitted for a crime that supported, opposed, or was neutral to the participant’s moral convictions. Others read about a case where the defendant was convicted of a crime that supported, opposed, or was neutral to the participant’s moral convictions. If the defendant’s crime was neutral to the participant’s moral convictions, they tended to prefer guilty verdicts, believing these verdicts to be more fair. If the defendant’s crime supported their moral convictions, they tended to find an acquittal or a conviction to be equally fair. If the defendant’s crimes opposed their moral convictions, they tended to find an acquittal to be unfair. In this last case, the amount of anger reported by the participant mediated this relationship. The more angry the participant was, the less fair they found the verdict.

Interestingly, participants across all conditions were equally likely to review the details of the court case. They, in other words, did not read an unfavorable verdict, reread the case, pay more attention to procedural violations, and then change their judgment. Instead, the moral salience of the verdict, and associated emotion, directly influenced fairness judgments.

While it’s clear that the participants are engaging in biased processing, it’s not clear to what extent participants are elaborating. There was no evidence of differences in elaboration between manipulations, which is somewhat surprising, given that individuals could have been more motivated to elaborate verdicts that were self-relevant (relevant to their moral mandate, emotionally stimulating).

However, it’s possible that they were elaborating when making the procedural and outcome fairness judgments (the two fairness judgments measured), just not in a way that the experiment could detect. It seems that all participants felt that the defendant was somewhat likely to be guilty. It would be interesting if seeing an individual who shares your moral convictions but probably broke the law initiated a cognitive process that lead to dis-identification with the legal system (I don’t care whether they were acquitted or guilty because I reject a system that does not up hold my moral convictions) or whether it initiated a cognitive process that lead to protection of the legal system (I understand that the legal system exists for a reason and I wish it could be changed. Until it is changed, the verdict was fair if they were acquitted because there were procedural errors, and the verdict was also fair if they were convicted because the defendant could have been guilty). It could also be that seeing someone who supports your moral convictions guilty of committing a crime based on those convictions evokes more heuristic processing (I’m feeling troubled and confused, so I’m not going to make a judgment and consider whatever the verdict is at least somewhat fair).

I would be interested in whether that result changes with increasing time pressure. I would be interested in whether self-reported anger increases or decreases elaboration. Does the threat of someone who opposes your moral convictions being acquitted increase the need for specific closure?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Worldview Model as a Model of Political Diversity

Conservatives who are lower in nonspecific needs for closure but have high needs for specific closure with regards to, for example, God and government, may be relatively more open to change and uncertainty that is an outcome of their decision to reject prevalent modernist norms and even to militate against them. Jost et al (2003b), for example, have suggested that progressive revolutionaries should be highly open to change and uncertainty, reactionary revolutionaries moderately open, established socialist and communist regimes also moderately open, and traditional hierarchical regimes not at all open.

However, Jost et al. (2003b) ignore differences among the progressive revolutionaries—some of whom may be seeking to instantiate values based on a transcendental truth, others of whom may believe that they have an empirically verifiable truth. The Worldview Model suggests that progressive revolutionaries should have different closure needs depending on their traditionalist, modern, or post-modern orientations.  Their level of integrative complexity, responsiveness to salient beliefs and values, and tolerance of change should vary with the specific and nonspecific closure needs specific to their version of traditionalism, modernism, or postmodernism.

Self-identified liberals may also embrace beliefs that could reflect postmodernist absolute uncertainty (Golec & Van Bergh, 2007), but are instead firmly modernist.  For example, these liberals could embrace scientific inquiry and believe that it allows them to know absolute truth.  These same liberals, however, could claim to respect other forms of knowledge. This could be because liberals in general tend to value novel experience and are generally lower in closure needs (Jost et al., 2003a).  This could also be because the modernist perspective encourages a sense of personal uncertainty and some modernists may generalize from their lack of personal ability to achieve certainty in certain domains to a belief that no living person can achieve certainty in those domains. Alternate beliefs, to these modernists, can be accepted because everyone operates under the same conditions of inescapable uncertainty.

Liberals with relatively more certainty about their own ability to know may be both higher in need for closure and engage in more moral exporting (proselytizing), although I know of no studies directly assessing liberal this relationship.  Peterson, Smith, Tannenbaum, and Shaw (2009) demonstrated that the relationship between moral exporting behaviors and conservative identification can be mediated by both the need for closure and moral absolutism. Using a sample of undergraduates at the University of Utah and administering a bipolar scale of liberal to conservative identification, as well as new scales developed to measure moral absolutism and moral exporting, the authors found that moral exporting was positively related to conservatism. This relationship varied by religious affiliation, with both moral exporting and moral absolutism being positive correlated with religious attendance. Mormonism was more highly correlated with moral exporting than other religious affiliations. While need for closure correlated positively with conservatism, moral exporting, and moral absolutism, moral absolutism was a more proximate mediator of the relationship between conservatism and moral exporting.

It is possible that liberals who are high in moral absolutism (which modernist liberals should be when and if they believe in their own ability to make rational moral judgments) and higher in need for closure will engage in moral exporting. The Worldview Model would predict that liberals who possess relatively fewer closure-avoidant beliefs should engage in more moral exporting. Moral exporting may bring closure by affirming individual beliefs but it may also be in service of interpersonal closure (Peterson et al., 2009). At times of conflict, when interpersonal closure needs are elevated as threat is elevated, even relatively uncertain modernists should engage in moral exporting. Traditionalist liberals, who believe in transcendental truths but take liberal policy stances, may be moral absolutists but only believe it necessary to share a small segment of their values, limiting the extent to which they proselytize. 

Libertarians in the Worldview Model may be modernists who accept individual moral orientations but justify this stance with reference to a rational process. Libertarians may assert each individual’s ability to discover their own individual rational values.  Libertarians may, further, reject postmodern beliefs that these individual values cannot be considered objective. These libertarians may either take traditionally conservative or traditionally liberal policy stances. However, they should be relatively consistent in their belief that a society that limits their personal freedom is oppressive.  This is an issue on which they should be motivated to achieve closure. 

Seeing themselves as being in conflict with an oppressive society, libertarians may be under relatively high closure needs and aggressively seek a solution to the problem of that oppression. Libertarians, then, should be motivated to achieve closure on why they deserve more freedom, which could reduce their integrative complexity, if this process is not challenged by traditionalists, modernists, or postmodernists with other beliefs. However, relatively powerless and conscious of their perceived oppression, they should also engage in dialogue with wider society, which could lead them to develop stances that possess relatively more integrative complexity.

It should be recalled that the Worldview Model predicts that modernist cultures should vary.  Some should require specific closure only on the fundamental questions of whether absolute truth exists and whether it could, possibly, be discovered through inquiry.  Others should require specific closure across a variety of domains. However, although this model asserts that all individuals should have a dominant worldview, a claim that should be empirically tested, some individuals may switch worldviews over the course of a lifetime. Others may hold beliefs that reflect contradictory worldviews, leading to internal conflict only when their ability to analyze and evaluate absolute truths is called into question. Still other individuals may combine traditionalist or modernist orientation with a postmodern one. 

A postmodernist, as defined by Golek and Van Bergh (2007), believes that no one can possess absolute truth. To the extent that a postmodern worldview is the product of socialization, it should increase a need to avoid closure and decrease a need for closure.  However, there are no relevant empirical studies that I know of that directly examine postmodern participants. However, the postmodernist resembles the individuals postulated by Fiske and Tetlock’s (1997) model of how to manage taboo tradeoffs.  The authors suggested that the equal validity of the conflicting values be affirmed, as well as, within a group, differing individual preferences for each value.  They further suggested that the group work out an optimum solution that acknowledged, rather than avoiding, the tradeoffs.  This model specifically denies the ultimate rationality of any one solution, but suggests that the best solution will represent a compromise among the conflicting values. The postmodernist individual, the Worldview Model predicts, would most likely be politically liberal, but political preferences would vary with interpersonal interactions in a decision-making context.

Many indigenous peoples combine traditionalist and postmodern beliefs in order to assert their right to continue to embrace traditional beliefs and to follow traditional values. Relatively unable to lead revolutions, colonized indigenous traditionalists living in a postcolonial society must carve out a place for themselves as knowledgeable authorities without completely rejecting the philosophical basis of the post-colonial state. These efforts may militate against western science or seek to claim scientific legitimacy.  Vine Deloria Jr.’s Red Earth, White Liesexemplifies both approaches. When these cultural conflicts cannot be resolved, closure may be boldly avoided. 

While postmodernist beliefs may fulfill needs to avoid closure that arise from the undesirable or impractical implications of traditionalist or modern worldviews, they may also moderate need for closure on certain political issues. For example, a postmodernist may believe in freedom of religion, until that religion seems to oppress her, an individual that she cares about, or a group with which she identifies.  Although she may ultimately take a stance and seek closure, she may ultimately simply acknowledge her value conflict and seek to find the best solution possible.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

When Would We Predict Change Blindness Among Conservatives and Liberals?

In Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway, 2003 the authors describe a number of possible relationships that can transform an individual’s perception of environmental uncertainty and environmental threat into political conservatism.  The authors characterize political conservatism as comprised of both resistance to change and the endorsement of social and economic inequalities.  Jost et al. demonstrate that the relationships between uncertainty about one’s environment and feeling threatened by one’s environment and political conservatism are complex and vary by individual.  These relationships include the moderating roles of:
  • Epistemic motives: including dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance, and the needs for order, structure, and closure.
  • Existential motives: including self-esteem, a  prevention-oriented regulatory focus, and terror management.
  • Ideological motives: including the rationalization of self-interest, group-based dominance, and system justification.

In addition, the particular form that political conservatism takes reflects socially-learned ideology-influenced knowledge, including beliefs about cosmology, human nature, governance, etc.   

The authors argue that while both directed reasoning—reasoning in pursuit of a certain belief and undirected reasoning—reasoning by a process that satisfies meta-cognitive needs—influence the acquisition of new knowledge, prior knowledge influences when and how these needs are met.  For example, an individual may believe that the social world is dangerous because they were taught that it is dangerous or have experienced it as dangerous, but they may also, as Duckitt, Birum, Wagner, & du Plessis, 2002 demonstrated using structural equation modeling, tend to believe that the social world is dangerous as a consequence of a need for social conformity.  In other words, the need for social conformity, once formed as a personality variable, may motivate the acquisition of evidence in favor of believing that the world is a dangerous place.   Duckitt et al’s study was not longitudinal and could not study reciprocal relationships between social conformity needs and belief in a dangerous world over time. 

This potentially reciprocal relationship between personality traits, i.e. core motives, and ideology-relevant knowledge is particularly interesting when one looks at attitudes towards change.  Change in general, Jost et al. argue, tends to lead conservatives to feel threatened.  Instead, conservatives tend to positively value stability.  At the same time, political conservatives will often advocate a return to an idealized past, both more recent and more distant, denigrating the present as, to cite adjectives from the Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale, “radical” (in itself a negative adjective), “perverse,” or “sinful.”   This surface-level contradiction could be resolved if we more carefully defined what kinds of changes conservatives are threatened by, across a variety of situations. 

Reasoning by analogy to studies of change-blindness attention and perception, I wonder if the changes that conservatives have such negative affective reactions to are schema-threatening changes.  Schemas, mental models that are used to encode, store, and recall information, are relatively stable tools which have the side-effect of limiting perception of variation in schema-consistent information.  In other words, if change in the environment does not challenge the schema, it is often ignored completely.  Further, if a change would challenge the schema, it is often ignored if most of the information in the environment supports the schema.  For example, I myself did not notice that parts of a color photograph were printed in black and white even though that photograph was presented in an article on change blindness. 

Change-blindness studies are often even more dramatic and of direct-relevance to interpersonal interaction.  In one study, an experimenter sent a confederate out on a college campus to ask people for directions.  After the experimenter greeted the subject, another set of confederates walked between the dyad while carrying a large object that completely obscured the subject’s view.  In the meantime, another confederate replaced the first confederate, so that the subject was now giving directions to a completely different person.  Many subjects failed to notice this change, even when the person was much shorter, taller, of a different skin-tone, etc.   Further studies revealed certain patterns—college student subjects were more likely to notice that the college-student aged confederate had changed, changes in gender (if I recall) were noticed, as, sometimes, were changes in race (Simons & Levin, 1997).

If change blindness is a demonstrable phenomenon in such a basic social situation, it may not be surprising if it occurred in relation to ideological schema as well, allowing for even some schema-inconsistent changes to go unnoticed and thus never become threatening.  The question then arises, what predicts when a schema-inconsistent change will be noticed and how threatening it will become?  Further, when a country’s politics are polarized around a left-right dimension, are there concrete and complex schemas that identify any action of the left as being in favor of “change.”  Are these two types of change—change that is noticed because a stimulus is schema-inconsistent and change that is noticed because a stimulus is consistent with a schema that labels that stimulus as change—correlated to different affective reactions in conservative individuals?  Or does it all come out in the wash?  

Ideology as Variation in Attitudes Towards Uncertainty and Threat (in the US, Europe, Israel, and New Zealand)

Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology
To request see:

Jost, Nosek, and Gosling argue in 2008 that ideology comprises a “single left–right (or liberal–conservative) dimension” that “possesses two core aspects: (a) advocating versus resisting social change and (b) rejecting versus accepting inequality” (Jost, Nosek, & Gosling, 2008). They further argue that “ideological belief systems may be structured according to a left–right dimension for largely psychological reasons linked to variability in the needs to reduce uncertainty and threat.” (Jost, Nosek, & Gosling, 2008) In these statements, Jost, Nosek, and Gosling do not explicitly discuss causal relationships between ideology and personal “needs.” Indeed, they are explicitly, at least for the purposes of this paper, agnostic as to whether “left–right proclivities stem from basic, underlying preferences that are apolitical in nature or, alternatively, that the adoption of specific ideologies leads people to internalize a host of extremely general attitudes concerning stability versus change and hierarchy versus equality” (Jost, Nosek, & Gosling, 2008). Is each line of argument that Jost et al. employ in defense of their thesis also agnostic as to the causal role of “underlying preferences”?

Their first set of arguments concerns implicit ideological preferences. For example, they specifically examine preferences for “tradition, conformity, order, stability, traditional values, and hierarchy—versus those for progress, rebelliousness, chaos, flexibility, feminism, and equality” (Jost, Nosek, & Goslking, 2008). These preferences, Jost et al. state, fall into two negatively correlated groups of preferences. Any one person would be somewhat unlikely to have strong implicit preferences for, to take an example, tradition and stability as well as progress and chaos. In addition, any one person who has a preference for tradition is somewhat more likely to have a preference for stability as well. These preferences do correlate to political orientation, but Jost et al. are agnostic as to the direction of causation, but do suggest that the negative correlation between preferences is a “constraint” on the development of political orientation. How strong the constraint is would depend on the strength of the negative correlation and individual factors.

Their second set of arguments concerns system justification. System justification theory does make a specific causal argument—mainly that the need to believe in a just world does cause more automatic and more deliberate system-justifying behaviors, as Jost and colleagues have defined and measured them. However, the strength of this need differs both between individuals and within individuals. Prolonged threat, for example, can increase system-justifying behaviors. The need to believe in a just world also correlates to variables used to measure political-orientation. In this argument, political upbringing may influence the strength of one’s need to believe in a just world, which in turn would influence the way that one comes to believe in a just world—by, for example, justifying different aspects of the existing economic-social-political system and not justifying others.

Their 3rd and 4th sets of arguments concern individual preferences. According to Jost et al., conservative and liberal orientations are correlated to different “big five” personality traits as well as to different self-reported preferences for attitude objects like fishing and one’s father versus atheists and tattoos. These lines of argument are open to the same question of causality. Are certain personality traits expected of individuals raised in social contexts that teach and expect a certain political orientation? Or, alternatively, are they more “inborn” with these inborn traits reflected in political orientation? To address the fourth line of argument, are certain lifestyle preferences caused by certain individual fundamental preferences or are they merely artifacts of cultural differences in upbringing between liberals and conservatives?

Jost et al.’s fifth line of argument is central to their thesis that the need to manage uncertainty and threat is central to political orientation. Here they present two main arguments. The first is that a conservative shift corresponds to increased exposure to both threats to the system and mortality salience—as demonstrated both by in-laboratory reminders of 9/11, personal experience of terrorist attacks (both in the US and in Europe) and their effects, and rapid “social change and the fear of social decline.” The second is that liberal shifts tend to be caused by having to approach positive novel experiences and perspectives. These two sets of arguments differ, of course, in degree of control and in the nature of threat. In the conservative shift, direct control is extremely low, in the liberal shift, direct control is relatively high. Personal threat is relatively high in the conservative shift case and relatively low in the liberal shift case. In either case, there’s some evidence that the precipitating events (attack, novel experiences) changed personal and political preferences.

How would you tell the causal story? What creates consistency between political orientation and other preferences and what could disrupt this consistency?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

McAdam on the Political Process Model of the Social Movement

In the introduction to the 2nd edition (1999) of his “Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970), Doug McAdam emphasizes the central role that “interpretative processes” play in social movements.  According to the model presented on page xvi (Figure 1. A Dynamic, Interactive Framework for Analyzing the Emergence of Contentious Politics) interpretive processes affect and are affected by changes in the POS (political opportunity structure) and collective action by both elite actors and challengers.  In McAdam’s view, elite actors and their challengers initiate interpretive processes in response to “broad change processes.”  These processes can include: wars, industrialization, international political realignments, concerted political pressure from international actors, economic crisis, and widespread demographic shifts (McAdam 1999 x). 

These interpretive processes include attributions of both threat and opportunity.  If elite actors and their challengers perceive sufficient threat and sufficient opportunity to rectify it, they will then seek to “appropriate” existing organizations and group identities in order to bring about change.  When they are ready to act, they will do so collectively, through a combination of existing and new forms of action.  As this process continues, often over the course of decades, the actions of elite groups will change the political opportunity structure that challenging groups must exploit. These changes, sometimes in response to the challenging groups and sometimes in response to other elites, will be further interpreted by the challenging group.  The actions of challenging groups will, meanwhile, be interpreted by elite groups.  As this process continues, both elite groups and challenging groups may come to share a “perception of environmental uncertainty.”  This perception becomes the basis of “sustained contention” (McAdam 1999 xvi).