Left-wing authoritarianism is a ‘real and pervasive problem’, says massive new psychological study

New research provides evidence that left-wing authoritarianism is a valid construct that predicts important real-world phenomena, including restrictive communication norms and dogmatism. The findings, published in Frontiers in Psychologyare based on data collected from over 8,000 US residents and over 60,000 people from around the world.

“I think authoritarianism is bad, no matter what political color it wears,” said study author Lucian Gideon Conway III (@LGConwayIII), professor of psychology at Grove City College and author of the book “Complex Simplicity: How Psychology Suggests Atheists are Wrong About Christianity”.

“It is obvious to many people that people on the left can be just as authoritarian as people on the right, and yet academics have been curiously reluctant to admit it, or even take an interest in studying it. We wanted to provide more definitive scientific evidence that left-wing authoritarianism was a real and pervasive problem, not just in the United States, but around the world.

“Our series of 12 studies is a response to critics who have argued that our previous award-winning work was not enough to inspire them to take left-wing authoritarianism seriously,” Conway said.

In previous research, Conway and his colleagues developed a measure of left-wing authoritarianism, adapted from the right-wing authoritarianism scale developed by psychologist Bob Altemeyer. The RWA scale was designed to measure psychological traits and attitudes associated with right-wing authoritarianism, such as a preference for strong leaders, a belief in traditional values ​​and social hierarchies, and a tendency to view people as different. of oneself with suspicion. or hostility.

The RWA scale asks participants to what extent they agree with statements such as: “It is always better to trust the judgment of competent authorities in government and religion than to listen to loud rowdies of our society who try to sow doubt in people’s minds” and “Our country desperately needs a powerful leader who will do what needs to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sin that are ruining us” .

Respondents rate their level of agreement with each statement on a scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Based on the responses, researchers can calculate a person’s overall RWA score, which reflects their level of authoritarianism.

The new LWA scale, on the other hand, includes items such as: “It is always better to trust the judgment of competent scientific authorities in matters such as global warming and evolution rather than to listen to the loud rowdies in our society who try to sow doubt in people’s minds” and “Our country desperately needs a powerful and liberal leader who will do what it takes to destroy the radical and traditions of doing the things that ruin us.

The researchers first recruited 441 American adults through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to investigate how individuals view authoritarianism among people with left-wing and right-wing political beliefs. Participants were asked to identify the number of liberal and conservative authoritarian individuals they knew among family, friends or acquaintances, co-workers, and news/TV/movie/sports personalities.

The results showed that participants reported significantly more right-wing authoritarianism than left-wing authoritarianism on all measures. However, participants still identified a substantial number of left-wing authoritarians. The results suggest that authoritarianism is not exclusively associated with right-wing political orientations.

“We asked the American participants to identify the number of left-wing authoritarians in their lifetime, and I was very surprised at the number they identified,” Conway told PsyPost. “I predicted the average American would identify 1 or 2, and I scoffed at a non-academic who predicted closer to 15. But the truth was much closer to 15 than 1.”

“In fact, even liberal participants identified on average quite a large number of liberal authoritarians in their lifetime. So while of course I was expecting some left-wing authoritarianism, I was frankly shocked by the absolute numbers people were reporting. This debate about “is there anyone authoritarian on the left” is obviously something unique in academia. The average citizen already believes that such a thing does indeed exist.

Next, the researchers set out to test whether the RWA scale and the LWA scale measured what they were supposed to measure. To this end, they recruited a sample of 417 American adults using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The researchers directly asked participants to rate how well items from both scales described authoritarianism.

To assess discriminant validity, that is, the ability of a measure or test to distinguish between two different constructs or concepts that are theoretically distinct, participants also rated items from the MINI Big 5 Inventory, a common measure of personality traits.

Both liberal and conservative participants rated items on the LWA scale as measuring authoritarianism. The scale also showed strong discriminant validity. Participants rated it as significantly more descriptive of authoritarianism compared to the MINI Big 5 Inventory.

In a series of eight additional studies, which included 8,487 total participants, Conway and colleagues found that those who scored higher on the LWA scale tended to exhibit increased levels of ecological threat, COVID-19 threat 19, of belief in a dangerous world and political threat outside the group.

In other words, left-wing authoritarians were more likely to agree with statements such as “I feel the main area where I live has a lot of disease”, “Thinking about the coronavirus (COVID-19) makes me feel threatened”, “If our society continues to degenerate as it has been lately, it may crumble like a rotten log and everything will be in chaos” and “When I think of Donald Trump, this makes me feel threatened.

Left-leaning authoritarians were also more supportive of restricting what people in society can say, showed greater aversion to African Americans and “Bible-believing” Jews who were “strong supporters of the nation of Israel” and scored higher on a measure of dogmatism.

Finally, Conway and colleagues looked at data from Wave 6 of the World Values ​​Survey, which included 66,000 participants in 54 countries who had completed an endorsement of authoritarian governance assessment as well as a measure of political ideology.

In many countries, especially those in Western Europe and South America, there was a strong connection between being politically conservative and endorsing an authoritarian style of government. However, there were also many countries where being politically liberal was tied to endorsing an authoritarian government. The results provide evidence that authoritarianism can exist in both conservative and liberal political systems around the world.

“In my field, the idea that there really is a ‘leftist authoritarian’ problem has been cast as a ‘myth’ along with the Loch Ness Monster,” Conway told PsyPost. “But our recent article leaves no doubt: left-wing authoritarianism is not a myth, but a real and pervasive problem. When people (including some scientists) say that authoritarianism is primarily a right-wing problem, they are simply wrong. They don’t say that because it’s scientific; they say that out of wishful thinking.

“Our definitive set of 12 studies shows that average citizens identify a lot of liberal authoritarians in their lives; that leftist authoritarians are dogmatic, fearful and punitive; and that left-wing authoritarians dislike representative Jews and African Americans. These data answer critics’ questions about the validity of the scale with compelling evidence that our LWA scale is a very good measure of authoritarianism, and further show global evidence of left-wing authoritarianism across the globe.

“It’s time to move on from ‘should he be worried about liberal bullies?’ to ‘what should we do about liberal bullies?’ Conway added, “Our 12 studies provide definitive scientific evidence for left-wing authoritarianism in the United States and beyond.”

Previous research, which developed an alternative measure of left-wing authoritarianism (known as the Left-wing Authoritarianism Index), found great overlap in personality traits, cognitive styles and beliefs among those who scored high on left-wing authoritarianism and those who scored high on right-wing authoritarianism. Both groups had increased levels of viciousness and psychopathic boldness, dogmatism, disinhibition, need for closure, beliefs in fatalistic determinism, belief in conspiracy theories, and belief in a dangerous world.

“I’m happy to move on from the question ‘are there left-wing authoritarians?’ to important academic questions such as “How are left-wing and right-wing authoritarians similar and different from each other? “said Conway. “People with RWA and LWA share a common set of traits around authoritarianism, but they are not identical in all respects. It is therefore important to better understand what contributes to (and could change) the authoritarianism of each side of the aisle.

“Also, people can be authoritarian about anything, so we need to go beyond ‘left’ and ‘right’ and talk about more specific forms of authoritarianism that don’t fit the picture very well. ‘one or the other of the nicknames”, added the researcher.

The study, “Is the myth of left-wing authoritarianism itself a myth?”, was authored by Lucian Gideon Conway III, Alivia Zubrod, Linus Chan, James D. McFarland and Evert Van de Vliert.

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