Can you raise your kid as a conservative or liberal?

by on October 20, 2012 at 7:22 am in Data Source, Education, Political Science, Religion, Science | Permalink

Here is a new study (caveat emptor all the way):

This new study, by a team led by psychologist R. Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, begins with new mothers describing their intentions and approach in 1991, and ends with a survey of their children 18 years later. In between, it features an assessment of the child’s temperament at age 4.

…“Parents who endorsed more authoritarian parenting attitudes when their children were one month old were more likely to have children who were conservative in their ideologies at age 18,” the researchers report. “Parents who endorsed more egalitarian parenting attitudes were more likely to have children who were liberal.”

Obviously genes are an alternative channel of influence.  And this is a stunner:

Also, the Illinois researchers did not gauge the parents’ political beliefs.

So I don’t believe the interpretations at all.  Still, it is interesting to see the extent of attitudinal persistence, and furthermore “…our results also showed that early childhood temperament predicted variation in conservative versus liberal ideologies.”  I suspect, however, that politics would turn out to be less susceptible to parental shaping than, say, religion or general temperamental approach to religion.

I consider this study radically incomplete, but still it is interesting to see the question tackled with a twenty-year time window and some ex ante planning.

For the pointer I thank www.artsjournal.com.

JBaldwin October 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

Given that conservatives and liberals are both authoritarian in their approach to governance, it would seem that this study says little about the relationship between authoritarianism and perceived political values.

Bill October 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm

You might want to read Haidt’s book: The Righteous Mind. I don’t think you will find support for your assertion. Rather, those who are more libertarian side with liberals.

Ask the question: Here is a question you can use to separate conservative from liberal/libertarian: John was a highly intelligent college graduate, single, living alone. Some evenings he would go to the grocery store, buy some chicken and have sex with the chicken. No one knows of John’s practice, and he tells no one about it.

Aside from not going to John’s house for a chicken dinner, liberals and libertarians said what he did in the privacy of his kitchen was his own business; he was harming no one. Conservatives, on the other hand, viewed John’s activities as threatening the social order and would seek to intervene.

Haidt’s book takes 6 aspects of social behaviour and political belief and compares them among liberals, conservatives and libertarians. You might be surprised with the survey results.

TMC October 20, 2012 at 4:49 pm

The religious part of the conservatives would object, but I’d think you’d find the middle 80 percent of people would not care. The last left 10% would ask John if they could help.

BC October 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

John having sex with the chicken is a hypothetical. We know liberals *do* object when John buys soda pop with too much sugar in it. So, liberal ideology: sex with chickens ok, drinking soda not ok. Hardly libertarian.

Steve October 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Liberals have a “moral sense” for purity or sacredness just like conservatives. They can object to putting too much sugar in your body just like conservatives sometimes object to a man letting a dick into his ass, and object to destroying trees like conservatives object to burning flags. But I think you’ll find there are a lot fewer things liberals will flip out over compared to conservatives because it isn’t “pure” and that is Haidt’s point. How many other things can you even think of that are sacred to liberals? How about conservatives?

BC October 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm

“How many other things can you even think of that are sacred to liberals?”

Things that liberals find more objectionable than having sex with chickens: (1) buying incandescent light bulbs, (2) driving a car instead of riding a bike or public transportation, (3) joining forces with other individuals to exercise free speech rights by making political campaign contributions, (4) owning a gun for self-defense, (5) hunting, (6) using animals for fur instead of for sex, (7) not spending one’s own money for someone else’s birth control, (8) not buying health insurance, (9) wanting to buy private health insurance with vouchers as seniors, (10) putting one’s own retirement savings into a private account instead of into Social Security, (11) choosing a K-12 school instead of being assigned one by the government, (12) working without joining a union, (13) growing wheat on one’s own property for one’s own personal use (Wickard v Filburn, famous New Deal case), to name a few.

The list is actually unlimited, commensurate with liberals’ belief that government powers should be unlimited. Liberals, not conservatives, are the ones that will not deny the government even the power to compel broccoli purchases. Liberals (nowadays) hold the Entitlement State above all other concerns, and the Entitlement State is incompatible with any notion of limited government and, hence, personal liberty. Consider, for example, the health care entitlement. *Everything* that an individual does affects his or her health in some way and, thus, a government providing a health care entitlement has an interest in regulating all such activities — hence, soda bans. That is the essence of the Obama-Warren you-didn’t-build-that thesis: everyone affects and is affected by everyone else and, thus, *all* activity is fair game for government regulation and all property and wealth are fair game for government redistribution.

It is actually easier nowadays to list the rights that liberals support, rather than the ones they oppose. Beyond gay rights and abortion rights, I can’t think of any others. Even in the sex-with-chicken example, one gets the sense that liberals don’t object precisely because many people might find the activity shocking. If sex with chickens were a commonplace middle class suburban activity, one gets the sense that liberals would start objecting to it, especially if the chickens weren’t recycled after use.

8 October 20, 2012 at 10:15 am

Most people follow the crowd. “I’m a Democrat/Republican” is enough for most people, even if their ideas are the opposite of each party.

maguro October 20, 2012 at 10:27 am

Lord. How many academic man-hours have been wasted attempting to “prove” that liberal political beliefs are psycholgically healthier than conservative political beliefs?

BC October 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

Apparently, a great unanswered question among psychologists is, “Why do liberals try so hard to stop conservatives from beating their wives?”

Mark_H October 20, 2012 at 10:30 am

This is among the sloppiest research I have ever seen. “Parents who endorsed more egalitarian parenting attitudes were more likely to have children who were liberal.” Let’s say liberal parents are more likely to have liberal children. Let’s say they’re also more likely to “endorse more egalitarian parenting attitudes,” feed their kids vegan food, indoctrinate them with liberal viewpoints, as well as a billion other things that systematically would vary between liberal and conservative parents.

Any study designed in this exact same way would say that any of these factors predict that a child would turn out liberal. It proves absolutely nothing other than correlation and is pretty much powerless to do what it claims to do.

This does absolutely nothing to suggest a causal link, but newspapers will not report it that way. What’s the point of researchers (ones paid handsomely by Illinois taxpayers in this case) conducting such a massive, long-term study that shows only a (perhaps very misleading) correlation?

Joe Smith October 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Why be skeptical that authoritarian parentts would raise little Republicans?

I expect that mildly abusive parents would also raise little Republicans. Much of modern Republicanism shows abusive traits.

careless October 22, 2012 at 9:52 am

Have you known any of their kids?

Bill October 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Poor kid. Is there a treatment code for this mental condition under Obamacare?

Edgar October 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Having a very difficult time wrapping my head around the notion that “egalitarian” is somehow the opposite of “authoritarian” when the two often go hand-in-hand. Another case of semantics clouding the issue.

JWatts October 20, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Egalitarian is not the opposite of authoritarian.

GiT October 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm
TGGP October 21, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Interesting review of another of Lakoff’s books on politics, although the blogger never finished:
http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory/?s=lakoff

Claudia October 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm

“Also, the Illinois researchers did not gauge the parents’ political beliefs.”

Not true. I would bet that the responses on parenting intentions at one month into motherhood are more correlated with the mom’s political beliefs than with her actual parenting intentions and her actual parenting. Who interviews one-month moms? Could we pick a more sleep deprived, distracted group of people? And if these are new moms it’s even more of an ideology question…babies change plans, they are very good at that. It would have been interesting to ask this same question to the moms at the 4-year old survey. And to have the 18-year olds answer a similar one as a hypothetical. As a survey researcher, I think intentions questions can be valuable, but you have to be very careful about inference and they tend to be noisier (even with well rested respondents) than more objective questions. A panel design can address some of these issues, but it doesn’t sound like from the article that it did this very carefully.

Bill October 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm

+1 for sleep depravity. Perhaps the paper can be retitled “Developmental Antecedents of Political Ideology Based on Interviews of the Sleep Deprived.”

Brian Donohue October 20, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Sleep depravity? Like sleeping with a chicken?

Slugger October 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I didn’t read the article, but here are some observations from real life. Every child will manage to surprise the parents sometimes in good ways, sometimes not. And just when you think you have gotten your kids set in ways satisfactory to you, you discover that a Cordelia is better than a Goneril.

freethinker October 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm

What does ” egalitarian parenting attitudes” supposed to mean with reference to bringing up one month old kids?

Vernunft October 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm

What about people who use Stalinist parenting techniques – egalitarian AND authoritarian? Do they raise little Greens?

Roy October 20, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Caveat: my mother was more Trotskyite than Stalinist, but..

I’m a red diaper baby, my parents were very Authoritarian even if they were relentlessly egalitarian. My very catholic grandmother saved me morally from becoming an Objectivist, but I admit to being a Neo-con for a period.

I have noticed that a lot of other red diapers either make the worst sort of doctrinaire lefties or they turn into quite bigoted religious fanatics, both christian and jewish. The healthier ones have usually outgrown an Ayn Rand phase. So it’s a lousy way to raise children, but the background helped a lot when I lived in the Bay Area, and it produces awesome drunken rants.

If I do believe though that it is a good idea to let children be around liberals, but you need to teach them how to identify woolly thinking. oh, and that feelings are a really lousy way to judge social systems and politics, but a pretty good guide to relating to actual people.

Craig Fratrik October 21, 2012 at 11:37 pm

I heard a talk by John Alford of Rice University that was completely on point. The answer they have found is that parental influences last until 18 or so, but disappear by 25.

Titles of his recent papers taken from http://docs.politicalscience.rice.edu/AlfordCV.pdf (I have read none of these)
“Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations”
“The Politics of Mate Choice”
“Linking Genetics and Political Attitudes: Re-Conceptualizing Political Ideology”
“Not by Twins Alone: Using the Extended Twin Family Design to Investigate the Genetic Basis of Political
Beliefs”
“The Ultimate Source of Political Opinions: Genes and the Environment”
“Is There a ‘Party’ in your Genes”
“Twin Studies, Molecular Genetics, Politics, and Tolerance: A Response to Beckwith and Morris”
“Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits”
“The New Empirical Biopolitics”
“Beyond Liberals and Conservatives to Political Genotypes and Phenotypes”
“Personal, Interpersonal, and Political Temperaments”
“Is Politics in our Genes?”
“Biology and Rational Choice”
“Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?”
“The Origin of Politics: An Evolutionary Theory of Political Behavior”

Craig Fratrik October 21, 2012 at 11:57 pm

better formatting.

“Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations”

“The Politics of Mate Choice”

“Linking Genetics and Political Attitudes: Re-Conceptualizing Political Ideology”

“Not by Twins Alone: Using the Extended Twin Family Design to Investigate the Genetic Basis of Political Beliefs”

“The Ultimate Source of Political Opinions: Genes and the Environment”

“Is There a ‘Party’ in your Genes”

“Twin Studies, Molecular Genetics, Politics, and Tolerance: A Response to Beckwith and Morris”

“Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits”

“The New Empirical Biopolitics”

“Beyond Liberals and Conservatives to Political Genotypes and Phenotypes”

“Personal, Interpersonal, and Political Temperaments”

“Is Politics in our Genes?”

“Biology and Rational Choice”

“Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?”

“The Origin of Politics: An Evolutionary Theory of Political Behavior”

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