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March 20, 2006

Whiners grow up to be conservative, study claims

A new study reports that whiny kids are more likely to become conservative:

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.
At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals. The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective. [Kansas City Star]

The alternative explanation is that conservative toddlers in Berkeley, California have a lot to whine about.

More information on Jack Block and his famous longitudinal study of personal development, still going after over 30 years.


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The other alternate explanation is that kids who grow up unhappy are hostile to their environments and gravitate towards ideologies that denounce the people who are dominant within it.

Eli beat me to it. I bet that whiny kids in places Kansas grow up liberal. In general, I think one of the better ways to track upbringing and politics is to look at whether the parents values are successfully passed on to the children, rather than trying to view "conservative" and "liberal" as fixed ideas that different personality types might gravitate to.

Yum! The ratio of substance to pages of exposition beats Lakoff. But Lakoff went after his theories with the apparent motive of matching or bettering the tools of persuation that worked for and worked on conservatives while this is presented only as a finding, a correlation.

Next step: what handle does this offer us in communicating to the whiners so that liberals can be the winners?

I hate to admit it, but I was that whiny kid.

However, I am a progressive/liberal.

Rob helpy-chalk:
I sort of agree with you and sort of don't. I really haven't adequately reseached and supported my contention but lets call it a hunch: the psychologoical legacy within an individual left by the amount of security and support from parents and how beningly they adminstered sibling conflicts may have a much greater effect on the political outlook that emerges in the adult than any directly communicated political "value" messages or doctrines of the parent. I think of that as a rebuttal to alarums raised about large conservative families breeding conservative majorities

greensmile: I agree that parents do more to communicate their values by their actions and parenting styles than by their overt messages and lectures to children. Actually, I think people's actions and parenting style reveals more of their *own* values than their stated political beliefs.

The one interesting result about values transmission that I am aware of is that first born children are more likely to take up their parents values than later born children. The explantion for this is because first born children get more attention from their parents, they are more likely to feel loyalty to them, to associate their ideas and actions with security and stability, etc.

This alone should diffuse worries about large conservative families. The additional children are not likely to take up their parent's ideas.

I also like to think that (truly) conservative parents are less likely to be caring nurturers this will interfere with values transmission. I have no real evidence for this though.

This fits in well enough with the idea that emotional health tends towards liberalism. And then there is the fact that suicide and divorce are higher in the Red States, which suggest a possible link between conservatism and a lack of emotional health.

But where do libertarians fit in? Many of them show even more passion regarding civil liberties than the liberals do, but they hate the government at least as much as the conservatives do. But the libertarians are quite comfortable with gays walking down a street holding hands, unlike the conservatives who are made uncomfortable by that. That suggests the emotional adaptability here ascribed to the liberals.

And how do social factors interact with this model? How is conservatism defined? Why should moving to suburbs make someone more conservative, and why should owning a lot of property make someone more conservative?

And then there is the fact that suicide and divorce are higher in the Red States, which suggest a possible link between conservatism and a lack of emotional health.

Or a possible link between suicide and divorce and poverty. Which could it be?

Good point. I guess we'd need to look at the non-poor in the Red States and see if their divorce rates and suicide rates are higher than the non-poor in the Blue States.

This sounds very different from anything I've read of Lakoff (whom somebody mentioned earlier). If I remember, Lakoff assigns broad qualities to liberals and conservatives on the basis of their worldview. While there's nothing wrong in principle with examining political orientation in terms of personality, studies like this seem to authorize a much more thoroughly ad hominem discourse than does Lakoff's.

Look at the sullen, angry picture of the woman who runs this site.

Marxist feminism is certainly making her happy, isn't it?

The problem here is too much time on one's hands.

Get married, have children, watch football. This process will occupy your time, drag you away from the nutjob obsession with world saving, and possibly make decent human beings out of you.

Wow, Thomas. Just goes to show how different people interpret things different ways. You look at the photo up there and see angry and sullen.

I look at it and see sexy and confident.

Amazing, no?

First, I can't think of any possible political discourse that's more ad hominem than Lakoff's; this certainly isn't one - it seems like a study that's set up in a way that its conclusion is good for rhetoric but not strong enough for science. For one, the sample size is too low. For two, as Eli and Rob said, without looking at similar trends in conservative communities, there's no way to know for certain about this trend. For three, it might be generational - i.e. among children born in the late 1950s, liberalism correlates with emotional stability, whereas among children born in the 1980s, the opposite might be true. For four, it's possible that as Lakoff implies, conservative families breed emotionally unstable kids, who also turn out to be conservative for different reasons.

You look at the photo up there and see angry and sullen.

I look at it and see sexy and confident.

And I look at it, see attractive, and then ignore it because I read Majikthise because of Lindsay's writing, not her looks.

If I'm not mistaken, the expression in that picture is a reference to a famous photo of Johnny Cash. Thomas might recall him as a famous singer of "truck driving songs."

This picture is sexy and confident if your taste in women runs to spoiled brats who care about nothing but themselves.

But, then, that pretty much describes the entire contents of this site, doesn't it?

Shouting Thomas,

Thank you for providing further evidence supporting the conclusions of the study. I admit, I had my doubts initially, but then I read your comments, and accidentally clicked through to your blog.

Another possibility. I haven't looked too deeply at the study, but was wondering how parental politics factored in here.

Maybe conservative parents raise whiny, conservative children. I'm looking at you, Shouting Thomas.

I think there's a fundamental flaw in this study. In my personal experience, pretty much everyone in Berkeley is whiney, earning it the sobriquet "The City of Petulence By-the-Bay". The lack of variation in the main independant variable casts the findings in doubt!

"This picture is sexy and confident if your taste in women runs to spoiled brats who care about nothing but themselves."

So, first liberals have a "save the planet" pathology, and now they care about nothing but themselves? Well, I'll hand it to you conservative types. . . You're nothing if not consistent.

Also, Marxist Feminists are better in bed than conservative chicks. I've had both, and feminists have the tendency to know what they want much more than conserative women, which makes lovemaking much easier. Though, for the record, the best head I ever got was from a tranny from Hong Kong.

Finally, I never understood the near-obsession among conservative men with women who will "do as they're told." That shit pisses me off to no end. Women who are independent and more deep than "let's get married and make babies" make for a lot more fun (and trouble :-).

Having not read the study (is it available online? It was published in a fairly obscure journal), I'm wary of commenting, but I suspect that Eli and Rob Helpy-Chalk are partially correct. While I do like the work by Jost on motivated social cognition and conservativism that was mentioned in the article Lindsay linked (because it received a great deal of non-scientific backlash, as this work is expected to), I'm not sure how you directly connect the personality traits that Jost found to be associated with conservatism with whineyness in childhood. In Block's study, the kids grew up to be conservative, and they had personality traits that we already know are associated with conservativism. It's impossible to make any causal conclusion there. Do the personality traits come from the conservativism, or do they come from the whinyness, and the traits then cause conservativism?

I've always thought that many conservatives adopt their political ideology due to a type of mental illness. I am not equipped to test this hypothesis, but call it a "hunch."

the best head I ever got was from a tranny from Hong Kong.

You just like saying "I got head from a tranny in Hong Kong." In fact, I bet the only reason you liked it is because you were thinking "later on, I'll get to tell people I got head from a tranny in Hong Kong!"

I look at her picture and see kind eyes. Thomas has issues, apparently...and probably sees her as "sullen and angry" because she has a neutral expression instead of an ingratiating, submissive smile.

Personally, I think Lindsay's picture doesn't look kind or cruel or Marxist-Feminist or sullen or happy or submissive or anything else. I think that it looks, first and foremost, goofy. Her mouth, the tilt of her head -- she just looks like a goofball in it.

Now, if you could combine Matthew Yglesias's silly facial hair with Lindsay Beyerstein's tilted, goofy-looking expression, then you'd have a great blog thumbnail face.

What about kids who weren't confident or well adjusted, but weren't whiny either? Y'know, the kids who sit at the table by themselves for lunch reading something, and don't really have many friends, and don't think that's a problem?

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