I ran across an interesting article while visiting one of my statistical blogs I like to read that made me think, and chuckle. The article, The End of the End of Ideology, by John T. Jost, a New York University psychology professor, discusses whether or not political ideology (conservative vs. liberal) and personality traits are related. But do personality traits dictate political ideology? Or does political ideology evolve a persons personality traits? It’s an interesting paper to read and think about.

The part that had me chuckling was this table from page 665. It was developed by reviewing the contents of the bedrooms of 83 college students or recent graduates. I’m not sure I would treat college students and recent graduates as entirely representative of the population in order to make wide-sweeping claims about the contents of bedrooms and political ideology though. The more positive a number, the higher the correlation between having that item and being a conservative, while the lower the number, the more likely of being a liberal. (Some items have been left out.)

Event calendar .31
Postage stamps .30
Iron and/or ironing board .28
Laundry basket .25
Any type of flag (including U.S. flag) .23
Alcohol bottles/containers .23
Organized (vs. disorganized) stationery .18
Fresh (vs. stale) .17
Neat (vs. messy) .16
Clean (vs. dirty) .15
Varied (vs. homogeneous) CD’s -.19
Classic rock CD’s -.22
Modern rock CD’s -.22
Cultural memorabilia (e.g. trinkets from vacation) -.22
Tickets for/from travel -.22
Movie tickets -.25
Many (vs. few books) -.25
Varied (vs. homogeneous) books -.34

According to this study, I should have been a liberal in college (and possibly even now), since I listened to music in my bedroom, which was stale, messy, and dirty. And I didn’t own an iron or an ironing board, what stationery I might have had was certainly not in order. Although, I did have alcohol bottles in my room, I had a flag on the wall, and I owned a laundry basket. 🙂

Another research project referenced in his article was performed over a period of time using the same subjects (longitudinal study in ‘statistics speak’), correlated the personality of children as described by their teachers versus their political ideology at age 23. The study was funded by a National Institute of Mental Health grant. According to their study, children described as “energetic, emotionally expressive, gregarious, self-reliant, resilient, and impulsive were more likely to identify themselves as politically liberal as adults. Children who were seen by teachers as relatively inhibited, indecisive, fearful, rigid, vulnerable, and overcontrolled were more likely to identify themselves as conservative adults” (pp. 664-665). Holy cow! Who would want to be a conservative? If I’d known I was supposed to be inhibited, indecisive, and fearful as a kid, I wouldn’t have grown up to be a conservative!

I am not a psychologist, or even a true statistician, but I can’t help feeling that there is something flawed about this second study. At the very least, I would have preferred to have the initial assessment of a child’s personality done by a series of qualified child psychologists, each operating independently of the other reviewers, and only those assessments that matched would be considered as part of the cohort. I just have a hard time envisioning the conservatives of today being fearful, rigid, vulnerable, and indecisive when they were growing up.

— Jost, J. T. (2006). The End of the End of Ideology. American Psychologist, Vol. 61, No. 7.