The 27th Annual Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology brings together a group of distinguished researchers to discuss Bridging Ideological Divides in the context of political affiliation. The symposium will focus on two themes. The morning session will explore current psychological models explaining the divide with a particular emphasis on the moral roots of political ideology. The afternoon session will begin by highlighting recent research identifying potential means of reducing ideological conflict. Finally, we turn our questions inward to address the possibility of ideological divides within social psychology and what, if anything, should be done about it.
People are both moral intuitionists and moral realists. Beliefs about right and wrong are more often a product of affective reactions than deliberative logic, but we nonetheless feel a need to justify the “truth” of our moral beliefs with reference to evidence. In this talk I describe two lines of research suggesting that both political conservatives and political liberals “factualize” their moral intuitions by creating coherent moral narratives in which policies that feel morally right are seen as grounded in principle and likely to produce optimal utilitarian outcomes. One set of studies shows that people selectively recruit general moral rules to support specific moral intuitions, such that preferred moral conclusions seem justified by their grounding in principle. This can result in the inconsistent application of principle across similar situations that political opponents see as hypocritical. Another set of studies shows that people adjust factual beliefs to align with moral intuitions, such that the right course of action morally becomes the right course of action practically as well. This tendency to conflate what is morally good with what is practically effective helps explain the dramatically different factual beliefs found in Red and Blue America. Moral coherence processes thus contribute to the intractability of many moral and political conflicts, and reveal the trouble people have maintaining the Enlightenment distinction between facts and values, between what is and what ought to be.
Why We Should Care About Ideological Diversity in Social Psychology
I will discuss research showing that social psychologists (and social scientists generally) are overwhelmingly politically liberal. I'll then talk about some possible reasons for this, including self-selection, norms among social scientists, and unintended or overt discrimination. Finally, I'll talk about some of the consequences of an ideological monoculture for individual researchers and scientific progress.
Restraining Selfishness or Enabling Altruism: Moral Motives and Political Ideology
This talk will focus on the moral underpinnings of political ideology, with an emphasis on differences in moral motivation. Drawing from work on self-regulation, a new model of moral motives will provide a lens for viewing preferred differences in social regulation by those on the political Left versus Right. Distinct orientations regarding group-based morality will be addressed, and antecedents, consequences, and possibilities for bridging the ideological gap will be explored.
How Social Psychological Errors and Biases Consistently Distort "Received Wisdom" in Ways that Bolster a Liberal Worldview
I will first discuss the synergistic relationship between the bias for bias and the bias for liberal conclusions in social psychology. I will then report several anecdotal and personal experiences whereby I was personally repeatedly subjected to a vituperation that goes well beyond scientific criticism in my work on stereotype accuracy (e.g., in 1990, I submitted a review of expectancies which pointed out: 1) social psychologists routinely declare stereotypes to be inaccurate; 2) to that point, little empirical research had actually demonstrated stereotype inaccuracy; so that 3) If we want to make claims about inaccuracy, we should actually start collecting some data, which evoked the following remark in one review: "What should we be doing, articles with titles like "Are Blacks Really Lazy?" and "Are Jews Really Cheap?" -- I was pre-tenure, and decided it was more important to live to fight another day than win this battle, so removed that from the paper, which was ultimately accepted -- but note the distorting effect on "science" of this vituperation [i.e., an entirely valid scientific conclusion was unceremoniously purged to avoid offending a reviewer's political sensibilities). After reviewing several such incidents, I turn to the science of social psychology. Research ranging from ancient and venerable work from the 1950s (Hastorf & Cantril, 1954), through foundational work in the 1960s and 1970s on expectancies (Darley & Gross, 1982; Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968; Snyder et al, 1977; Snyder & Swann, 1978), through modern work on implicit bias exaggerates the power and pervasiveness of biases in such a manner as to bolster liberal worldviews emphasizing discrimination and oppression as sources of intergroup inequalities. At the same time, research that is interpretable as challenging such a worldview -- such as the overwhelming research showing that stereotype accuracy and reliance on individuating information are among the most powerful effects in all of social psychology -- are routinely dismissed or ignored. I also hope to review double standards that pervade the "received wisdom" of social psychology.
How we think affects what we think: The effects of construal level on political polarization between liberals and conservatives.
Do our political attitudes change depending on whether we are taking a big picture (abstract) approach versus in a more focused (concrete) mindset? Construal level theorist have illustrated that abstract (vs. concrete) thinking can affect the way we perceive, interpret, and respond to information. In our research, we have examined the ways that construal can affect political attitudes, with a focus on how construal level will ameliorate (or exacerbate) political polarization between liberals and conservatives. Through this line of research, we have found that thinking abstractly (vs. concretely) (1) reduces prejudice toward non-normative groups, such as gays and lesbians, atheists, and Muslims, especially among conservatives, and (2) increases both liberals’ and conservatives’ valuations of “individualizing” moral values (harm and fairness) over the “binding” values (ingroup loyalty, purity, and deference to authority). In a third set of studies, we show that abstract thinking reduces political polarization when individuals’ national identities are salient, but increases polarization when individuals are reminded of their partisan identities.
Understanding Ideological Differences in Explanations for Social Problems
The ideo-attribution effect refers to very robust and well-replicated finding that liberals and conservatives tend to generate very different explanations for social problems. Attitudes toward social welfare and the indigent, for example, are consistently correlated with ideologically patterned attributions about the causes of poverty. Conservatives blame poverty on self-indulgence and a lack of moral standards and intelligence. Liberals see the poor as victims of unjust social practices and structures. These ideological differences in attributions for poverty predict willingness to support expansion of social programs. Liberals generally favor increased spending on social programs, whereas conservatives oppose such spending. A similar ideo-attribution pattern emerges for explaining homelessness, sexual orientation, crime, foreign aggression, and even obesity. Liberals tend to focus on situational or institutional explanations for things like why people need social welfare or why people commit crimes, whereas conservatives tend to focus on personal explanations for the same phenomena. The goal of this presentation will be to present research that tests competing explanations for the ideo-attributional effect, that ultimately supports the conclusion that liberals’ and conservatives’ policy preferences are developed through very similar psychological processes, even when these processes nonetheless arrive at different endpoints.
Ideological Differences in the Expanse of the Moral Circle
United States conservatives and liberals differ psychologically on a number of factors including moral foundations and cognitive styles. Whereas conservatives prize loyalty and purity, liberals prioritize values related to moral care and fairness. Whereas conservatives tend to be cognitively oriented toward familiarity and closure, liberals are more open to new experiences and are more tolerant of novelty and ambiguity. These established psychological differences suggest that liberals and conservatives will also differ in the extent to which they expend moral concern and empathy toward others. That is, conservatives should be more inclined to prioritize smaller moral circles over larger ones whereas liberals should be more inclined to prioritize larger moral circles over smaller ones. We support this hypothesis with evidence that conservatives expend greater moral concern and empathy toward family versus friends, the nation versus the world, and humans versus nonhumans; whereas the opposite patterns emerge for liberals. These ideological differences in the expanse of the moral circle help to re-conceptualize and further understand reasons underlying the current political divide.
Persuading Partisans: Reframing Political Issues in Terms of Endorsed Moral Values Facilitates Influence
Political psychologists have found consistent and strong links between moral convictions and political attitudes, demonstrating that political views grounded in morality are especially stable and resistant to change. Here we test the possibility that, paradoxically, the link between moral conviction and political attitudes also offers a path to political influence. We propose that persuasive political appeals, even on highly polarized political issues, will be more effective if presented as consistent with the moral convictions of the target audience. Results of several studies support this argument. We find that conservatives showed greater support for traditionally liberal positions (environmental reform, same-sex marriage, national health insurance) when these views were presented in terms of moral principles more strongly endorsed by conservatives (purity, ingroup loyalty). Likewise, liberals were more supportive of high levels of military spending, a typically conservative position, when exposed to arguments framed in terms of fairness and equality, values endorsed more by liberals than conservatives. Mediation analyses suggested that reframed persuasive appeals were effective because they led individuals to consider these positions to be more consistent with their own moral principles.
Piercarlo Valdesolo received his PhD in social/personality psychology from Northeastern University (2008) and a Bachelor's in psychology from Amherst College (2003). He is currently Assistant Professor of Psychology at Claremont McKenna College, where he directs the Moral Emotions and Trust Lab. His research explores the psychological bases of trust, cooperation and moral judgment with a particular emphasis on the influence of emotional states.
Jesse Graham received his PhD (Psychology) from the University of Virginia in 2010, a Master's (Religious Studies) from Harvard University in 2002, and a Bachelor's (Psychology) from the University of Chicago in 1998. He is currently Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California, where he directs the Values, Ideology, and Morality Lab. His research interests are in moral judgment, ideology, and implicit social cognition.
Location and Registration
We are proud to offer attendance for the Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology at the following rates:
Albrecht Auditorium in the Stauffer Hall of Learning
Claremont Graduate University
925 N. Dartmouth Ave
Claremont CA 91711
Claremont Graduate University is located off of the I-10 Freeway, around 30 miles east of Los Angeles, CA.
For more information, e-mail Richard Dowlat, External Affairs Coordinator for the Division of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences in the School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (909) 607-9013.
*We will be applying for 5 hours of continuing edcation hours from the California Psychological Association. Approval of these units is pending.