An article from the Wall Street Journal. The original title might be slightly mind-killing for some people, but I found it moderately interesting especially considering that many LessWrongers formed part of the data set for the study the article talks about and a large fraction of us identified as libertarian on the last survey.
Inside the Cold, Calculating Libertarian Mind
An individual's personality shapes his or her political ideology at least as much as circumstances, background and influences. That is the gist of a recent strand of psychological research identified especially with the work of Jonathan Haidt. The baffling (to liberals) fact that a large minority of working-class white people vote for conservative candidates is explained by psychological dispositions that override their narrow economic interests.
In his recent book "The Righteous Mind," Dr. Haidt confronted liberal bafflement and made the case that conservatives are motivated by morality just as liberals are, but also by a larger set of moral "tastes"—loyalty, authority and sanctity, in addition to the liberal tastes for compassion and fairness. Studies show that conservatives are more conscientious and sensitive to disgust but less tolerant of change; liberals are more empathic and open to new experiences.
But ideology does not have to be bipolar. It need not fall on a line from conservative to liberal. In a recently published paper, Ravi Iyer from the University of Southern California, together with Dr. Haidt and other researchers at the data-collection platform YourMorals.org, dissect the personalities of those who describe themselves as libertarian.
These are people who often call themselves economically conservative but socially liberal. They like free societies as well as free markets, and they want the government to get out of the bedroom as well as the boardroom. They don't see why, in order to get a small-government president, they have to vote for somebody who is keen on military spending and religion; or to get a tolerant and compassionate society they have to vote for a large and intrusive state.
The study collated the results of 16 personality surveys and experiments completed by nearly 12,000 self-identified libertarians who visited YourMorals.org. The researchers compared the libertarians to tens of thousands of self-identified liberals and conservatives. It was hardly surprising that the team found that libertarians strongly value liberty, especially the "negative liberty" of freedom from interference by others. Given the philosophy of their heroes, from John Locke and John Stuart Mill to Ayn Rand and Ron Paul, it also comes as no surprise that libertarians are also individualistic, stressing the right and the need for people to stand on their own two feet, rather than the duty of others, or government, to care for people.
Perhaps more intriguingly, when libertarians reacted to moral dilemmas and in other tests, they displayed less emotion, less empathy and less disgust than either conservatives or liberals. They appeared to use "cold" calculation to reach utilitarian conclusions about whether (for instance) to save lives by sacrificing fewer lives. They reached correct, rather than intuitive, answers to math and logic problems, and they enjoyed "effortful and thoughtful cognitive tasks" more than others do.
The researchers found that libertarians had the most "masculine" psychological profile, while liberals had the most feminine, and these results held up even when they examined each gender separately, which "may explain why libertarianism appeals to men more than women."
All Americans value liberty, but libertarians seem to value it more. For social conservatives, liberty is often a means to the end of rolling back the welfare state, with its lax morals and redistributive taxation, so liberty can be infringed in the bedroom. For liberals, liberty is a way to extend rights to groups perceived to be oppressed, so liberty can be infringed in the boardroom. But for libertarians, liberty is an end in itself, trumping all other moral values.
Dr. Iyer's conclusion is that libertarians are a distinct species—psychologically as well as politically.
A version of this article appeared September 29, 2012, on page C4 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Inside the Cold, Calculating Libertarian Mind.
The original paper.
Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Roots of an Individualist Ideology
Abstract: Libertarians are an increasingly vocal ideological group in U.S. politics, yet they are understudied compared to liberals and conservatives. Much of what is known about libertarians is based on the writing of libertarian intellectuals and political leaders, rather than surveying libertarians in the general population. Across three studies, 15 measures, and a large web-based sample (N = 152,239), we sought to understand the morality of selfdescribed libertarians. Based on an intuitionist view of moral judgment, we focused on the underlying affective and cognitive dispositions that accompany this unique worldview. We found that, compared to liberals and conservatives, libertarians show 1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle and correspondingly weaker endorsement of other moral principles, 2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional intellectual style, and 3) lower interdependence and social relatedness. Our findings add to a growing recognition of the role of psychological predispositions in the organization of political attitudes.