Parenting and temperament in childhood predict later political ideology

October 22, 2012

Political mindsets are the product of an individual's upbringing, life experiences, and environment. But are there specific experiences that lead a person to choose one political ideology over another?

New research from psychological scientist R. Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and colleagues suggest that parenting practices and childhood temperament may play an influential role. Their study is published online in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Existing research suggests that individuals whose parents espoused authoritarian attitudes toward parenting (e.g., valuing obedience to authority) are more likely to endorse conservative values as adults. And theory from political psychology on motivated social cognition suggests that children who have fearful temperaments may be more likely to hold conservative ideologies as adults. Unfortunately, almost all of the existing research looking at these two factors suffers from significant methodological shortcomings. Specifically, the majority of this research has been retrospective--relying on adult's recollections of their early temperaments and their early caregiving experiences.

To better understand the developmental antecedents of political ideology, Fraley and his colleagues examined data from 708 children who originally participated in the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development's (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD).

When the children in the study were one month old, their parents answered questions from the Parental Modernity Inventory. Fraley and colleagues used their responses to determine the degree to which the parents demonstrated authoritarian (e.g., "Children should always obey their parents") and egalitarian parenting attitudes (e.g., "Children should be allowed to disagree with their parents").

The dataset also included mothers' assessments of their children's temperaments when they were 4.5 years old, using questions from the Children's Behavior Questionnaire. From these assessments, the researchers identified five temperament factors: restlessness-activity, shyness, attentional focusing, passivity, and fear.

Consistent with theory from political psychology, Fraley and colleagues found that children with authoritarian parents were more likely to have conservative attitudes at age 18, even after accounting for their gender, ethnic background, cognitive functioning, and socioeconomic status. Children who had parents with egalitarian parenting attitudes, on the other hand, were more likely to hold liberal attitudes as young adults.

In terms of temperament, children with higher levels of fearfulness at 54 months were more likely to be conservative at age 18, while children with higher levels of activity or restlessness and higher levels of attentional focusing were more likely to espouse liberal values at that age.

The researchers argue that their work has wide-ranging implications for understanding the variation in political orientation. According to Fraley, "One of the significant challenges in psychological science is understanding the multiple pathways underlying personality development. Our research suggests that variation in how people feel about diverse topics, ranging from abortion, military spending, and the death penalty, can be traced to both temperamental differences that are observable as early as 54 months of age, as well as variation in the attitudes people's parents have about child rearing and discipline." They believe that an important direction for future research will be to delve deeper into exploring the underlying mechanisms - including shared genetic variation and parent-child conflict - that might link parenting attitudes and temperament to later political ideology.

"We hope that this work will help enrich theory at the interface of political and personality science but also underscore the value of studying these issues from a developmental perspective," the authors write.
-end-
The study was co-authored by Brian Griffin of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Jay Belsky of the University of California, Davis, King Abdulaziz University, and Birkbeck, University of London; and Glenn Roisman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For more information about this study, please contact: R. Chris Fraley at rcfraley@uiuc.edu.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Developmental Antecedents of Political Ideology: A Longitudinal Investigation From Birth to Age 18 Years" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Parenting Articles from Brightsurf:

Perfectionists may be more prone to helicopter parenting, study finds
The negative effects of over-parenting on children are well documented, but less is known about why certain people become helicopter parents.

The effects of smartphone use on parenting
Parents may worry that spending time on their smartphones has a negative impact on their relationships with their children.

Extended parenting helps young birds grow smarter
The current study analyzes social and life-history data from several thousand songbirds, including 127 corvids, the family that includes jays, crows, ravens, and magpies.

Education the key to equal parenting rights for same-sex couples
Same-sex marriage may have been given the green (or rainbow) light in many countries around the world, but it appears there are still some entrenched attitudes in society when it comes to same-sex parenting.

Parenting elective lets physicians spend more time with their babies
A novel, four-week parenting rotation designed for pediatric residents has dramatically increased the amount of time resident parents can spend at home with their babies, according to a study by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Parenting stress may affect mother's and child's ability to tune in to each other
A study led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has revealed the effects of the stress of parenting in the brains of both mothers and their children.

Evolution from water to land led to better parenting
The evolution of aquatic creatures to start living on land made them into more attentive parents, says new research on frogs led by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath.

Keep calm and don't carry on when parenting teens
In a new study, University of Rochester psychologists find that mothers and fathers who are less capable of dampening down their anger are more likely to resort to harsh discipline aimed at their teens, and that fathers in particular were not as good at considering alternative explanations for their teens' behavior.

Most parents say hands-on, intensive parenting is best
Most parents say a child-centered, time-intensive approach to parenting is the best way to raise their kids, regardless of education, income or race.

One in 4 parents not prepared for 'parenting hangovers' this holiday season
A quarter of parents of young children who drink alcohol on special occasions do not think about limiting how much they drink or whether they'll be able to take care of their child the next day, according to a new national poll.

Read More: Parenting News and Parenting Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.