Liberals aren't like the rest, or so they think

November 19, 2013

Liberals tend to underestimate the amount of actual agreement among those who share their ideology, while conservatives tend to overestimate intra-group agreement, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

These findings may help to explain differences in how political groups and movements, like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, gain traction on the national stage:

"The Tea Party movement developed a succinct set of goals in its incipient stages and effectively mobilized its members toward large-scale social change quite quickly," says psychological scientist Chadly Stern of New York University. "In contrast, despite its popularity, the liberal Occupy Wall Street movement struggled to reach agreement on their collective mission and ultimately failed to enact large-scale social change."

Stern, with co-authors Tessa West and Peter Schmitt, recruited almost 300 hundred participants to complete an online survey. The participants read political statements (e.g., "In general, I support labor unions,") and non-political statements (e.g., "I enjoy coffee") and were asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with each statement. They were also asked to indicate how much others of the same political persuasion would support their own attitudes - a measure of perceived in-group consensus.

Liberals showed what the researchers call "truly false uniqueness," perceiving their beliefs as more divergent from the beliefs of other liberals than they actually were. Moderates and conservatives, on the other hand, showed evidence of "truly false consensus," perceiving their beliefs to be more similar to those of other members of their political group than they actually were.

Data from a second study suggest that the relationship is driven by participants' desire to feel unique: Liberals reported a stronger desire for uniqueness than did moderates or conservatives.

Surprisingly, these trends even emerged among nonpolitical judgments, such as preference for coffee: Liberals believed their preferences were more different from those of other liberals than they actually were, while conservatives believed their preferences were more similar to those of other conservatives than they actually were.

Given that perceptions of in-group consensus can be an important motivator for social change, these new findings may help to explain why liberal and conservative movements develop different political trajectories:

"Liberal social movements might struggle to develop solidarity and formulate shared goals within their ranks, both because liberals want to maintain unique beliefs and because they underestimate the amount of agreement among their members," Stern explains.

"Conservative social movements might initially capitalize on perceiving agreement to galvanize their ranks, but their inaccurate perceptions could impair group progress when actual agreement is necessary."
-end-
For more information about this study, please contact: Chadly Stern at cds330@nyu.edu.

This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to C. Stern and by funding from New York University awarded to T. V. West.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "The Liberal Illusion of Uniqueness" 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 Goals Articles from Brightsurf:

Evenness is important in assessing progress towards sustainable development goals
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasize a holistic achievement instead of cherry-picking a few.

Romantic partners influence each other's goals
Over the long-term, what one partner in a two-person relationship wishes to avoid, so too does the other partner -- and what one wants to achieve, so does the other.

Can copying your friends help you achieve your goals?
Consumers often struggle to achieve self-set life improvement goals, but what if deliberately emulating the successful strategies used by their friends could help them?

Conservation goals may be stymied by a lack of land for biodiversity offsetting
Developers may struggle to find enough land to offset the biodiversity impacts of future development, according to a University of Queensland study.

How the chemical industry can meet the climate goals
ETH researchers analysed various possibilities for reducing the net CO2 emissions of the chemical industry to zero.

Infants prefer individuals who achieve their goals efficiently
From birth, we acquire information and learn through interacting with others; that is why it is so important to be able to identify the most suitable individuals to interact with.

Not finding new goals post-retirement associated with greater cognitive decline
Certain middle-aged and older adults, especially women who tend to disengage from difficult tasks and goals after they retire, may be at greater risk of cognitive decline as they age, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Psychologists discover secret to achieving goals
Research led by scientists at Queen Mary University of London has provided new insights into why people often make unrealistic plans that are doomed to fail.

Achieving optimal collaboration when goals conflict
New research suggests that, when two people must work together on a physical task despite conflicting goals, the amount of information available about each other's actions influences how quickly and optimally they learn to collaborate.

Pyschologists analyze language to categorize human goals
The researchers say human goals can be broadly categorized in terms of four goals: 'prominence,' 'inclusiveness,' 'negativity prevention' and 'tradition.'

Read More: Goals News and Goals 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.