Monday, April 23, 2012

Jonathan Haidt in His Own Words

Earlier today, I posted a selection of reviews of Haidt's new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, and his recent TED Talk. Here I am sharing an article he wrote for The New York Times, an interview from Slate, and a research article from the Social Science Research Network.

From The New York Times:

Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness

Groups circle around a flag, an idea, a leader or a cause and treat it as sacred. 
Clockwise, from top left: Eric Thayer for The New York Time; Daniel Borris for The New York Times; Joe Raedle, via Getty Images; Joe Raedle, via Getty Images 
In the film version of “All the President’s Men,” when Robert Redford, playing the journalist Bob Woodward, is struggling to unravel the Watergate conspiracy, an anonymous source advises him to “follow the money.” It’s a good rule of thumb for understanding the behavior of politicians. But following the money leads you astray if you’re trying to understand voters.

Self-interest, political scientists have found, is a surprisingly weak predictor of people’s views on specific issues. Parents of children in public school are not more supportive of government aid to schools than other citizens. People without health insurance are not more likely to favor government-provided health insurance than are people who are fully insured.

Despite what you might have learned in Economics 101, people aren’t always selfish. In politics, they’re more often groupish. When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves. We evolved to be tribal, and politics is a competition among coalitions of tribes.

The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness.
Read the whole article.

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From Slate:

Jonathan Haidt.
Jonathan HaidtPhoto by Tom Cogill, 2005.

Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, has delved into the tribal world of politics, where each group is obsessed with its own rightness. But self-righteousness, he says, is an essential part of being human.

You've called Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich a very good moral psychologist. What do you mean?
Gingrich is very skilled at manipulating moral sentiments. He understands visceral morality. In the 1990s, he came up with a list of words Republicans should use when talking about Democrats, including "dirty," "sleazy," "cheating." If you talk about "a dirty idea that will bring us down into the gutter," the words are very powerful. Ronald Reagan was a skilled moral psychologist, too. In fact, for the past 30 or 40 years Republicans have known how to talk in ways that push buttons.

Are Democrats less skilled at pushing buttons?
Democrats talk about programs like social security or Medicare but it's not clear to most voters what Democrats' core moral values are.

What should they do differently?
To get folks to vote for you—and go on voting for you—you need to tap into several of their moral foundations. When Barack Obama and the Democrats were changing the health care system, couldn't they at least have put on a show of worrying about cheaters—a concern that is stronger on the right than on the left? Couldn't they have pretended to care about catching all the doctors and lawyers who are in cahoots with patients to rip off the system?

Politics doesn't sound like the typical terrain for a psychologist. How did you become involved?
I began as a cultural psychologist in the early 1990s, looking at how morality varies across nations such as Brazil, India, and the U.S. It was only in 2004 that I got interested in political ideologies and cultures, and in looking at liberals and conservatives as though they were different nations.
Read the whole interview.

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From the Social Science Research Network:

The Moral Stereotypes of Liberals and Conservatives: Exaggeration of Differences Across the Political Divide

Jesse Graham

University of Southern California

Brian Nosek

University of Virginia

Jonathan Haidt

University of Virginia, Department of Psychology

January 1, 2011
We investigated the moral stereotypes political liberals and conservatives have of themselves and each other. In reality, liberals endorse the individual-focused moral concerns of compassion and fairness more than conservatives do, and conservatives endorse the group-focused moral concerns of ingroup loyalty, respect for authorities and traditions, and physical/spiritual purity more than liberals do. 2,212 U.S. participants filled out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire with their own answers, or as a typical liberal or conservative would answer. Across the political spectrum, moral stereotypes about “typical” liberals and conservatives correctly reflected the direction of actual differences in foundation endorsement but exaggerated the magnitude of these differences. Contrary to common theories of stereotyping, the moral stereotypes were not simple underestimations of the political outgroup’s morality. Both liberals and conservatives exaggerated the ideological extremity of moral concerns for the ingroup as well as the outgroup. Liberals were least accurate about both groups.

You can download the paper at this link.

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