A Bipartisan Sense of Superiority

Extreme liberals and conservatives might not agree on much, but here’s something they have in common: the further to the right or left they are, the more convinced they are of their own superiority.

In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers attempting to study “intellectual humility”—that is, the degree to which people recognize that their opinions might be wrong—found that moderates had the most intellectual humility, but the further someone is out on the political spectrum, the more likely they are to consider their opinion superior.

Researchers had 500 volunteers complete several questionnaires addressing their opinions on controversial political issues in the US: health care, illegal immigration, abortion, government aid to the needy, voter ID laws, income tax rates, torture tactics, affirmative action, and the role of religion in policymaking. For each question, volunteers indicated how correct their opinion was, from “no more right or wrong than anyone else” to “totally correct—the only possible answer”.

Overall, conservatives exhibited greater levels of dogmatism—that is, inflexibility in ideological beliefs.

However, extreme liberals and conservatives were happy to say that their opinions were the most superior, although they tended to do so on different issues. Conservatives tended to feel superior about taxes, affirmative action, and voter ID laws, whilst liberals felt most superior about welfare, religion in politics, and use of torture on terrorists.

According to Kaitlin Toner, one of the study’s co-authors, “We assumed that there would probably be some issues for which liberals felt more superior than conservatives and vice versa, but we didn’t anticipate that the numbers of these issues would be so evenly distributed. There’s no logical reason why people who hold moderate, middle-of-the-road attitudes wouldn’t think that their attitudes are superior. But they don’t tend to believe that; it’s the people with extreme attitudes who are disproportionately convinced that they are right.”

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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