Conservative or Liberal? One Has More Self-Control

Who has more self control, Republicans or Democrats?

I've already given myself away that I'm a Democrat (and liberal, to boot), but a new study has found that conservatives showed a greater aptitude for certain aspects of self-control, performing better on tasks that test persistence and attention regulation.

At the same time, liberals appear to exhibit greater self-control when confronted with the idea that free will exerts a negative impact on success.

Hmm.  This reminds me of my own confusion believing in God, and then Charleston happens.  A lot of people believe God doesn't cause evil, man does, because of free will.  (But God doesn't stop it either.)

Anyway, the study was an attempt to take a contemporary approach to how liberals and conservatives explain behavior and the consequences of those explanations for self-control.

The behavior of political conservatives is often seen as reflecting a Protestant work ethic, according to the authors, through which people are more likely to attribute success to personal perseverance and hard work versus external factors beyond one’s control, such as birth or rank in society.

"If you believe that you're responsible for your own actions, or the outcome of your own actions, you're actually better able to engage in self-control, which would suggest conservatives should demonstrate a greater capacity for self-control," says lead author Josh Clarkson, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati who is a former student of Edward Hirt, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers administered a questionnaire to discern whether participants endorsed or disagreed with statements reflecting a belief in free will. Statements included comments such as "people have complete control over decisions they make," "people can overcome obstacles if they truly want to," and "criminals are responsible for the bad things they do."

Not only did the questionnaire results closely correspond to the political ideologies of the participants, but people who most strongly agreed with the statements performed better at certain self-control tasks.

Which makes me see red (bright red) because it goes back to the whole conservative philosophy that people living in poverty just need to pull it all together and exert themselves and suddenly everything will be fine, somehow missing the point that educated parents, good schools and middle-class life give people a step up from the very beginning.

I wasn't always this liberal, if you want to call it that.  I'm ashamed to admit for a long time, I believed this, too.  But over the years I've come to see what a lack of advantages can do -- none more obvious, to me, than the young teenager, a bright, happy boy, who grew up allegedly to stab a man to death over spilled coffee in my Connecticut town.

Of course, what he did was a crime.  But were the choices there for him at the start?

How can you have self control (and do well) when you're surrounded by everything that is totally out of control?  Drugs, easy access to guns, little value placed on education, little supervision.  This is not typical suburban life.

One of the experiments that was part of the study was designed to explore a more complex relationship between political ideology and self-control: the idea that a belief in free will might inhibit success or lead to negative outcomes.

"If you're struggling with a certain task -- whether your job, maintaining a diet or budgeting your expenses -- who are you going to blame for your struggles?" Hirt says. "Anyone who feels they are responsible for their own outcomes, that sense of responsibility you take on could lead to greater guilt and inability to rebound."

To test performance under this scenario, a group of study participants was told that the belief in free will has been shown to be detrimental to self-control by causing feelings of frustration, anger or anxiety that inhibit concentration.

Under these circumstances, the effects were reversed. Liberals outperformed conservatives, suggesting that a belief in free will can undermine self-control under certain conditions.

"If you can get people to believe that free will is bad for self-control, conservatives no longer show an advantage in self-control performance," Clarkson notes.
















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