Elective affinities: On the psychological bases of left-right differences

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drawing on the concept of "elective affinities" from the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Max Weber, I seek to articulate a scientific framework for understanding psychological receptiveness to ideological messages. More specifically, I summarize converging lines of research that link basic personality, cognitive, motivational, and even physiological processes to ideological differences between left and right. I also discuss situational factors such as the presence of threat that increase the affinity for political conservatism through its effect on "cognitive narrowing". These findings and many others suggest that, contrary to Wildavsky (1989) and other skeptics, ideology is a meaningful force in people's lives and that it may be rooted in fundamental psychological antinomies, including preferences for stability versus change, order versus complexity, familiarity versus novelty, conformity versus creativity, and loyalty versus rebellion. Directions for further research are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-141
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Inquiry
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Conservatism
  • Ideology
  • Liberalism
  • Political orientation
  • Religion
  • Threat
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Elective affinities: On the psychological bases of left-right differences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this