Investigating the origins of political views: biases in explanation predict conservative attitudes in children and adults

Larisa J. Hussak, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

We tested the hypothesis that political attitudes are influenced by an information-processing factor – namely, a bias in the content of everyday explanations. Because many societal phenomena are enormously complex, people's understanding of them often relies on heuristic shortcuts. For instance, when generating explanations for such phenomena (e.g., why does this group have low status?), people often rely on facts that they can retrieve easily from memory – facts that are skewed toward inherent or intrinsic features (e.g., this group is unintelligent). We hypothesized that this bias in the content of heuristic explanations leads to a tendency to (1) view socioeconomic stratification as acceptable and (2) prefer current societal arrangements to alternative ones, two hallmarks of conservative ideology. Moreover, since the inherence bias in explanation is present across development, we expected it to shape children's proto-political judgments as well. Three studies with adults and 4- to 8-year-old children (N = 784) provided support for these predictions: Not only did individual differences in reliance on inherent explanations uniquely predict endorsement of conservative views (particularly the stratification-supporting component; Study 1), but manipulations of this explanatory bias also had downstream consequences for political attitudes in both children and adults (Studies 2 and 3). This work contributes to our understanding of the origins of political attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12567
JournalDevelopmental science
Volume21
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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