The secret lives of liberals and conservatives: Personality profiles, interaction styles, and the things they leave behind

Dana R. Carney, John T. Jost, Samuel D. Gosling, Jeff Potter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although skeptics continue to doubt that most people are "ideological," evidence suggests that meaningful left-right differences do exist and that they may be rooted in basic personality dispositions, that is, relatively stable individual differences in psychological needs, motives, and orientations toward the world. Seventy-five years of theory and research on personality and political orientation has produced a long list of dispositions, traits, and behaviors. Applying a theory of ideology as motivated social cognition and a "Big Five" framework, we find that two traits, Openness to New Experiences and Conscientiousness, parsimoniously capture many of the ways in which individual differences underlying political orientation have been conceptualized. In three studies we investigate the relationship between personality and political orientation using multiple domains and measurement techniques, including: self-reported personality assessment; nonverbal behavior in the context of social interaction; and personal possessions and the characteristics of living and working spaces. We obtained consistent and converging evidence that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are robust, replicable, and behaviorally significant, especially with respect to social (vs. economic) dimensions of ideology. In general, liberals are more open-minded, creative, curious, and novelty seeking, whereas conservatives are more orderly, conventional, and better organized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)807-840
Number of pages34
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Conscientiousness
  • Conservatism
  • Ideology
  • Liberalism
  • Nonverbal behavior
  • Openness
  • Personality
  • Political orientation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations


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