From the Toronto Star:
Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.
At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.
The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn’t going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.
But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids’ personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There’s no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it’s unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.
Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold. He reasons that insecure kids look for the reassurance provided by tradition and authority, and find it in conservative politics. The more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are, and find liberal politics more congenial.
In a society that values self-confidence and out-goingness, it’s a mostly flattering picture for liberals. It also runs contrary to the American stereotype of wimpy liberals and strong conservatives.
The results do raise some obvious questions. Are nursery school teachers in the conservative heartland cursed with classes filled with little proto-conservative whiners?
Or does an insecure little boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism?
Or do the whiny kids grow up conservative along with the majority of their more confident peers, while only the kids with poor impulse control turn liberal?
Whether anyone’s feelings are hurt or not, the work suggests that personality and emotions play a bigger role in our political leanings than we think. All of us, liberal or conservative, feel as though we’ve reached our political opinions by carefully weighing the evidence and exercising our best judgment. But it could be that all of that careful reasoning is just after-the-fact self-justification. What if personality forms our political outlook, with reason coming along behind, rationalizing after the fact?
It could be that whom we vote for has less to do with our judgments about tax policy or free trade or health care, and more with the personalities we’ve been stuck with since we were kids.
Can you imagine what Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Ken Starr, Gary Bauer, and Newt Gingrich were like in kindergarten? It’s not too hard since they pretty much act like that today: “Did not!” “Did too!” “I’m telling!” “Neener neener!” “Mommmmm!”