Neither liberals nor conservatives are more or less likely to demonstrate blind obedience to authority, a new study finds. One of the authors of the study wrote that he used to believe that conservatives suffered from blind obedience while liberals were open minded.
Jeremy Frimer, professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg, believed that the source of conservative political views was "slavish obedience to authority and tradition," he wrote in a Thursday op-ed for The Huffington Post.
"If only conservatives would think for themselves — like liberals do — the war would be over and we could get on with life, governance, and progress. Or so I thought," he recalled.
Those views began to change, however, on a trip to Cuba in 2012. In a conversation with a Brazilian couple touring the many shrines to famed Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara on the island, Frimer discovered that even questioning why there should be so many shrines was considered offensive.
Frimer also recalled a conversation with a liberal schoolteacher who believed it was important for his students to become "dedicated liberals," and a conservation with a liberal aid worker who would have preferred living under a liberal dictatorship to living under a democratically elected conservative government.
Previous studies showing conservatives are more likely to show blind allegiance to authority figures only used examples of figures that most would consider conservative, such as a police officer or religious authority, Frimer noted. But what if, he thought, these experiments included authority figures that liberals look up to?
So in his experiment, Frimer, along with fellow University of Winnipeg researchers Dr. Danielle Gaucher and Nicola Schaefer, asked respondents about their obedience to liberal authority figures as well, such as environmentalists. They found that liberals showed more obedience to liberal authority figures, conservatives showed more obedience to conservative authority figures, and when the authority figure was neutral, liberals and conservatives were about the same.
"Rather than thinking of liberals and conservatives as being fundamentally different psychological breeds, I now think of them as competing teams. Liberal versus conservative is like Yankee fans versus Red Socks fans. Each has its own flag to which it pledges allegiance. And each side has its own authorities to which it demands obedience," he wrote.
The study, "Political Conservatives' Affinity for Obedience to Authority Is Loyal, Not Blind," is published in the September issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.