A significant number of social and personality psychologists have told researchers they would discriminate against conservatives in decisions about publishing, grant applications and hiring, according to a study published in the September issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Authors Dr. Yoel Inbar and Dr. Joel Lammers assert in the study the more liberal the psychologist claimed to be, the more likely they were to admit to anti-conservative discrimination.
Study results showed that nearly one quarter of the psychologists surveyed in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) admitted they would discriminate against conservative researchers in awarding grant money, nearly 20 percent would recommend against publishing conservative research and more than one-third of psychologists surveyed would pass over a conservative in hiring if an equally qualified liberal psychologist were available.
In an email to The Christian Post, Lammers said that the idea for the study came after a provocative talk last year at the annual meeting of the SPSP by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who was interviewed by The Christian Post in May. Haidt asked the political conservatives in the room to raise their hands. Only three, in an audience of more than 1,000, raised their hands. This "statistically impossible lack of diversity" likely leads to discrimination against political conservatives and an unwillingness to consider alternative hypotheses in research, Haidt told the audience.
Inbar and Lammers, psychology professors at Tilburg University in Tilburg, Netherlands, were discussing Haidt's talk over a beer at a local bar, Lammers recalled. They wondered if there were conservatives at Haidt's talk unwilling to raise their hands for fear of discrimination. Their study confirmed their suspicion.
Inbar and Lammers sent, via an email list, two separate electronic surveys to all 1,939 members of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. The first survey asked respondents about their social, economic and foreign policy political ideology, and what they believed their colleagues political ideology to be.
The results of that survey, with 508 participants, indicated that the discipline is overwhelmingly liberal on social issues, but has more ideological diversity on economic and foreign policy issues.
On social issues, only 5.5 percent described themselves as moderate and only 3.9 percent described themselves as conservative. There was much greater diversity, though, on economic and foreign policy issues. On economic issues, 18.9 percent were moderate and 17.9 percent were conservative. On foreign policy issues, 21.1 percent were moderate and 10.3 percent were conservative.
When asked where they believed their fellow social and personality psychologists were on the political continuum, the respondents accurately perceived where their colleagues stood on social issues. But they overestimated the liberalism, and underestimated the diversity, of their colleagues on economic and foreign policy issues.
The second survey, which had 292 participants, sought to understand if there is a hostile climate for and discrimination of conservatives in social and personality psychology departments.
They asked respondents how much they felt a hostile climate toward their political beliefs, whether they were reluctant to express their political beliefs for fear of negative consequences and whether they believed their colleagues would discriminate against them because of their political beliefs. Conservatives faced a significantly more hostile climate than liberals. Also, the more liberal a respondent was, the less likely they were to believe that conservatives faced a hostile climate.
Respondents were also asked a series of questions regarding whether they would discriminate against a colleague who was known to be a conservative or hold conservative views. They were asked whether they would be more likely to turn down a grant application or not accept a paper for publication if it had a "politically conservative perspective," less likely to invite a known conservative to participate in a symposium, or choose an equally qualified liberal over a conservative in a job search.
They found that 18.6 percent were willing to discriminate against conservatives in deciding whether or not to recommend a paper for publication, 23.8 percent were willing to discriminate in grant application decisions, 14 percent were less likely to invite a conservative to a symposium and 37.5 percent were less likely to hire a conservative when an equally qualified liberal is available. Further, the more liberal the respondent, the more willing they were to discriminate against conservatives.
"By excluding those who disagree with (most of) us politically," Inbar and Yammers concluded, "we treat them unfairly, do ourselves a disservice, and ultimately damage the scientific credibility of our field."
Inbar and Yammers said they have received some feedback from colleagues on their study already, all of which has been supportive.
Social and personality psychologists "realize that this is an issue that we need to deal with," Inbar wrote to The Christian Post. "And since social psychology has a good history when it comes to self-criticism and improving how we do things, I'm optimistic that we will be able to tackle this as well."