In psychology, political orientation is typically measured along a bipolar “left-right” dimension, capturing support for a liberal (left-wing) versus conservative (right-wing) ideology. Despite its many advantages, this approach ignores values shared between the left and right, and obscures ideological tensions within the left. Specifically, liberal and conservative ideologies both emphasise universal liberty, and individuals may differ in terms of whether they prefer a “positive” conception (valuing the presence of interventions that help people flourish) or a “negative” conception (valuing the absence of interferences that hinder people’s free will) of this value.
Research Questions / Hypotheses
To untangle these nuances, we aimed to measure individuals’ positive liberty inclination (PLI) and negative liberty inclination (NLI) directly, and to identify basic Big Five (B5) personality traits that may dispose individuals to “prize help” (i.e., toward a PLI) or “despise hindrance” (i.e., toward a NLI). Across three previous samples (total N = 878), we found that traits linked to B5 Agreeableness (the tendency to be benevolent and amicable) independently predicted greater support for interventionist political practices and individualizing moral values (aligning with a PLI), whereas traits linked to B5 Openness/Intellect (the tendency to be curious and imaginative) independently predicted lower support for communitarian political practices and binding moral values (aligning with a NLI). We therefore aimed to explore these associations more directly using a targeted measure of PLI and NLI.
Across 2019 to 2020, we have collected a sample of N = 483 participants through the REP program.
We assessed basic B5 personality traits—including Agreeableness and Openness/Intellect—using the Big Five Aspects Scales (BFAS; DeYoung, Quilty, & Peterson, 2007). We designed a “process dissociation task” to directly measure PLI and NLI. An advantage of this approach is that it allows PLI and NLI to be measured independently; i.e., some participants may value positive liberty but not negative liberty (or vice versa), others may value both positive liberty and negative liberty, while others may value neither positive liberty nor negative liberty. In the task, we showed participants 6 hypothetical vignettes—each covering one political domain (e.g., health)—describing a potential course of action (e.g., making smoking illegal). Each vignette had two versions: A “No Conflict” version in which positive liberty and negative liberty were placed in harmony, and a “Conflict” version in which positive liberty and negative liberty were placed in a trade-off. Each participant responded to both versions of all 6 vignettes by stating whether they believed the described action was “acceptable” or “unacceptable”. We will be able to compute the strength of each participant’s PLI, and the strength of each participant’s NLI, based on their pattern of responses across all the vignettes.
In our analyses, we plan to explore a) whether Agreeableness and Openness/Intellect are correlated with PLI and NLI (respectively), as well as b) how PLI and NLI map on to a standard measure of left-right political orientation.
By teasing apart “positive” and “negative” conceptions of liberty—a political value that is central to liberal and conservative ideologies alike—our findings will inform a more nuanced understanding of how Agreeableness and Openness/Intellect are associated with political orientation. Once analyses are finalised, we aim to submit the findings to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. Please email Erin Lawn (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would liked to be informed if/when the results are accepted for publication. Thanks for participating in our research!