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Psychologists find that conservatives and liberals are equally obedient

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the White House Summit On Working Families at the Omni Shoreham hotel June 23, 2014, in Washington.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the White House Summit On Working Families at the Omni Shoreham hotel June 23, 2014, in Washington.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Obedience to authority and even the blind following of a political authority to the precipice of financial and political ruin has been the perceived as a historically conservative political behavior. New research conducted by Jeremy Frimer from the University of Winnipeg and researchers at New York University and the University of Toronto has found more common attributes of obedience between liberals and conservatives than differences. The studies were reported in the June 27, 2014, edition of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Three separate studies delved into the reasons why liberals and conservatives follow leaders. The first study found that the need to belong to a group with a strong leader was at the heart of a person’s desire to follow a leader regardless of the person being a conservative or liberal. This behavior can be traced back to the earliest beginnings of human society where the strongest inevitably became the leader.

The second study found that both conservative and liberals thought and felt that obedience to an authority had the connotation of obedience to a conservative authority. This is the point where liberals were found to rebel. The study was based on individual’s reports of their emotions concerning politicians in the United States and Canada.

The third study found conservatives and liberals value obedience to an authority equally. The difference is in the position an authority figure holds and the emotions expressed by a particular authority in espousing their beliefs. Conservatives favored clergy and military commanders while liberals favored civil rights leaders and environmental activists.

A fourth study indicates that a shared reality between group members is the force that promotes obedience to leadership. The shared reality does not have to be factual. Conservatives were found to value the sense of group unity found in a shared reality more than liberals. Liberals valued the uniqueness of their own perceptions more than conservatives did.

The studies attempted to understand the growing divide between conservatives and liberals. The applications of the study are not just confined to North America but can be applied to political divisions across the world. Both liberals and conservatives value authority and obedience. The differences in how authority and obedience to authority are expressed by an individual could classify them as conservative or liberal. The researchers express the idea that their studies may help political candidates secure their base in the present hotly contested political climate.

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