Ryan Hemsley and Dr. Robert Ridge, Psychology Department
Conflict has long been a topic of interest in the social sciences. There is considerable research that has examined conflict through bias, prejudice, out-group discrimination, and in-group preferential treatment. (see Burne et al, 1975; Hewstone et al, 2002; Kilduff et al 2016) However, the literature focuses disproportionately on conflict between cultural or biological groups. Relatively little research focuses on ideological groups. Such a balance may be counterproductive, as there is evidence that ideological conflict may be superordinate to racial conflict. Chambers et al. (2013) found that prejudice towards an ideological out-group was greater than prejudice towards a racial out-group. The intensity of this prejudice was comparable across the political spectrum. Thus some forms of intolerance may result from ideological conflict. (see Brandt et al, 2014)
Political ideologies are among the most well defined and familiar ideological groups. Graham et al. (2009), informed by Moral Foundations Theory, found that conservatives and liberals rely on different moral foundations. Gibson and Hare (2016) further found that conservatives and liberals tend towards differing moral epistemologies and theorized that these differences are related to ideological conflict. Perceived incompatibilities between ideologies, perceived threat between groups, and intolerance are all related to ideological conflict. (Brandt et al. 2014; Crawford & Pilanski 2014) Common expressions of intolerance are stereotypes.
A common stereotype is that conservatives are ‘anti-science’. (Mooney, 2005; Mooney 2012) At face value, such a statement claims that conservatives deny science as a legitimate epistemology. However, Nauroth, et al. (2014) found individuals tend to devalue scientific research when the results contradict or threaten their social identity. This research supports the possibility that denying scientific research is more universal of a phenomenon than a single wing of the political spectrum.
This study examined ideological conflict and in-group preferential treatment through the lens of this stereotype. The effect political ideology has on the perception of a researcher, the quality of the research, and the degree they should be funded was specifically considered. Participants reviewed a research proposal comparing the development of adopted children of heterosexual and same sex couples. The proposals were identical in theoretical and methodological qualities, but differed in the ideological slant of the hypothesis as well as the qualification of the researcher. They then performed a task where they determined to what extent the proposal should be funded. Finally, participants completed a questionnaire that measured their perceptions of science as an epistemology and the quality of the proposal.
Through Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), six hundred complete responses were collected. The research design was a 2(subject ideology: conservative or liberal) x 2(research proposal ideology: conservative or liberal) x 2(Researcher qualification: qualified or unqualified) between subjects factorial design. We analyzed the data through a 2x2x2 factorial ANOVA. We tested the primary hypothesis regarding funding allocations as well as the secondary hypotheses concerning the perceptions of epistemology and the quality of the proposal.
There was not a significant effect of the subject’s political ideology on funding allocations. There was, however, a significant two-way interaction between the subject’s political ideology and the and the researcher’s qualifications on funding allocations, F(1, 642) = 6.22, p = 0.013, η2 p = 0.010. Conservatives gave comparatively to both researchers, while liberals gave more to the qualified researcher. This is likely due to a flaw in the design and the power being so small is likely due to a large sample size.
There was also a significant main effect of the participants ideology on their perception of science as an epistemology, F (1, 627) = 11.535, p = 0.001, η2 p = 0.018. Liberals esteemed science higher than conservatives. There was also a significant two-way interaction between the subject’s political ideology and the researcher’s political ideology on the perception of the quality of research, F(1, 613) = 13.404, p = 0.001, η2 p = 0.021. Interestingly, the conservatives saw both comparatively, while the liberals viewed their group’s work as superior.
The researchers found their primary hypothesis to be true: the political parties did not differ significantly in the amounts they funded research. Liberals do esteem science higher than conservatives. However, the mean scores were marginally different, with the liberals mean at 5.74 and the conservatives mean at 5.43. The most interesting finding, and the effect with the highest power, was that only liberals showed in-group preference and out-group discrimination when it came to perceptions of the quality of work from the other political party.
However, as was mentioned earlier, there were likely flaws in the design. One was that the difference between the two scientists was that one was a ‘soft’ scientist and the other a ‘hard’ scientist. This may have confounded the results. Not only did conservatives give significantly more to an unqualified researcher, they also gave more money to liberal researchers than to conservative. It is also possible that there was another effect, as the difference in the hypotheses was a neutral phrase (liberal) and a negative phrase (conservative). Had this study been pilot tested previous to the survey administration, this likely could have been avoided.
In conclusion, the researchers found the stereotype that conservatives are anti-science to be false. Both groups gave comparatively to research and both believed science was a valid epistemology. However, the researchers failed to demonstrate both parties showed out-group discrimination in all predicted domains. Rather they found that, in the case of quality perception, it was a one-directional phenomenon. More research will need to be done on the subject of ideology-conflict and more care will need to be taken to ensure the psychometrics of the measures are valid.