New research suggests that parenting practices and childhood temperament are key influences on a person’s choice of political ideology.
In a new study, a team of researchers led by psychological scientist R. Chris Fraley, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that children who had authoritarian parents are more likely to be Republicans when they grow up. Children whose parents had more egalitarian parenting attitudes, on the other hand, were more likely to hold liberal attitudes as young adults.
Fraley and his colleagues examined data from 708 children who participated in the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.
When the children in the study were one month old, their parents answered questions for the Parental Modernity Inventory. The researchers used their responses to determine the degree to which the parents demonstrated authoritarian (e.g., “Children should always obey their parents”) and egalitarian parenting attitudes (e.g., “Children should be allowed to disagree with their parents”).
The data also included mothers’ assessments of their children’s temperaments when they were 4.5 years old, using questions from the Children’s Behavior Questionnaire.
From these various assessments, the researchers identified five temperament factors: Restlessness-activity, shyness, attentional focusing, passivity and fear.
The researchers found that children with authoritarian parents were more likely to have conservative attitudes at age 18, even after accounting for their gender, ethnic background, cognitive functioning, and socioeconomic status.
Children who had parents with egalitarian parenting attitudes, on the other hand, were more likely to hold liberal attitudes as young adults.
In terms of temperament, children with higher levels of fearfulness at 54 months were more likely to be conservative at age 18, while children with higher levels of activity or restlessness and higher levels of attentional focusing were more likely to espouse liberal values at that age, the researchers report.
“One of the significant challenges in psychological science is understanding the multiple pathways underlying personality development,” said Fraley.
“Our research suggests that variation in how people feel about diverse topics, ranging from abortion, military spending, and the death penalty, can be traced to both temperamental differences that are observable as early as 54 months of age, as well as variation in the attitudes people’s parents have about child rearing and discipline.”
The researchers add that future research should delve deeper into exploring the underlying mechanisms, including shared genetic variation and parent-child conflict, that might link parenting attitudes and temperament to later political ideology.
The study was published in Psychological Science.