Fascinating new research into people’s political views suggests that liberals and conservatives differ in their moral foundations (or core traits).
The research, published in the May 2009 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that liberals consistently identify with two sets of moral foundations — those that emphasize harm (harm/care) and fairness (fairness/reciprocity). Conservatives, on the other hand, consistently used all five sets of moral foundations more equally.
“In all four studies we found that liberals showed evidence of a morality based primarily on the individualizing foundations, whereas conservatives showed a more even distribution of values, virtues, and concerns,” noted the researchers who were led by Jesse Graham at the University of Virginia.
The harm/care foundation, according to the researchers, reflects the “widespread human concern about caring, nurturing, and protecting vulnerable individuals from harm,” while the fairness-reciprocity foundation is concerned primarily with fairness, reciprocity and justice.
The other three foundations measured by the researchers included ingroup/loyalty (virtues associated with loyalty, patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group’s greater good), authority/respect (virtues associated with obedience and respect for authority, leadership and protection), and purity/sanctity (virtues associated with religion, hygiene and marking off a group’s cultural boundaries).
In four separate experiments that included more than 12,000 participants from across the United States, researchers found consistent support that people who self-identified themselves as holding “liberal” political views were more likely to emphasize the importance of the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations. Conservatives, on the other hand, identified more equally with all five foundations.
“These findings help explain why liberals and conservatives disagree on so many moral issues and often find it hard to understand how an ethical person could hold the beliefs of the other side,” wrote the researchers.
“Liberals and conservatives base their modal values, judgments, and arguments on different configurations of the five foundations.”
The researchers also found strong evidence to support their five-factor structure and taxonomy of moral concerns, and suggest its use in future research on moral foundations.
Source: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology