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Liberals Seem Motivated by Emotion More Than Conservatives

Liberals Seem Motivated by Emotion More Than Conservatives

A new study shows that emotions have a greater influence on liberals than conservatives.

While the study, conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and possible steps towards its resolution, researchers say the findings apply to other cultures, including liberals and conservatives in the United States.

“We would expect to find similar results among rightists and leftists in other cultures, including conservatives and liberals in the U.S., because of the cross-cultural similarities in the superstructure of ideology and the needs associated with rightist versus leftist ideology — and because of how these factors relate to emotional processes and their outcomes,” stated lead researcher Ruthie Pliskin, a doctoral student in social psychology.

For their study, the researchers conducted six experiments to examine emotions, ideology, and how they act together to affect support for policies.

The first two studies focused on intergroup empathy, while the third study examined the interactive influence of ideology and despair on support for policies, the researchers explained.

Participants in the study identified themselves as being at different points along the right (conservative) and left (liberal) ideological spectrum.

The researchers devised a number of scenarios for the studies.

“We selected our different scenarios with the aim of tackling both positive and negative developments in intergroup conflicts, eliciting a range of different emotions towards the out-group and the situation, referring to different types of out-groups, and among different in-groups,” Pliskin explained.

“Furthermore, we wanted to utilize both contrived, controlled scenarios, and major real-world developments, reflecting real and possible political developments.”

The last three studies were designed to alleviate some of the limitations in the first three studies, she added.

The fourth study used a correlational design addressing real-life developments — renewed peace negotiations — and a representative sample of Jewish Israelis.

This study allowed the researchers to examine whether the effect in the first three studies could be replicated in a real-world scenario. It also allowed them to study anger, a negative intergroup emotion brought on by the perception of another group’s actions as unjust, and associated with a desire to confront or attack the anger-evoking group.

The fifth study followed a similar design as the fourth study, but was conducted during wartime. It controlled for various measures of attitude strength and group identification, ruling out the possibility that the previous findings simply reflect right-left differences in attitude strength rather than in the rigidity with which they hold a specific attitude, the researchers said.

The last study went a step further and examined a different population — Palestinian citizens of Israel — to eliminate the possibility that the findings are population-dependent. It also was expanded to include fear, an emotion often related to rightist ideology, according to the researchers.

In line with previous study findings on the rigidity of rightist ideological beliefs, the first three studies illustrate that induced emotions have a greater influence on leftists’ positions than on rightists’ positions, according to the researchers. That held true, even though the experimental manipulations affected the levels of emotion similarly for all the participants, they noted.

Even the third study, in which a negative emotion was induced, led to changes in policy support only among liberals, as was the case with empathy in the first two studies.

Induced empathy toward both Palestinians (Study one) and asylum-seekers (Study two) led to increased support for conciliatory and humanitarian policies among leftists, while induced despair (Study three) decreased support for conciliatory policies only among leftists, according to the study’s findings.

The fourth through sixth studies looked at real-world scenarios, and found that Jewish-Israeli leftists’ policy support was more related to both empathy and anger than rightists’, according to the researchers. This held true both in times of peace (Study four) and in war (Study five), the researchers said.

The final study found the same pattern of results with regard to fear among a different population, demonstrating that the interactive effect of ideology and emotion on policy support is not limited to a given population nor to emotions typically associated with leftist ideology, the researchers add.

The study’s findings reveal that similar emotions can produce very different emotional outcomes for people of different ideologies, the researcher said.

“The findings help to illuminate how ideology and emotions work together to shape positions, and why we find that political events often push leftists more to the right, but rarely push rightists more to the left,” the researchers said in the study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The researchers add that they were unable to determine under what circumstances emotions may, in fact, motivate changes in rightists’ positions to the same extent as leftists’. More research is necessary to address that question, they add.

They report they are already broadening their research to comparing Israeli and Dutch societies. Their research is also comparing the outcomes of fear in light of events either related or unrelated to the dominant ideological divides in society.

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

John Penezic /

Liberals Seem Motivated by Emotion More Than Conservatives

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Liberals Seem Motivated by Emotion More Than Conservatives. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 9 Nov 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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