Mixing Memory

Are Conservatives Less Creative?

The belief that creativity and political conservatism are negatively correlated is widespread not only among the general public (except, maybe, among some conservatives), but among researchers in a variety of fields. And there are some indirect empirical justifications for this belief. Political conservatism is associated with less openness to experience (as measured with Big Five inventories), and highly positively correlated with fear of uncertainty. Both relationships imply less creativity. However, only with a paper by Stephen Dollinger(1) in press in the journal Personality and Individual Differences have psychologists begun to study the relationship between creativity and conservatism directly.

The paper describes a study conducted over 2 years with 422 undergraduates enrolled in a psychology course. The students first completed several questionnaires. These included an updated abbreviated version of the C-scale, which measures political conservatism with questions assessing participants’ positions on issues like abortion and gay rights; the Creative Behavior Inventory (CBI), which measures how often participants have engaged in various creative activities (e.g., writing poetry, painting, or crafts); a verbal ability test; and the Big Five Inventory, which was included to measure openness to experience. Participants then completed a task that required them to complete a drawing any way they chose. About 60% of the participants also completed a photo essay task, in which they produced photos and accompanying text to answer the question, “Who are you?” The drawing and photo essay tasks were included as additional measures of creativity. Both of these were scored on a creativity scale by raters (MFA students, for the drawings) who were blind to the study’s purpose and to the political scores of the participants.

Dollinger found that conservatism (as measured by the C-scale) was negatively correlated (ranging from -.22 to -.31, all moderate correlations) with each of the measures — the CBI, verbal ability, openness to experience (as measured by the BFI), and rated creativity in both the drawing and photo essay tasks. Since conservatism was correlated with each variable, and each variable might be related to the others (openness to experience and verbal ability are almost surely correlated with creativity), Dollinger calculated the partial correlations (correlations that control for the other variables) between conservatism and the three measures of creativity. He found that conservatism was still negatively correlated with creativity (correlations ranging from -.15 to -.21). The partial correlations (as well as regression coefficients, which he also computed) are relatively small, but given the sample size, highly statistically significant.

So, it seems there is a small, negative relationship between conservatism and creativity. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that we’re speaking in generalities here. There have been extremely creative political conservatives over the years (A.E. Housman, Ezra Pound, and Evelyn Waugh come to mind). Furthermore, this is a preliminary study, using fairly inexact measures of creativity. Of course, since three different measures of creativity produced the same results, the inexactness is less of a concern, but it still means that further research is necessary. And of course, Dollinger’s participants were all college undergrads. It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that creativity and conservatism change over a lifetime. The relationship between the two may change as well, then. In fact, Dollinger’s own data provides evidence for this. The correlation between conservatism and the CBI for participants between 18-24 years old was -.25 (that’s not the partial correlation, of course). However, for the 48 participants between 25 and 53, the correlation was -.48 (in personality psychology, that’s a very strong correlation!). This implies that as people age, the relationship between conservatism and creativity may become even more negative, though the small sample size makes generalization difficult.


1Dollinger, S. J. (In Press). Creativity and conservatism. Personality and Individual Differences.

Comments

  1. #1 razib
    May 31, 2007

    There have been extremely creative political conservatives over the years (A.E. Housman, Ezra Pound, and Evelyn Waugh come to mind)

    here’s where i get confused, someone like pound got so reactionary that it seems he was a radical (e.g., rejecting christianity for paganism). also, people change over their life. wordsworth and kingsley amis come to mind as literary intellectuals who shifted from left to right.

  2. #2 CA
    May 31, 2007

    Chris, I think sample bias may go beyond age. It is highly likely that the correlations were reduced because conservatives in college may be among the most creative conservatives by the nature of the college admissions selction process. In other words, including age peers who had not been to college may have shown a more dramatic effect. That is a limitation of psych research done on college campuses with students (usually psych 101 students) as the sole source of subjects, especially when considering cultural issues.

  3. #3 greensmile
    May 31, 2007

    I have written my observation that we get more conservative with the years but I still think its a generalization of weak anecdotal evidence.

    Dartmouth researchers did an fMRI study that showed freshmen brains are still actively rewiring themselves. Or perhaps we may find that aliens abduct incoming froshlings and replace them with altered creatures of similar appearance. Either way, CA has a point: all results based on answers obtained in Psyc 101 may not even apply to humans;)

  4. #4 Neurozone
    May 31, 2007

    I just took a look at the Henningham social conservatism inventory which was used as the measure of conservatism in this study. The items relate to:

    death penalty
    multiculturalism
    stiffer jail terms
    voluntary euthanasia
    bible truth
    gay rights
    pre-marital virginity
    Asian immigration*
    church authority
    legalised abortion
    condom vending machines
    legalised prostitution

    (*A sign of the Australian origins of the test; the original 27-item version from 1968 contains “Australia as republic”)

    The factor analysis results in three eigenvectors which are named “conventional morality, intolerance, and punitiveness.”

    Not too surprising that this would negatively correlate with openness to new experiences, creative ones or otherwise.

    Hasn’t anyone designed a conservatism inventory since 1968?

  5. #5 Chris
    May 31, 2007

    Neurozone, I think I said it in the post, but the version of the C-scale used in this study was updated to fit the contemporary American political climate (e.g., “Asian immigration” was replaced with “foreigners” or “foreign” immigration). I believe a few others were updated as well. I can send you a copy of the paper, if you like.

  6. #6 Neurozone
    June 1, 2007

    I can see the paper, thanks, as well as that of Henningham (1995) and Wilson/Patterson (1968).

    There was some re-norming done in the 1995 Henningham version, but it was still Australian. It looks as if that one change (“Asian” to “foreigners”), with no additional construct validation, was the extent of the American update.

    My point more generally is that the extent to which this result is interesting or even surprising hinges on what conservatism is defined as.

  7. #7 Chris
    June 1, 2007

    With that I definitely agree, though I think this is an interesting first step.

  8. #8 Cogsys
    June 1, 2007

    Non-religious conservatives would give liberal answers to half the questions, so to some degree the study is just measuring traditional religiosity.

  9. #9 Caledonian
    June 1, 2007

    I would be curious to see how ‘conservative’ libertarian-leaning people are on this scale. Using the positions of historically-relevant people who were liberal or conservative for their times would also be interesting.

    If this scale measures anything more than current political affiliation, it ought to work regardless of time period, yes?

  10. #10 Patricia Mathews
    June 1, 2007

    When you compare people of one age group to people of another, you may not be looking at what people do “when they age”, but at the personalities of two or three different cohorts.

    I know my own age group, born 1925-1942, grew more open, liberal, and creative as we aged because we grew up in times of crisis and came of age in a socially restrictive atmosphere.

    I also know my children’s age group, born 1961-1981, have done just the opposite, because they were born in times of social chaos and came of age during the Reagan Years.

    Seeing how my grandchildren and their contemporaries are being reared, I will place a large wager on their aging pattern being just like mine.

  11. #11 Abject Man
    June 2, 2007

    This is such nonsense. What a masturbative effort. When the excruciatingly larger part of historical evidence (the whole “heritage” of art) testifies to the exact opposite, fools who consider fools who think splashing paint on a canvas randomly think their notion of “creativity” (basically, what they think to be an easy way of getting blow jobs) trumps conservatism by measuring it how? Correlating being anti-abortion with “creative” ways (you can bet that to them is the yuckiest, most shocking, purposelessly deviant “inventiveness” for its own sake, a ritualized form of tantrum-throwing for attention, to get those aforementioned blow jobs) of completing a picture. What pathethically self-serving nonsense.

    Here’s a suggestion for an even more convincing “study.” How about asking people to, again, score their position on “gay rights” etc. (as if such things are *the* defining characteristics, the “deepest” measure side of a person’s thought), and then correlating that with a “fascism index” of liberal invention that claims that you’re more likely to be fascistic if you’re anti-gay rights? Hey, that would be even further “scientific” proof that conservatives are, well, “yucky.”

    Liberals are children. This fact doesn’t need a study. Only liberals would crave making up indices for conservatism (more like the caricature of it that they’d like to think it is) and creativity (again, more like the caricature of it that they’d like to think it is), and then, by correlating such dubious measures, try to prove that they are “top dog” in creativity. What a childish craving for “respectability” without having to bother earning the natural respect of society. Conservatives would only feel intellectually insulted by being asked to consider creativity in such base terms since they care about art too much to reduce it to silliest of shows like dropping crosses in urine and calling it an expression of rebellion against the oppressiveness of religion or some such trite pseudo-cause.

  12. #12 Chris Schoen
    June 6, 2007

    I think Abject Man’s comment provides anecdotal evidence for the hypothesis in question. Barricading only canonical works behind the wall of artistic “heritage” certainly qualifies as “less openness to experience” and “fear of uncertainty.”

    In fact I’ve believed for a while that conservatism and liberalism are less about political tenets than about degrees of certainty, or comfort with uncertainty.

    Having said that, I don’t think this issue can truly be considered scientific, since “creativity” is not likely to be quantifiable to anyone’s satisfaction. Abject Man’s objection that “that’s not art,” even if reactionary, raises the valid question: how do we distinguish categorically between creativity and self-indulgence?

  13. #13 CA
    June 9, 2007

    My take on Abject Man’s comment is different. He is obviously very conservative, and his posting is creative, in its own way. Anecdotal evidence does have its shortcomings.

  14. #14 David Prince
    August 8, 2007

    Whether conservatives are creative or not might be interesting. However, it might be a better question to ask: how creative are the dogmatic? Many liberals are extremely dogmatic. So a nice companion study might be to correlate liberal responses to the following:

    expanded gun rights
    a completely free market economy
    no barriers to entry for new businesses
    no federal government control over local education
    private healthcare
    free trade
    more state and local control over social issues such as abortion or gay marriage
    less big government in general
    fewer laws

    etc. Obviously the picture I’m painting is the conservative, Rudy Giuliani trend from societal control to individual freedom.

    Christians will tend to push their values on society. But they know from long years of inter-faith persecution, that the best thing is to keep congress out of religion and not push too much. I wonder how creative that study would find conservative muslims. Or conservative anyone. On the other hand, Abe Lincoln seemed fairly conservative, but very creative. I didn’t look at the study, so I’ve no idea really. I know that the least creative people I’ve ever met are college professors. There’s a good book on that. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Creativity is largely uninteresting to those who indoctrinate.

    Good day my friends, and remember: Everyone in the south is an ignorant redneck, and the Parthenon in Nashville is an abomination. (I’m just accusing our host of being non creative in his regionalist attitudes.)

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