Psicologia política

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Psychological Bulletin
2003, Vol. 129, No. 3, 339 –375

Copyright 2003 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
0033-2909/03/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.339

Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition
John T. Jost

Jack Glaser

Stanford University

University of California, Berkeley

Arie W. Kruglanski

Frank J. Sulloway

University of Maryland atCollege Park

University of California, Berkeley

Analyzing political conservatism as motivated social cognition integrates theories of personality (authoritarianism, dogmatism–intolerance of ambiguity), epistemic and existential needs (for closure,
regulatory focus, terror management), and ideological rationalization (social dominance, system justification). A meta-analysis (88 samples, 12countries, 22,818 cases) confirms that several psychological
variables predict political conservatism: death anxiety (weighted mean r .50); system instability (.47);
dogmatism–intolerance of ambiguity (.34); openness to experience (–.32); uncertainty tolerance (–.27);
needs for order, structure, and closure (.26); integrative complexity (–.20); fear of threat and loss (.18);
and self-esteem (–.09).The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification
of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty
and threat.

Rokeach, 1960; Shils, 1954), but it has withstood the relentless
tests of time and empirical scrutiny (e.g., Altemeyer, 1981, 1988,
1996, 1998; Billig, 1984; Brown, 1965; Christie, 1991; Elms,1969; Sidanius, 1985; W. F. Stone, 1980; W. F. Stone, Lederer, &
Christie, 1993; Tetlock, 1984; Wilson, 1973c). A voluminous
literature, which we review here, facilitates the comparison of
cognitive styles and motivational needs of political conservatives
with those of moderates, liberals, radicals, and left-wingers. In
addition to classic and contemporary approaches to authoritarianism, wecover less obvious sources of theory and research on
individual differences associated with dogmatism and intolerance
of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance, need for cognitive closure,
and social dominance orientation (SDO) insofar as each of these
psychological variables contributes to a deeper and more nuanced
understanding of political conservatism.
The study of authoritarianism and otherpersonality theories of
political attitudes is often dismissed a priori as an illegitimate,
value-laden attempt to correlate general psychological profiles
with specific ideological beliefs (e.g., Durrheim, 1997; J. L. Martin, 2001; Ray, 1988). The psychological study of ideological
conservatism is one that invites controversy (e.g., Redding, 2001;
Sears, 1994; Sidanius, Pratto, & Bobo, 1996;Sniderman & Tetlock, 1986; Tetlock, 1994; Tetlock & Mitchell, 1993), but this
circumstance does not mean that researchers should avoid it. Our
view is that it is a legitimate empirical issue whether there are
demonstrable links between a clearly defined set of psychological
needs, motives, and properties and the adoption of politically
conservative attitudes. The measurement of individualdifferences
is an excellent starting point for understanding the psychological
basis of political ideology, but we argue that approaching political
conservatism exclusively from the standpoint of personality theory
is a mistake. The hypothesis that people adopt conservative ideologies in an effort to satisfy various social– cognitive motives
requires a novel theoretical perspective thatovercomes two crucial
limitations of traditional research on the psychology of

Conservatism is a demanding mistress and is giving me a migraine.
—George F. Will, Bunts

For more than half a century, psychologists have been tracking
the hypothesis that different psychological motives and tendencies
underlie ideological differences between the political left and the
right. The...
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