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The Journal of Social Psychology, 1982, 118, 143-144.

CONSERVATISM, ATTITUDE TO ABORTION, AND MACCOBY'S BIOPHILIA*



University of New South Wales, Australia

J. J. RAY AND F. H. LOVEJOY

As Gutman (1) pointed out, a substantial element in the ideological underpinning of the students' radical antiwar movement of the 60's was a belief that they were "life-loving." Maccoby (2) took up this theme with a claim that political radicals generally are characterized by "biophilia" (love of living things) and conservatives by "necrophilia" (love of dead things). He provided a scale to measure his bipolar construct and showed that it empirically correlates with radicalism/conservatism. The extreme generality of Maccoby's construct, however, makes it seem implausible. Are people who are kind to the poor also thereby more likely to love (for instance) mosquitoes and cockroaches? Must benevolence necessarily be so generalizable? Some work has shown that even love of people and love of animals do not correlate (3). This finding certainly does not fit in with there being a general love of living things underlying all ideology. Maccoby might have some answer to this difficulty if he could show that the items of his Biophilia scale empirically hang together, but he has provided no internal reliability data on his scale at all. For all we know, it may be a collection of unrelated items rather than a scale as such. Even the face validity of the scale seems to be lacking. At times necrophilia seems to be equated with a love of cleanliness and order. This seems to equate very different things. How is death orderly? How is it clean? Is it not more literally a decay of order and a descent into dirt? In fact, an inspection of Maccoby's items could support the impression that the scale measures "Carefulness" rather than Biophilia.

The one issue in contemporary politics that would seem to be unambiguously involved in pro- and antilife rhetoric is attitude to abortion. That they are "pro-life" is a most central claim of anti-abortionists. Yet anti-abortionists are generally seen as conservative (rather than radical, as Maccoby's theory requires). In testing this relationship, however, Granberg (4) found no relationship between life-loving and anti-abortion attitudes. Granberg's index of Biophilia, however, was not Maccoby's but an ad hoc collection of items that would more usually be seen as indexing radicalism/ conservatism. At most Granberg showed only that different types of conservatism do not necessarily correlate.

In the present study 77 Sociology students and 81 Law students received both the Maccoby scale and a short scale of attitudes to abortion. From Maccoby's theory it was hypothesized that the two scales should correlate positively and that the Sociology students should be shown up as more Biophilic.

On the combined group of students, the Biophilia scale was found to have an internal reliability (alpha) of only .58. This is quite low and indicates that the items correlated very little with one another. Such commonality as they do display could well be accounted for by some theme other than that intended by the scale's author. The Biophilia scale failed to correlate with attitude to abortion and failed to discriminate the Law from the Sociology students. It did, however, correlate significantly (r = -.33) with political party preference -- in apparent confirmation of Maccoby's theory. Maccoby's scale failed both the validity tests to which it was subjected. Its correlation with conservatism could adequately be explained by saying that the scale measures Carefulness rather than Biophilia -- and Carefulness is surely already a well-acknowledged part of conservatism. It appears that research with Maccoby's scale is not capable of supporting Maccoby's theory.

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1. Gutman, D. The premature gerontocracy: Themes of aging and death in the youth culture. Soc. Res., 1912, 39, 416 ff.

2. Maccoby, M. Emotional attitudes and political choices. Politics & Society, 1972, 2, 209241.

3. Ray, J.J. (1982) Love of animals and love of people.Journal of Social Psychology, 116, 299-300.

4. Granberg, D. Pro-life or reflection of conservative ideology? An analysis of opposition to legalized abortion. Sociology & Social Research, 1978, 62, 414-429.

School of Sociology, University of New South Wales P. 0. Box 1, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia 2033

* Received in the Editorial Office, Provincetown, Massachusetts, on August 14, 1981. Copyright, 1982, by The Journal Press.



POST-PUBLICATION ADDENDUM

A sequel to this article is available as follows:

Ray, J.J. (1984) Attitude to abortion, attitude to life and conservatism in Australia. Sociology & Social Research 68, 236-246.






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