The Journal of Social Psychology, 1984, I22, 293-294.
POLITICAL RADICALS AS SENSATION-SEEKERS*
University of New South Wales, Australia
JOHN J. RAY
A common conservative critique of Leftists is that they want revolution for revolution's sake. High-minded ideals are often little more than a cloak for a need for excitement and change. The usual positive correlation between youth and radicalism supports this view. In testing this theory, some measure of sensation-seeking is needed. Zuckerman and his associates tried to supply such an instrument (1) but Ridgeway- & Russell (2) found that the reliabilities of the Zuckerman subscales range from poor to execrable and that the supposed subcategories of sensation-seeking have very little relationship with one another. Another undesirable feature of the Zuckerman inventory is its forced-choice format (3). For the present work, therefore, only the Experience-seeking subscale of the Zuckerman scale was used and it was recast into a Likert format. As this scale is rather "countercultural" in content, it was supplemented by the Wilson (4) Experience-seeking scale which has a more "bourgeois" orientation and contains items such as, "I like to eat in new and strange restaurants" and (a negative item) "Trying out new products is usually a waste of time." Both scales were included in a random postal survey of 201 Australians, which has been described elsewhere (5).
The reliability of the modified Zuckerman scale (alpha) was .78 and of the Wilson scale was .73; they correlated .35. Further concurrent validation was provided by correlations with Eysenck's two scales of impulsiveness and sociability: the Zuckerman scale correlated .32 and .22, while the Wilson scale correlated .27 and .35, respectively. Correlations with two scales of social conservatism and economic conservatism were -.55 and -.20 for the Zuckerman scale and -.38 and -.02 for the Wilson scale; neither experience-seeking scale predicted intended vote in a Federal election.
As far as ideology (measured by the scale of general social conservatism) was concerned, even the Wilson scale yielded the predicted correlation. Radicals like not only new experiences of a countercultural sort but even the new experiences provided by the consumer society they denigrate. Radicals actually get more out of the consumer society than conservatives do. A parsimonious explanation of this surprising finding is that political leftists have a strong general need for novelty and stimulation almost regardless of its source. In one writer's terms, they are "neophiliacs" (6). Further confirmation for the finding may be gleaned from the fact that Eysenck's two scales -- of sociability and impulsiveness -- also correlate negatively (-.21 and -.30) with general social conservatism. Eysenck's theory of extraversion (of which sociability and impulsiveness are the two subfactors) describes the extravert as stimulus-hungry (7). Clearly, there is such a thing as a Leftist personality.
As in most psychological research, the correlations are not high in absolute magnitude but this reflects the obvious fact that extraversion or stimulus-hunger is only one of many factors contributing to a Leftist political stance.
The fact that economic conservatism and vote were differently determined from general social conservatism is yet another vindication of Lipset's point in his well-known thesis on "working class authoritarianism" (8) to the effect that vote and stance on economic issues are determined by the "hip-pocket nerve" (i.e. perceived economic self-interest) rather than by general ideology. Although there is such a thing as a leftist personality. its influence at election time is subjugated to more selfish considerations.
1. Zuckerman, M. Dimensions of sensation-seeking. J. Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 1971, 36, 45-52.
2. Ridgeway, D. & Russell, J.A. Reliability and validity of the sensation-seeking scale: Psychometric problems in Form V. J. Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 1980, 48, 662-664.
3. Ray, J.J. (1973) Task orientation and interaction orientation scales. Personnel Psychology 26, 61-73.
4. Wilson, R.S. Are you experienced? Feedback, 1973, 8, 29-31
5. Ray, J.J. (1980) The psychology of environmental concern: Some Australian data. Personality & Individual Differences, 1,161-163.; Ray, J.J. (1981) Conservatism and misanthropy. Political Psychology 3(1/2), 158-172.
6. Booker. C. The Neophiliacs. London: Collins, 1969.
7. Eysenck. H. J. The Biological Basis of Personality. Springfield, IL: Thomas, 1967.
8. Lipset, S. M. Political Man. New York: Doubleday, 1960.
School of Sociology, University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1 Kensington, N.S.W., Australia, 2033
* Received in the Editorial Office, Provincetown, Massachusetts, on February 11, 1983. Copyright, 1984, by the Journal Press.
It may be noted that the Zuckerman sensation-seeking scale also shows a strong negative correlation of -.476 with a balanced F scale -- implying that not only social radicals but also anti-authority people are sensation-seekers. See Ray (1980).
For fuller details of the scales used above, see: Ray, J.J. (Unpublished) "FORCED-CHOICE FALLACIES and an alternative measure of sensation-seeking"
Ray, J.J. (1980) Are authoritarians extroverted? British Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 19, 147-148.
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