Personality & Individual Differences 1991, 12(5), 501.
ARE CONSERVATIVES DESPAIRING? REJOINDER TO PETERSEN & WILKINSON
University of New South Wales, Australia
In my paper (Ray, 1989) "The scientific study of ideology is too often more ideological than scientific?", I devoted 13 lines to some brief comments on a paper by Petersen & Wilkinson (1983). Such brief comments could obviously not be taken as any attempt at a detailed critique of the Petersen & Wilkinson paper but Petersen & Wilkinson (1990) have nonetheless taken exception to some of the things I said and did not say and in fact accuse me of misrepresenting their work. That is, of course, a serious charge that requires some reply.
For a start, Petersen & Wilkinson (1990) deny that they were interested in testing the Adorno et al. (1950) theory to the effect that conservatives generally are maladjusted and unhappy. They say that they were instead only interested in testing the theory that conservatives in 1977 were unhappy and despairing. They say that their theory predicts that at other times conservatives might not be unhappy and despairing. I am happy to acknowledge that their major focus in 1983 was indeed as they describe it in 1990 but I cannot allow them just to skate over the fact that in their 1983 paper they also considered the alternative theory that conservatives were at all times unhappy and despairing. It is true that they did not give Adorno et al. as the source of that theory but that is only because they gave no reference at all for the source of the theory. Since Adorno et al. were in fact the source of the theory, I fail to see any fault in my referring to that fact.
Peterson & Wilkinson (1990) also object to my description of their selection of two items from the Srole (1956) "anomie" scale (in order to form a measure of "Despair") as an "arbitrary" one. They say it was not arbitrary because they did in fact have some reasons for choosing the items they did. They thus seem to think that "arbitrary" is synonymous with "random". I can therefore only recommend them to a good dictionary or an elementary textbook on scale construction.
They further object to my referring to all the measures they used as having no known reliability and validity. I concede that my statement to that effect was indeed a little too sweeping in that they did in a footnote give reliabilities (but not validities) for their two conservatism measures. My major concern in my 1989 comments had been, however, with the two-item measure of "Despair" that they used and I stand by my comments to the effect that they gave in 1983 no information on its reliability or validity. Since Petersen & Wilkinson (1990) did not in fact take the opportunity of supplying the missing information when they had the chance to do so, I can only assume that my 1989 speculation to the effect that the reliability of the measure would prove to be negligible if it were in fact examined proved to be only too true. They are thus defending as being meaningful findings that rely on a measure of negligible reliability and unknown predictive validity. I make no apology for criticizing such meretricious work.
Finally, is there any evidence from the work of others that would bear on the Petersen & Wilkinson contentions? There is. Peterson (1990) shows that Republican voters in the United States (and hence perhaps conservatives generally) tend to be healthier, to have suffered less child abuse, to have greater job-satisfaction and a greater sense of personal efficacy. Ray (1987) also found that conservatives believe more in love and have greater faith in the power of love. That does not sound too despairing to me.
Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N.
(1950). The authoritarian personality New York: Harper.
Petersen, L.R. & Wilkinson, K. (1983) Sex role conventionality, race
inequality and despair: Evidence concerning a personal consequence
of change. Sociology & Social Res. 67, 190-203.
Petersen, L.R. & Wilkinson, K. (1990) Reply to Ray's "The scientific
study of ideology is too often more ideological than scientific".
Personality & Individual Differences 11, 645-646.
Peterson, S.A. (1990) Political Behavior: Patterns in Everyday Life
Newberry Park: Sage.
Ray, J.J. (1987) Conservatism and attitude to love: An empirical rebuttal of Eisler & Loye. Personality & Individual Differences, 8, 731-732.
Ray, J.J. (1989) The scientific study of ideology is too often more ideological than scientific. Personality & Individual Differences, 10, 331-336.
Srole, L. (1956) Social integration and certain corollaries: An
exploratory study. Amer. Sociological Rev. 21, 709-716.
Since this article was published, some extra relevant information has become available. James Lindgren, Professor of Law and Director, Demography of Diversity Project,
Northwestern University School of Law has emailed me as follows:
The NORC General Social Survey (GSS) asks the standard survey question about happiness in general. In 1977 (as in most years), extreme conservatives are more likely to report being "very happy" than extreme liberals--47.4% to 35.0%. In the 2000 GSS, it is 48.9% to 30.5%. I haven't run the data, but I think one would find the same general patterns in the GSS for job satisfaction and marital happiness.
In the 1996 GSS, questions were asked about anger and fearfulness. Extreme conservatives were much less likely to report being mad at someone every day in the last week--7.3% to 24.2% for extreme liberals. Extreme conservatives were also less likely to report being fearful in the last week--32.5% to 56.3% for extreme liberals. In other words, a staggering one-quarter of extreme liberals report being mad at someone EVERY DAY and most extreme liberals report being fearful at least once a week.
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