DOI: 10.1111/pops.12958 ISSN: 0162-895X

A critical evaluation and research agenda for the study of psychological dispositions and political attitudes

Kevin Arceneaux, Bert N. Bakker, Neil Fasching, Yphtach Lelkes
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Psychology


Political psychologists often examine the influence of psychological dispositions on political attitudes. Central to this field is the ideological asymmetry hypothesis (IAH), which asserts significant psychological differences between conservatives and liberals. According to the IAH, conservatives tend to exhibit greater resistance to change, a stronger inclination to uphold existing social systems, and heightened sensitivity to threats and uncertainty compared with their liberal counterparts. Our review and reanalysis, however, question the empirical strength of the IAH. We expose major concerns regarding the construct validity of the psychological dispositions and political attitudes traditionally measured. Furthermore, our research reveals that the internal validity of these studies is often compromised by endogeneity and selection biases. External and statistical validity issues are also evident, with many findings relying on small effect sizes derived from nonrepresentative student populations. Collectively, these data offer scant support for the IAH, indicating that simply amassing similar data is unlikely to clarify the validity of the hypothesis. We suggest a more intricate causal model that addresses the intricate dynamics between psychological dispositions and political attitudes. This model considers the bidirectional nature of these relationships and the moderating roles of individual and situational variables. In conclusion, we call for developing more sophisticated theories and rigorous research methodologies to enhance our comprehension of the psychological underpinnings of political ideology.