Are Conservatives More Likely Than Liberals to Avoid Cognitive Dissonance?
Studies without large populations and large control groups that are not repeated are just indicators, not confirmation.
But do liberals and conservatives differ in their tendency to avoid cognitive dissonance? Suggestive evidence from past research suggests they might. For instance, a study of voters in the 2000 election by Stanford public opinion specialist Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues found that although Republicans and conservatives were more interested in learning information about George W. Bush than about Al Gore, Democratic and liberal voters had no such political preference.
In a recent study in PLOS One, an online academic journal, the psychologist Jay Van Bavel and his colleagues at New York University set out to explicitly test whether conservatives are more likely than liberals to avoid the unsettling sensation of cognitive dissonance. For the experiment, they asked George W. Bush and Barack Obama supporters to write an essay supporting the president whom they had already said they opposed. It was a test, as the study’s instructions instructions put it, of “the ability to craft logical arguments arguing positions you may not personally endorse.”
Importantly, the study sometimes presented writing the essay as a choice—which is more likely to arouse dissonance—and other times presented it as an assignment. As a control, the participants were put through the same routine by being asked to write essays on a non-political issue: How they felt about Macs vs. PCs.
Sure enough, the results yielded a significant partisan difference in the willingness to write the essay—but only when the essay was political (not about Macs vs. PCs) and only when writing it was presented a choice, not an assignment. In that context, the results were rather stunning: Not a single Bush supporter was willing to write a pro-Obama essay. That’s 0 out or 28 Bush supporters overall. Obama supporters didn’t like writing pro Bush essays much either, but they were a lot more willing in general: 20 out of 71 did so, or 28 percent overall. (The study sample, obtained through amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk, contained more liberals than conservatives.)
In fact, some conservatives sounded rather miffed after taking the study, leaving comments like: “Not for all the tea in China would I write that.” In contrast, note the study authors, some liberals seemed to revel in the assignment. “This was fun!”, as one put it.