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06 June 2006


eileen braman

I think so too!(And note that as you do that analysis you may want to look at the great pains Sidanus and Pratto took to distinguish their measure from those other scales you mention to show it is related but distinct).

Thanks for the clarification. I look forward to learning more about this project this week and in future iterations of empirical work. Best, Eileen

Dan Kahan

Hi, Eileen. Very ineresting point/question--one to which we have in fact given some thought!

For one thing, SDO purports to measure a personality disposition toward hierarchy, while our worldview measures, which derive from Douglas’s anthropological work, purports to describe a set of shared attitudes that reflect and reinforce a way of life. You can get some sense of that by comparing our hierarchy-egalitarian items (there’s a link to our scales in my post) with SDO items. Whereas the latter focus generally on preferences for group domination (e.g., “Sometimes other groups must be kept in their place”; “It’s probably a good thing that certain groups are at the top and other groups at the bottom”) many of the former relate in a more nuanced way to practices in a household or community that has certain conventional forms of role differentiation and stratification (e.g., “A lot of problems in our society today come from the decline in the traditional
family, where the man works and the woman stays home”; “Parents should encourage young boys to be more sensitive and less ‘rough and tough’ ”). As closely related as “personality dispositions” and “worldviews” (in this sense) might be, moreover, the latter seems to offer a more complete explanation for something like a set of beliefs about risk. That is, once I understand how “hierarchy” has been instantiated in various practices within American society, I can offer a cogent explanation (or at least a hypothesis worth testing) for why hierarchists would believe what they do about matters as diverse global warming, gun control, and promiscuous sex. SDO might or might not predict these things, but it doesn’t readily explain them--and it doesn’t purport to.

In addition, our worldview scheme, which as I indicated is rooted in Douglas’s group-grid scheme, contains not just a hierarchy-egalitarian measure, but also an individualism-solidarism measure. SDO doesn’t have a corresponding dimension. We’ve found that how much a person values role differentiation is largely independent of how much he or she values communal provisioning for individual needs. Accordingly, having the two dimensions allows us to explain patterns of risk perception that would evade a scale that had only hierarchy in it or that blurred that with collectivism.

All that said, it would disappoint me--indeed, it would make me worry--if there weren’t some correlation between our hierarchy-egalitarian measure and the SDO scale. One would expect the sorts of people we describe as hierarchs to have some taste for group dominance. Indeed, to validate our scales, we are collecting data (outside of our national study) on the relationship between how someone scores on our measures and how they score on things like SDO, the F-Scale, the “Big 5” personality test and the like. We aren’t done yet, but preliminary results suggest that there is indeed the sorts of correlations one would expect to see, given what we understand ours scales to be measure. But needless to say, the correspondence isn’t perfect. And that’s a good thing, from our point of view, too!

Eileen Braman

As I have been reading these posts the ideas you put forth sound a lot like an extension or at least close relative of Social Dominance Theory (and Orientation) put forth by Jim Sidanius in social psych at UCLA and his co-author Felicia Pratto at Connecticut -- Could you distinguish between the two for me and maybe talk a bit about how your measure of hierarchy differs from their SDO measures -- what distinguishes between the two empirically and theoretically? Are they highly correlated or distinct? Oh and thanks for sharing -- this is a very interesting application to a domain I had not previously considered.

Dan Kahan

On whether the culture effect on risk perception is rationalization of facts or candid indifference to fact, I think the answer for some issue is "both." That is, people as a result of cultural cognition genuinely believe facts congenial to their values ("gun control deters gun homicides"; "the dealth penalty doesn't deter murder") and also believe their values justify many of those same policy positions regardless of the facts ("private gun ownership is an affront to democracy whether or not gun ownership leads to crime"; "executing someone is uncivilized, regardless of the impact of capital punishment on the homicide rate"). Indeed, we have evidence that this is so on gun control. http://research.yale.edu/culturalcognition/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=104
However, I can tell you from experience w/ focus groups, that although people will eventually say, "even if the facts were x, I would still support/oppose this policy on moral grounds" it takes a lot of coaxing; it's an unnatural way for most people to think!
In addition, there probably are *some* issues where people honestly believe that the facts are decisive, and that they would change their mind on the issue if the facts could be so shown to be otherwise, without realizing that the only facts they are capable of being persuaded of are ones congenial to their cultural values. Individualists, for example, don't believe that global warming poses a significant environmental threat; I doubt they would say, "well, even if there is catastrophic consequences, commerce and industry are sufficiently vital to the good life that it's worth it...."
But for both types of issues, I think the policy prescription is the same: devise policies that appeal to the values of culturally diverse persons. Those policies will be appealing as ends in themselves, and will quiet culturally grounded status anxieties that interfere with acceptance of facts material to societal well-being.

frank cross

I remember when the way you could tell the difference between a liberal and a conservative was not any policy position but whether they believed the police or the Black Panthers fired first.

How much of this might be conscious? I think we naively like to think that people seek the truth and consequently, when people's understanding of the truth differs and even is dubious, we ascribe that to cognitive features such as those you've discussed. My casual observation, though, suggests that some of this is simply prioritizing other values (ideological, religious, etc.) over descriptive truth. It's not too uncommon, I think, for a person to essentially acknowledge losing a factual argument but respond with something like "I don't care." I believe what I believe. That sort of attitude seems to go beyond cognitive dissonance to a believe that the descriptive truth itself isn't that important but just a tool used to advance other goals.

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