The behavioural foundations of political ideology

November 2017:Quentin AtkinsonChris Sibley (both from Auckland’s Department of Psychology) and I received a Royal Society of NZ Marsden Fund grant to study the behavioural foundations of political ideology. Here is the abstract of the project:

What determines our views on taxation and welfare, crime and healthcare, military spending and climate change? And why do opinions about these seemingly disparate aspects of our social lives coalesce the way they do? There is growing evidence that political attitudes and values reflect enduring individual differences along two ideological dimensions, one expressing a desire for group conformity versus individual autonomy, and another a desire for social dominance versus cooperation. In this project, we will test the possibility this ideological variation is shaped by two corresponding human social drives manifest in behavioural economics – the drive to punish those who violate group norms and the drive to cooperate even at personal cost. Using validated economic games and survey measures from New Zealand and urban and rural Vanuatu we will systematically investigate a) whether general patterns of social behaviour predict political ideology, and b) whether these relationships hold across societies that differ markedly in scale, market integration and cultural background. This work, which is unique in ambition and scope, promises new insight into why people hold the political beliefs they do and how culture and basic human social drives interact to shape the politics that both unites and divides us.