New study: leftists have less self-control than conservatives

Dina tweeted this article from the UK Daily Mail, and it’s worth a look.

It says:

In three studies, US scientists tested the abilities of two groups: undergraduates who considered themselves politically conservative and ‘liberals’.

They classed conservatives as those who endorse traditional values and the status quo, while liberals ‘endorse egalitarian ideals and progressive change’.

They found that the conservatives were better at ‘regulating their attention’ and persisting with tasks.

And they found the difference between the two groups was linked to how closely they believed in free will.

The authors wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: ‘Three studies document a clear difference in self-control as a function of political ideology, as political conservatism (versus liberalism) was consistently related to greater self-control.’

[…]The researchers from the universities of Cincinatti, Indiana and Florida said their research followed on from previous studies that found conservatives tended to be more studious at university than their left-wing counterparts.

The authors suggest that a belief that success is down to one’s own efforts rather than being pre-determined is key to academic success.

Explaining findings that conservative students do better at university, they suggest it ‘could be that conservatives believe they have greater control over their performance and thus expend greater self control in their academic pursuits.’

This is interesting. The theistic view is that human beings are non-physical souls, and the non-physical souls tell the body what to do. Since the non-physical soul is not material, it’s behavior is not governed by fixed physical processes. This is in contrast with the naturalistic view, which is that you are your body, there is no free will, and no personal responsibility.

Isn’t it interesting that the people who do believe in free will also believe in personal responsibility, and this causes them to take more responsibility for their own choices? I cannot imagine how a person can deny free will, yet this is the natural outworking of saying “nature is all there is”.

For those who don’t like the Daily Mail, you can read about the study here in Science Daily.

8 thoughts on “New study: leftists have less self-control than conservatives”

  1. “…it’s behavior is not government by fixed physical processes.”
    Governed. ;)

    I see, as usual, our friends at the Daily Mail have helpfully not included a link to the studies in question. Call me cynical, but I tend to mistrust these ‘Liberal versus Conservative’ and ‘Atheism versus Religion’ statistical studies – they make dialogue difficult by polarizing the issues (often fallaciously). They also smell strongly of click-bait.

    In my experience, I have known plenty of Conservatives who have been biological determinists or fatalists (to a greater or lesser degree), and many Liberals who profess an ardent belief in libertarian free will (even if it is completely untenable on their philosophy). I think the most useful thing which one can take away from these studies is precisely as you say: determinists tend to have a lower opinion of personal responsibility than those who believe in free will.


  2. “The theistic view is that human beings are non-physical souls, and the non-physical souls tell the body what to do.”

    Just a minor caveat: the classical theistic view is that a human being is a substantial body-soul unity. The soul by itself is not a complete human person, though it can subsist in a diminished state apart from the body; and the soul is united to the body as its form, not as a distinct substance controlling the body via efficient causation. I only bring this up because I see many pop apologists make statements that unintentionally denigrate the essential embodied-ness of humans, probably in over-reaction to modern materialism and without awareness of the classical alternative.


    1. J.P. Moreland interviewed by Lee Strobel.

      Read it:

      Moreland was understandably more precise in analyzing the soul, though unfortunately less poetic. He had already clarified that the soul contains our consciousness. Still, he hadn’t offered any reason to believe that the soul is an actual entity. It was time, I felt, to press him on this
      issue. “What makes you think that the soul is real?” I asked.

      Moreland replied by saying, “First, we’re aware that we’re different from our consciousness and our body. We know that we’re beings who have consciousness and a body, but we’re not merely the same thing as our conscious life or our physical life. “Let me give you an illustration of how we’re not the same thing as our personality traits, our memories, and our consciousness. I had a student a few years ago whose sister had a terrible accident on her honeymoon. She was knocked unconscious and lost all of her memories and a good bit of her personality. She did not believe she had been married. As she began to recover, they showed her videos of the wedding to convince her that she had actually married her husband. She eventually got to the point where she believed it, and she got remarried to him.

      “Now, we all knew this was the same person all along.” This was Jamie’s sister. She was not a different person, though she was behaving differently. But she had totally different memories. She had lost her old memories and she didn’t even have the same personality. What that proves is you can be the same person even if you lose old memories and gain new memories, or you lose some of your old personality traits and gain new personality traits. “Now, if I were just my consciousness, when my consciousness was different, I’d be a different person. But we know that I can be the same person even though my consciousness changes, so I can’t be the same thing as my consciousness. I’ve got to be the ‘self,’ or soul, that contains my consciousness.

      “Same with my body. I can’t be the same thing as my body or brain. There was a story on television about an epileptic who underwent an operation in which surgeons removed fifty-three percent of her brain. When she woke up, nobody said, ‘We have forty-seven percent of a person here.’ A person can’t be divided into pieces. You are either a person or you’re not. But your brain and your body can be divided. So that means I can’t be the same thing as my body.”

      Those illustrations helped, though I said, “The fact that the soul and consciousness are invisible makes it difficult to conceptualize them.” “Sure, that’s true,” he replied. “My soul and my consciousness are invisible, though my body is visible. That’s another distinction. In fact, I remember the time when my daughter was in the fifth grade and we were having family prayers. She said, ‘Dad, if I could see God, it would help me believe in him.’ I said, ‘Well, honey, the problem isn’t that you’ve never seen God. The problem is that you’ve never seen your mother.’ And her mother was sitting right next to her! “My daughter said, ‘What do you mean, Dad?’ I said, ‘Suppose without hurting your mom, we were able to take her apart cell by cell and peek

      inside each one of them. We would never come to a moment where we would say, ‘Look—here’s what Mommy’s thinking about doing the rest of the day.’ Or ‘Hey, this cell contains Mommy’s feelings.’ Or ‘So this is what Mom believes about pro football.’ We couldn’t find Mommy’s thoughts, beliefs, desires, or her feelings. “‘Guess what else we would never find? We’d never find Mommy’s ego or her self. We would never say, ‘Finally, in this particular brain cell, there’s Mommy. There’s her ego, or self.’ That’s because Mommy is a person, and persons are invisible. Mommy’s ego and her conscious life are invisible. Now, she’s small enough to have a body, while God is too big to have a body—so let’s pray!’ “The point is this, Lee: I am a soul, and I have a body. We don’t learn about people by studying their bodies. We learn about people by finding out how they feel, what they think, what they’re passionate about, what their worldview is, and so forth. Staring at their body might tell us whether they like exercise, but that’s not very helpful. That’s why we want to get ‘inside’ people to learn about them. “So my conclusion is that there’s more to me than my conscious life and my body. In fact, I am a ‘self,’ or an ‘I,’ that cannot be seen or touched unless I manifest myself through my behavior or my talk. I have free will because I’m a ‘self,’ or a soul, and I’m not just a brain.”


      Moreland is the expert on the soul.


      1. The question is not whether there is more to a person than matter, or whether the soul can subsist apart from the body, or whether there is a self that endures through physical and mental change.

        Rather, the question is whether a human soul sans body is a complete person, such that it can be properly said that the soul alone “is” the person.

        Thomas Aquinas – an expert if ever there was one – takes the negative:

        “[The phrase ‘the soul of man’] may also be understood in this sense, that this soul is this man; and this could be held if it were supposed that the operation of the sensitive soul were proper to it, apart from the body; because in that case all the operations which are attributed to man would belong to the soul only; and whatever performs the operations proper to a thing, is that thing; wherefore that which performs the operations of a man is man. But it has been shown above (A[3]) that sensation is not the operation of the soul only. Since, then, sensation is an operation of man, but not proper to him, it is clear that man is not a soul only, but something composed of soul and body. Plato, through supposing that sensation was proper to the soul, could maintain man to be a soul making use of the body.”

        The gist here is that the essence or nature of a human is to be a rational animal. Thus, a soul without a body is lacking in something essential to humanity – i.e., the animal operations – and is thus incomplete, in the same way that a human born without a leg, though still a person, lacks something proper to the species.

        I bring all this up only to discourage the popular use of the infelicitous expression “a human IS a soul and HAS a body.” It suggests that a body is non-essential to man, and thus detracts from the dignity of the human body – and also runs counter to St. Paul’s insistence that if there is no resurrection of the body, we have no hope.

        We cannot be so eager in our offensives against modern materialism that we shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to upholding the value and dignity of the body.


        1. “I bring all this up only to discourage the popular use of the infelicitous expression “a human IS a soul and HAS a body.” It suggests that a body is non-essential to man, and thus detracts from the dignity of the human body – and also runs counter to St. Paul’s insistence that if there is no resurrection of the body, we have no hope.”

          I strongly agree, christandcosmos – good to see a fellow Thomist around. As appreciative as I am of the Platonic and Cartesian schools, I think that their perspective on mind/body runs the risk of unintentionally doing exactly as you say. To be fair to Christian substance dualists though, there are other apologetic reasons for them embracing this position; such as providing an explanation of the incarnation and a model for describing God as a self-sufficient immaterial mind (whether one thinks this works or not is another matter altogether). As explanatorily useful as it potentially is to think along these lines, I’m also eager to urge caution on this one.


          1. Thomistically-minded folks are something of a rarity in modern apologetic circles. I agree that the implicit Cartesianism of Craig, Moreland et al. is likely bound up with the other distinctively modern ideas, e.g., Craig’s Apollinarian Christology. All the more reason to revive a full-orbed classical metaphysics!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s