Adults' political leanings linked with early personality traits

March 19, 2018, Association for Psychological Science

Our political attitudes in adulthood have roots in early childhood temperament, according to new findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Analyses of data from more than 16,000 participants in two longitudinal studies in the United Kingdom reveal links between conduct problems at ages 5 and 7 and economic and political discontent 25 years later.

"Findings from both studies indicate that children who showed higher levels of conduct problems—that is, aggression, fighting, stealing from peers—were more likely to be economically left leaning and distrustful of the political system as adults," says study author Gary J. Lewis of Royal Holloway, University of London. "Some, but not all, of this link was explained by and socioeconomic status in adulthood."

The findings shed light on the relationship between personality traits and political sentiment, suggesting a link that spans more than two decades.

Lewis investigated this link by analyzing data from the British Cohort Study and the National Child Development Study, two longitudinal cohort studies following individuals in the United Kingdom.

Participants' parents completed an assessment of their children's behavior when the children were either 5 or 7 years old, reporting on behaviors related to anxiety, conduct problems, and hyperactivity.

At age 30 or 33, the participants completed measures that gauged their economic conservatism, political cynicism, racism, authoritarianism, and attitudes about gender inequality. These measures cohered into two broad factors: economic/political discontent and social conservatism.

The studies also included data about the parents' social class and the participants' childhood intelligence, educational attainment, and social class in adulthood.

Modeling the relationships among these variables, Lewis found that childhood conduct problems were associated with economic/political discontent in adulthood, even after parental social class and childhood intelligence were taken into account. It is possible, Lewis notes, that conduct problems in childhood may reflect difficulty with self-control and long-term planning or early rejection of authority, either of which could lead to economic/political discontent.

The models also indicated indirect pathways in both cohorts, by which were associated with lower educational attainment and adult and, ultimately, greater economic/political discontent.

These associations may be modest in strength, says Lewis, but they are stable over a 25-year span, suggesting early foundations of later . Future research with more detailed and frequent assessments will help to illuminate the exact nature of these long-term associations.

"We all wonder from time to time why it is that those on the other side of the fence came to be that way," Lewis notes. "These findings take us a little further down the road to answering that question."

Explore further: Tracking the impact of early abuse and neglect

More information: Gary J. Lewis, Early-Childhood Conduct Problems Predict Economic and Political Discontent in Adulthood: Evidence From Two Large, Longitudinal UK Cohorts, Psychological Science (2018). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617742159

Related Stories

Tracking the impact of early abuse and neglect

January 17, 2018
Children who experience abuse and neglect early in life are more likely to have problems in social relationships and underachieve academically as adults.

Conscientiousness in childhood is a predictor of adult smoking behavior

March 23, 2015
Conscientious children are less likely to smoke in later life and the personality trait could help explain health inequalities, indicates a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Children who grew up in disadvantaged households will age in poorer health, even if their socio-economic status improves

February 20, 2018
Although socio-economic status is known to influence health, strong evidence of the association between economic vulnerability in childhood and the health of older adults was still missing. Researchers at the University of ...

Mental wellbeing of generation X directly linked to childhood 

October 26, 2017
Childhood disadvantage is strongly associated with poorer adult mental wellbeing for generation X, according to a UCL study.

Recommended for you

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.