Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives (1)
Suppose that two American friends are traveling together in Italy.
They go to see Michelangelo's "David," and when they finally come face to face with the statue, they both freeze dead in their tracks. The first guy -- we'll call him Adam -- is transfixed by the beauty of the perfect human form. The second guy -- we'll call him Bill -- is transfixed by embarrassment, at staring at the thing there in the center. So here's my question for you: which one of these two guys was more likely to have voted for George Bush, which for Al Gore? I don't need a show of hands because we all have the same political stereotypes.
We all know that it's Bill. And in this case, the stereotype corresponds to reality. It really is a fact that liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called openness to experience. People who are high in openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable If you know about this trait, you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior You can understand why artists are so different from accountants You can actually predict what kinds of books they like to read, what kinds of places they like to travel to, and what kinds of food they like to eat Once you understand this trait, you can understand why anybody would eat at Applebee's, but not anybody that you know (Laughter) This trait also tells us a lot about politics The main researcher of this trait, Robert McCrae says that, "Open individuals have an affinity for liberal, progressive, left-wing political views" -- they like a society which is open and changing -- "whereas closed individuals prefer conservative, traditional, right-wing views.
This trait also tells us a lot about the kinds of groups people join.
So here's the description of a group I found on the Web. What kinds of people would join a global community welcoming people from every discipline and culture, who seek a deeper understanding of the world, and who hope to turn that understanding into a better future for us all? This is from some guy named Ted. (Laughter) Well, let's see now, if openness predicts who becomes liberal, and openness predicts who becomes a TEDster, then might we predict that most TEDsters are liberal? Let's find out I'm going to ask you to raise your hand, whether you are liberal, left of center -- on social issues, we're talking about, primarily -- or conservative, and I'll give a third option, because I know there are a number of libertarians in the audience. So, right now, please raise your hand -- down in the simulcast rooms, too, let's let everybody see who's here -- please raise your hand if you would say that you are liberal or left of center Please raise your hand high right now. OK Please raise your hand if you'd say you're libertarian. OK, about a -- two dozen And please raise your hand if you'd say you are right of center or conservative. One, two, three, four, five -- about eight or 10 OK.
This is a bit of a problem Because if our goal is to understand the world, to seek a deeper understanding of the world, our general lack of moral diversity here is going to make it harder Because when people all share values, when people all share morals, they become a team, and once you engage the psychology of teams, it shuts down open-minded thinking. When the liberal team loses, as it did in 2004, and as it almost did in 2000, we comfort ourselves (Laughter) We try to explain why half of America voted for the other team. We think they must be blinded by religion, or by simple stupidity. (Laughter) (Applause) So, if you think that half of America votes Republican because they are blinded in this way, then my message to you is that you're trapped in a moral matrix, in a particular moral matrix And by the matrix, I mean literally the matrix, like the movie "The Matrix. But I'm here today to give you a choice.
You can either take the blue pill and stick to your comforting delusions, or you can take the red pill, learn some moral psychology and step outside the moral matrix Now, because I know -- (Applause) -- OK, I assume that answers my question I was going to ask you which one you picked, but no need. You're all high in openness to experience, and besides, it looks like it might even taste good, and you're all epicures. So anyway, let's go with the red pill Let's study some moral psychology and see where it takes us Let's start at the beginning.
What is morality and where does it come from? The worst idea in all of psychology is the idea that the mind is a blank slate at birth. Developmental psychology has shown that kids come into the world already knowing so much about the physical and social worlds, and programmed to make it really easy for them to learn certain things and hard to learn others The best definition of innateness I've ever seen -- this just clarifies so many things for me -- is from the brain scientist Gary Marcus He says, "The initial organization of the brain does not depend that much on experience. Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises Built-in doesn't mean unmalleable; it means organized in advance of experience." OK, so what's on the first draft of the moral mind? To find out, my colleague, Craig Joseph, and I read through the literature on anthropology, on culture variation in morality and also on evolutionary psychology, looking for matches. What are the sorts of things that people talk about across disciplines? That you find across cultures and even across species? We found five -- five best matches, which we call the five foundations of morality The first one is harm/care.
We're all mammals here, we all have a lot of neural and hormonal programming that makes us really bond with others, care for others, feel compassion for others, especially the weak and vulnerable It gives us very strong feelings about those who cause harm. This moral foundation underlies about 70 percent of the moral statements I've heard here at TED. The second foundation is fairness/reciprocity There's actually ambiguous evidence as to whether you find reciprocity in other animals, but the evidence for people could not be clearer.
This Norman Rockwell painting is called "The Golden Rule," and we heard about this from Karen Armstrong, of course, as the foundation of so many religions That second foundation underlies the other 30 percent of the moral statements I've heard here at TED The third foundation is in-group/loyalty.
You do find groups in the animal kingdom -- you do find cooperative groups -- but these groups are always either very small or they're all siblings. It's only among humans that you find very large groups of people who are able to cooperate, join together into groups, but in this case, groups that are united to fight other groups This probably comes from our long history of tribal living, of tribal psychology. And this tribal psychology is so deeply pleasurable that even when we don't have tribes, we go ahead and make them, because it's fun Sports is to war as pornography is to sex We get to exercise some ancient, ancient drives. The fourth foundation is authority/respect.
Here you see submissive gestures from two members of very closely related species But authority in humans is not so closely based on power and brutality, as it is in other primates. It's based on more voluntary deference, and even elements of love, at times. The fifth foundation is purity/sanctity This painting is called "The Allegory Of Chastity," but purity's not just about suppressing female sexuality It's about any kind of ideology, any kind of idea that tells you that you can attain virtue by controlling what you do with your body, by controlling what you put into your body.
And while the political right may moralize sex much more, the political left is really doing a lot of it with food. Food is becoming extremely moralized nowadays, and a lot of it is ideas about purity, about what you're willing to touch, or put into your body I believe these are the five best candidates for what's written on the first draft of the moral mind.
I think this is what we come with, at least a preparedness to learn all of these things. But as my son, Max, grows up in a liberal college town, how is this first draft going to get revised? And how will it end up being different from a kid born 60 miles south of us in Lynchburg, Virginia? To think about culture variation, let's try a different metaphor If there really are five systems at work in the mind -- five sources of intuitions and emotions -- then we can think of the moral mind as being like one of those audio equalizers that has five channels, where you can set it to a different setting on every channel And my colleagues, Brian Nosek and Jesse Graham, and I, made a questionnaire, which we put up on the Web at wwwYourMorals.org. And so far, 30,000 people have taken this questionnaire, and you can too Here are the results. Here are the results from about 23,000 American citizens. On the left, I've plotted the scores for liberals; on the right, those for conservatives; in the middle, the moderates The blue line shows you people's responses on the average of all the harm questions So, as you see, people care about harm and care issues They give high endorsement of these sorts of statements all across the board, but as you also see, liberals care about it a little more than conservatives -- the line slopes down.
Same story for fairness. But look at the other three lines. For liberals, the scores are very low Liberals are basically saying, "No, this is not morality. In-group, authority, purity -- this stuff has nothing to do with morality. I reject it" But as people get more conservative, the values rise We can say that liberals have a kind of a two-channel, or two-foundation morality Conservatives have more of a five-foundation, or five-channel morality We find this in every country we look at.
Here's the data for 1,100 Canadians. I'll just flip through a few other slides. The UK., Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia. Notice also that on all of these graphs, the slope is steeper on in-group, authority, purity Which shows that within any country, the disagreement isn't over harm and fairness. Everybody -- I mean, we debate over what's fair -- but everybody agrees that harm and fairness matter Moral arguments within cultures are especially about issues of in-group, authority, purity This effect is so robust that we find it no matter how we ask the question In one recent study, we asked people to suppose you're about to get a dog.
You picked a particular breed, you learned some new information about the breed. Suppose you learn that this particular breed is independent-minded, and relates to its owner as a friend and an equal? Well, if you are a liberal, you say, "Hey, that's great!" Because liberals like to say, "Fetch, please." But if you're conservative, that's not so attractive If you're conservative, and you learn that a dog's extremely loyal to its home and family, and doesn't warm up quickly to strangers, for conservatives, well, loyalty is good -- dogs ought to be loyal. But to a liberal, it sounds like this dog is running for the Republican nomination.