At Social Psychology Conference, Lack of Conservatives Acknowledged

Ashley Thorne

John Tierney's article in Sunday's New York Times describes the most-talked about speech from the recent annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Jonathan Haidt gave a talk in which he asked members of the audience to raise their hands to identify themselves politically. When he asked for conservatives, only three hands went up.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

Haidt characterized the current situation as a problem of ideological diversity. He called for "post-partisan" social psychology and recommended that the Society adopt an affirmative action goal to have a 10 percent conservative membership by the year 2020.  While I disagree with the idea of affirmative action for conservatives, I'm glad to know that someone is calling attention to the "tribal" mentality in scholarship, and that, according to Tierney, "the social psychologists in Dr. Haidt’s audience seemed refreshingly receptive to his argument." It would not serve the discipline of social psychology to try to simulate an artificial balance by recruiting members on the basis of their conservatism - but neither does it serve the discipline to exclude conservatives, as now seems to be the case. Dr. Haidt took a bold step in suggesting there might be a problem with social psychology's political monopoly, and the conversations he provoked may be help diminish liberalism's domination in the field.

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