Why am I not surprised that a UC Berkeley professors claims to have scientific proof that unpleasant kids grow up to become conservatives, and the kids everyone loves grow up to become liberals? Here’s the story:
Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.
At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.
The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn’t going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.
But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids’ personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There’s no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it’s unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.
A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.
The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.
Although this sounds a lot more like subjective opinion than objective data (and I won’t even pretend to know whether, within the loosey-goosey world of “social sciences,” this study meets minimum validity requirements), let’s pretend that it really is a valid study. Then, let’s take aware the pejoratives that either Block, or the newspaper article’s author, inserted, and insert my descriptors instead:
On the one hand, we’ve got kids who care what’s going on around them, are very aware of their interactions with others, are concerned that things function properly, and approach adults (the power brokers) for help in changing the situation. On the other hand, you’ve got the kids who really don’t give a flying whatsit about anything. They’ll go along with whatever program comes their way, but they’re not invested, because each of these little secure children sees him or herself as the only point of reference.
Come adulthood, and you see the same pattern. The kids who cared about the community around them when they were little continue to care — they want a pleasant, stable community, that is well-structured, and that works fairly well for the maximum number of community members. They stick with their jobs, and probably have a sense of long-term investment in their society. The kids who didn’t give a flying whatsit outside of their feelings still don’t. They bounce from job to job, embrace weird ideologies that have no long term traction, and don’t feel an investment in their society or their future. In other words, the insecure ones work to create a secure community; the secure ones don’t bother. (In this regard, if you haven’t already seen it, you may find amusing this Mike S. Adams column about the self-centered students it is his dubious pleasure to teach.)
Frankly, what I’m saying is more than a bit nonsensical, but no more so, I suspect, than the value laden poop load that spewed out of one UC Berkeley pseudo-scientist — er, I mean social scientist.
UPDATE: Here’s Jonah Goldberg’s take on the same silly article.
UPDATE II: Michelle Malkin has facts about the children studied and the techniques that may have been used in that study.