Political Conservatism As A Motivated Cognition Criminology Essay

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Jost, Kruglanski, Glaser and Sulloway�s (2003a) dual-process model of conservatism is developed through the hypothesis that people are socially and cognitively motivated to embrace political conservatism to fulfil psychological needs; to minimise anxiety and bolster self-esteem. Psychological investigation of conservatism began with Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson and Sanford�s (1950) study of the authoritarian personality to understand the rise of Fascism in Europe leading to World War II (Jost et al., 2003a; Adorno et al., 1950). Support for the authoritarian as an individual difference has waxed and waned and thus generated a huge body of empirical research which Jost et al. draw on along with more novel theoretical perspectives to create their integrative framework of political conservatism as a motivated cognition (2003a). This essay will summarise the foundations and identify the core elements of political conservatism. Uncertainty, fear and threat play a decisive role in the motivation to resist change and support existing systems of inequality for both advantaged and disadvantage social groups. Finally it is suggested that low-status groups may adopt political conservatism because they lack group political consciousness and the use of threat in political campaigns stimulates accessibility and bolsters conservative beliefs, enhancing the resistance to change.

Political conservatism as a motivated cognition refers to a variety of notions pertaining to the relationship between people�s beliefs and the motivations supporting them. The foundation of political ideology according to Jost et al. (2003a) is the influence of affect and motivation to view the world from a perspective which fulfils needs, matches values and builds on or compliments a particular understanding of the world. The psychological basis of political conservatism as a motivated cognition are a number of epistemic motives (dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance, need for order, structure and closure) existential motives (self-esteem, loss prevention, terror management) and ideological motives (realisation of self-interest, group based dominance, system justification) (Jost et al., 2003a). The common link found in these theories is the hypothesis that people adopt conservative beliefs because they satisfy a psychological need to manage threat and minimise uncertainty and fear.

The core elements of political conservatism, as identified in the eclectic mix of evidence from personality, epistemic and existential and socio-political theories, are conceptualised as resistance to change and acceptance of inequality (Jost et al., 2003a). These elements are related but distinct and the correlation strength will depend heavily on the historical, political and cultural context in which they are measured. Traditional social orders have consistently been hierarchical however conservatism is not necessarily coupled with an extreme right-wing political orientation (Jost et al., 2003a). Stalin, Castro and other left-wing leaders exemplify the conservatism paradox, where fierce resistance to change is combined with a �so called� egalitarian system (Jost et al., 2003a). Jost et al. (2003a) draw on 88 research articles from twelve countries with diverse political systems in order to accommodate this paradox and identify some consistent peripheral elements of conservatism; rigidity and desire for order, fear of revolutionary change, and obedience to social norms, glorification of authority and harsh punishment of deviants. Greenberg and Jonas (2003) dispute Jost et al.�s (2003a) assertion that resistance to change is a core element of a broad right and left conservatism suggesting rather it is found in all extremist political orientations. This commentary appears to narrow Jost et al.�s (2003a) definition of conservatism to ideologies which lean to the political right but are not out on the extreme right-wing (Jost, Kruglanski, Glaser & Sulloway, 2003b).

The psychological need to reduce uncertainty and insecurity is satisfied by the adoption of conservative ideologies which are resistant to social and political change and upheaval. The need to dissipate fear and threat drives the goal to accept inequality as a known (predictable and stable) and inevitable entity in modern capitalist societies (Jost, Napier, Thorisdottir, Gosling, Palfai & Ostafin, 2007, Lavine, Lodge & Freitas, 2005). Jost et al. (2007) argue that the political right and political left are psychologically linked in the sense that a hierarchical system is considered safe, structured and stable while an egalitarian system is perceived as unpredictable and chaotic. These assumptions are adopted not only by people who are advantaged but also by people who are disadvantaged in stratification systems (Jost et al., 2007). Those who are privileged in social and political systems might be expected to be motivated through self-interest to support the status quo, and therefore the excluded motivated by self-interest to challenge the social order but Jost et al. (2003a, 2003b) argue there are multiple motives behind the adherence to conservative ideologies.

The epistemic motives, dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance, need for order, structure and closure are dispositions which shape the conservatives formation of attitudes and beliefs. People�s reception of information and the type of information yielded to are shaped by pre-existing beliefs and values (Jost et al. 2003a). Avoidance of threat and desire for certainty are underlying the existential motives self-esteem, loss prevention, and terror management in a conservative according to Jost et al. (2003a). Conservative�s whose score on authoritarianism is high have been found to actively avoid balanced information in preference for a one-sided argument which supports pre-existing beliefs when their mortality is under threat (Lavine et al., 2005). Epistemic and existential motives thus interact with each other and shape political attitudes. Landau, Soloman, Greenberg, Cohen, Pyszczynski, Arndt, Miller, Ogilvie and Cook (2004) examine support for either conservative Gorge W. Bush or rival candidate John Kerry through the lens of terror management theory, using a mortality salience threat. Laudau et al. (2004) found when participants were explicitly or subliminally reminded of the destruction of the World Trade centre on 9/11/2001 as a mortality threat, support for Gorge Bush increased and this support was not limited to self-categorised conservatives (Laudau et al., 2004).

The ideological motives to embrace conservatism, are realisation of self-interest, group based dominance and system justification which are also shaped and impacted by both epistemic and existential motives. Ideological beliefs provide confidence and reason which can be linked with epistemic needs to increase calculation and control and existential needs to seek security and meaning (Jost et al., 2003a). Group based dominance theory draws on notions of evolutionary theory and stresses political conservatism is embraced through a series of hegemonic legitimising myths in order to avoid conflict between those who benefit from a capitalist system and those who are excluded from the benefits (Jost et al., 2003a). Social dominance motives are more likely to be held by members of privileged groups such as men, whites and elite�s who�s self-interest is served by the status quo (Jost et al., 2003a). System justification on the other hand motivates those who do not benefit from the status quo to, none the less, resist change and accept inequality. This theory contains three interacting motivations; ego or personal, group and system justification and stresses that members of disadvantaged groups will support the status quo, when group and personal interests are depressed, to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance (Jost, Banaji & Nosek, 2004). Jost et al., (2004) found that members of low-status groups may express in-group favouritism explicitly but when implicit measures are used they are more likely to express out-group favouritism. Jost et al., (2004) argue that system justification theory holds superiority over group based dominance theory and the alternative social identity theory, for explaining low-status group�s ideological motivations to justify and support biased systems and internalise inferiority expressed through implicit out-group favouritism.

This essay suggests that from a social psychological perspective the social identity approach to may improve understanding of low-status group�s depressed political consciousness and the ideological motivations to adopt dominant conservatism because of a lack of cognitive alternatives. Tajfel and Turner (1979) indicate that individuals who share group membership need to acknowledge the groups shared fate in an illegitimate system for political consciousness to develop. Jost et al.�s (2004) review of system justification research uses findings of implicit out-group favouritism by low-status groups and suggests that social identity theory has only �hinted� at the system justification processes (p. 887) as evidence of this approaches limited contribution to this understanding. Social identity theory posits that �where the social-structural differences in the distribution of resources have been institutionalised, legitimised and justified through the consensually accepted status system (or at least a status system that is sufficiently firm and pervasive to prevent the creation of cognitive alternatives to it) the results has been less not more ethnocentrism in the different status groups� (Tajfel & Turner, 1979, p. 37). Dominant institutionalised (i.e. education system, media, socialisation) capitalist rhetoric promotes an ideology of meritocracy and social mobility, ignores structural inequalities and places the responsibility of economic success or failure in the labour market in the hands of individual�s. Reicher, (2004) highlights the pervasive power of dominant rhetoric. Tajfel and Turner (1979) argue that subordinate groups internalise their group�s low status, produced in dominant rhetoric, and evaluate themselves as �inferior� in comparison with higher status groups. Jost et al.�s (2004) review demonstrates those decades of low-status group activism to achieve positive group identity (i.e. in terms of race ethnicity and gender) identity has shifted explicit group evaluations but not unconscious implicit evaluations.

Jost et al., (2004) review includes groups whose collective identity is devalued on more than one dimension (i.e. race/ethnicity and economic status, gender and economic status). Individuals may hold a positive explicit evaluation of their gender or racial identity but be (implicitly) non-conscious of that groups (general) impacting devalued socio-economic/class position. Greenwood (2008) argues that political consciousness is not generated from singular identities but from individual�s various intersecting group memberships, where oppressing systems of patriarchy or race are inescapable. These intersecting identities compound low-status group�s internalised �inferiority� and drives support for systems of inequality as a group�s lack of awareness of the illegitimacy of their subordination (or lack of political group consciousness) further explains motivation of system justification.

The understanding that people are motivated to embrace political conservatism to manage threat and minimise fear and uncertainty proposed by Jost et al, (2003a) can be improved from a cognitive perspective in that threat acts as an inoculation and plays an important role in people�s resistance to attitude change. It has long been established that threat elicits a cognitive process of inoculation which protects existing beliefs from counter persuasion particularly when the attitude object is highly involving (important and self relevant) (Pfau, Tusing, Koerner, Lee, Godbold and Penaloza, Yang, Hong, 1997). Pfau et al., (1997) argued that the suggestion made in previous that threat stimulates internal counterarguments which bolster pre-existing beliefs is more complex. Pfau, Roskos-Ewoldson, Wood, Yin, Cho, Lu and Shen, (2003) conducted a study examining the role of attitude accessibility in the inoculation effect suggesting that attitudes which come to mind easily are stronger and more enduring than less accessible attitudes. Pfau et al.�s (2003) findings support the notion that refutational pre-emptive arguments act as a threat to existing beliefs which stimulated deeper elaboration and integrative structure thus bolstering these beliefs and attitudes towards them. Inoculation treatments enhance the accessibility of beliefs and strengthen generating more resistance to change. Pfau et al., (1997) report findings from a previous study involving political beliefs, and found that the inoculation effect (campaigns using threat, for example, if we do not vote yes to the Lisbon treaty we will be ejected from the European Union) are particularly effective for high party identifiers.

In conclusion, political conservatism is adopted by people to satisfy the psychological need to manage threat and minimise uncertainty. People are predisposed through a need for closure order and structure to seek knowledge and information which compliments pre-existing beliefs particularly when under threat. These epistemic motives interact with existential motives to protect self-esteem and live in certainty when faced with the thought of their own mortality. Ideological motives drive the conservative to desire reason and meaning, while members of valued groups are driven by self-interest to support the status quo under valued groups justify the system. This essay suggests that low-status groups lack group consciousness due to dominant hegemonic rhetoric of which places responsibility on the individual to achieve in a competitive hierarchical system where they are disadvantaged by their intersecting identities. Finally politicians use threat to make accessible and bolster peoples existing beliefs which are inoculated from intruding alternative counterarguments.

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