Robert D. Mather Ph.D.

The Conservative Social Psychologist

The Ideology of Social Psychology

A rare conservative social psychologist

Posted Mar 29, 2016

Robert Mather

Spanish cannon at the Missouri State Capitol, Jefferson City, Missouri, USA.

Source: Robert Mather

I suppose that I am a product of Lee Jussim and Jonathan Haidt. They have never met me, but they created this blog. They cleared the path to the microphone, and now I must be courageous enough to step onto the stage. They gave me my turn to speak.

In 2011, as I do every year, I attended the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual convention. At this convention, I sat in a very large room filled with the best and brightest of my social psychology peers, as Jonathan Haidt asked for a show of hands from the conservative social psychologists. As a fellow social psychologist whispered to me “Now is your chance!” I whispered back “No way—that would be career suicide.” Subsequently after that conference, Jonathan Haidt continued to empirically research the phenomenon, Lee Jussim joined into the discussion within the literature (much of which is on his Psychology Today blog titled “The Rabble Rouser”), and the basic argument was that social psychology is dominated by liberals, and that creates biases in the ideas pursued, the decisions that journal editors and reviewers make, etc. There were a number of contentious listserve discussions among social psychologists on the topic, but I will not describe them here because at my heart I am an experimental social psychologist, and “What happens at SPSP stays at SPSP.” As social psychologists, we have received our share of bad press lately, and this is akin to a family issue among the family of social psychologists. I have tremendous respect for my colleagues, their ideas, their judgments, and the body of scientific work they have created. Not only will I not disavow the quality of the empirical research that has been created in social psychology, but I will continue to champion it as well as the self-correcting process of peer review in science.

However, empirical research supports the idea that liberal ideology dominates social psychology. Although my fellow social psychologists are some of the most empathic, good-hearted humanitarians on the planet, as well as excellent scientists, I have had my fair share of difficulties in mapping my conservative thought processes onto those of the majority in my field. In my opinion, however, this lack of ideological diversity does not invalidate the body of science that we have created as a field. Rather, it leaves it incomplete and lacking—in desperate need of a complementary perspective from which to contribute to theory development. Perhaps I can aid in this new openness by confessing that I am a conservative.

There, I said it. I said it publicly and on the record. It was seemingly less scary than raising my hand in front of my peers. This is likely due to having achieved the stability of tenure and promotions at my own institution. But the discussions that came out of Jonathan Haidt’s exercise at that 2011 conference have led me to believe that there are conservative social psychologists, but they do one of two things. First, they often gravitate to industry or the private sector. Second, they just keep their mouths shut, like I have done. But discrimination is the same, whether covert or overt, and keeping quiet may be a short-term solution that is in the best self-interest, but it doesn’t change things for the next person. So here I am, trying to show the others like me that you can be conservative and be a social psychologist, and your perspective will contribute to the advancement of science. 

In defining the parameters of this blog, I hope to clarify why I am writing this blog. First and foremost, I wish to educate the public about the science of social cognition, explaining and teaching about research that may oftentimes be inaccessible to the public due to restricted access requiring payment. I wish to highlight the good science that social psychology has developed (liberals and non-liberals contributing to the same cause). One possibility is that strict conservatives will be interested in this good research if it is presented by a fellow conservative. Second, I hope to lend my unique perspective as a conservative social psychologist to the interpretation of events and the promotion of government and management structures that are based on empirical social psychology. I am not representative of conservatives on all issues, but I hope to be a voice to make others more comfortable with social science research.

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