Social psychology is often concerned with how real-world traits, even those as diverse as physical size and socioeconomic status, influence political perspectives and attitudes. In a recent study appearing in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences, a team of American researchers looked at the relationship between formidability (strength) and socioeconomic status on the one hand and militancy and political moral foundations on the other.
The researchers begin with the premise that individuals and groups whose physical or social attributes make them more likely to win conflicts will tend to endorse social rules favoring competition, inequality, and social bargaining. In other words, people generally support institutions and conventions that best work in their favor.
They hypothesized that physical strength and socioeconomic status would thus positively correlate with militancy and political conservatism, the latter of which places greater emphasis on economic liberalism, government deregulation, and ingroup loyalty.
In the study, 381 participants were recruited from a Southern university and assessed for socioeconomic status, formidability (grip and chest strength), self-perceived formidability, plus militancy and moral foundations as measured by dimensions of care and fairness (‘individualizing’ foundations) on the one hand, and ingroup loyalty, respect for authority, and purity (‘binding’ foundations), associated with conservatism, on the other.
The results of the study partially support the researchers’ hypothesis. For both men and women, actual and perceived physical strength were associated with lower endorsement of individualizing moral foundations, although they did not predict binding foundations. The authors hypothesize that the lack of association between strength and binding foundations may reflect the fact that only some aspects of conservatism relate to formidability.
Socioeconomic status, on the other hand, predicted endorsement of binding motives and more militant attitudes. Again, this was true of both men and women. The authors propose the explanation that high-status, wealthy members of society are more likely to lend support to rules that ensure their continued privilege and access to resources.
These findings contribute to a growing consensus that “political morality is patterned according to a psychological calculus of perceived self-interest.”
Given the complexity of political attitudes and the diversity of political environments around the world, future research will want to leverage these variations to further understand the relation between dimensions of social and physical fitness, like wealth and strength, and the kinds of institutions, laws and conventions that prevail in a society and result or not in its stratification.
The study, “Formidability and socioeconomic status uniquely predict militancy and political moral foundations“, was authored by Mitch Brown, Kristine J. Chua, and Aaron W. Lukaszewski.