Study Links Childhood Insecurity to Conservatism By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Tuesday March 28, 2006

Depending on your political leanings, you may be exceedingly glad—or plumb horrified—to learn your child is maladjusted.  

Or so a study conducted by UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Jack Block and his wife Jeanne Block, now deceased, might indicate.  

Beginning in 1969, the Blocks assessed personality traits in more than 100 Bay Area children. Twenty years later, subjects were tested for political persuasion. Those who had exhibited hypersensitive, insecure tendencies grew up to be conservatives, while those who were confident and resourceful grew up to be liberal.  

The report was published online in the Journal of Research in Personality in October.  

Children were independently observed by three nursery school teachers at age 3 and again, by a different set of teachers, at age 4. Those subsequently deemed conservative were often described as “feeling easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited and relatively over-controlled and vulnerable.” 

Kids who later identified as liberals, on the other hand, were seen as self-reliant, energetic, somewhat dominating, relatively under-controlled and resilient. 

Block concludes, “It would appear that early identifiable personality characteristics, stemming from constitutional origins always interweaving with the cultural surround, seem to influence an approach to the world and a reaction to the world that tends, over the years, to evolve into a worldview, a weltanschauung, on a wide variety of issues, many of them political.” 

Jeff Greenberg, head of the social psychology program at the University of Arizona, said that doesn’t necessarily follow. 

“While the research is impressive,” he said, “I did find the descriptions of the findings in the journal article biased, and that the article overlooks a number of alternative explanations for what was actually found.”  

Greenberg points out that a 1960s–1970s Berkeley nursery school setting was likely more comfortable for children from liberal families and was therefore biased against children from conservative backgrounds. Alternatively, he said, since maladjusted children tend to reject the values of their surroundings, it could be argued that the fearful, insecure children would dismiss Bay Area liberalism, and turn to conservative ideology. In short, personality as an antecedent to political persuasion doesn’t necessarily bear out. 

“Now if the Blocks are right, they would find the same thing if they had assessed children from an Ames, Iowa, nursery school during the Reagan era,” Greenberg said. “The well-adjusted Iowan kids would grow up to become liberal and the kids not well-adjusted in that nursery school setting would grow up to be conservatives.” 

Block concedes the study’s limited subject pool—just 95 children living in Berkeley or Oakland during an ultraliberal era—narrows the scope. 

Nonetheless, he stands by his conclusions. In declining a request for an interview, he said, “The study speaks for itself.” 

Some campus conservatives think not. They’re calling his work a “wasteful masquerade,” and have accused the study of passing off “allegedly biased political assertions as scientific study.” 

The California Patriot, UC Berkeley’s undergraduate conservative publication, issued an online statement March 22 demanding accountability: 

“Berkeley must explain to its affiliates, students and admirers why university time and money has been wasted on such a poorly veiled political attack. In a time of rising housing costs and bloated tuitions, for Berkeley to be supporting and funding studies such as these is simply inexcusable.” 

The study was funded through a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.  

In 2003, two UC Berkeley professors contributed to research linking conservatism to resistance to change and tolerance for inequality. The study earned a frosty reception from conservatives on and off campus. One of the major points of contention was the article’s assertion that Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussoli and Ronald Reagan shared the same conservative qualities.  

Which could make you wonder: What were they like as little kids, anyway??