Innate Factors in Radicalism and Conservatism

Henry T. Moore
Dartmouth College

FOR the purposes of this paper I shall define radicalism as an attitude favorable to sweeping changes in social institutions, especially changes along lines opposed to class interest. Conservatism, by the same token, is an attitude unfavorable to social changes, and one tending to uphold vested class interests. While recognizing that such attitudes are enormously complex and extremely variable from one individual to another, and from one period of history to another, I believe that there are certain advantages to be gained from attempting to classify individuals as approximately radical or conservative, and then raising the question whether underlying these attitudes there are any discoverable traits of original nature or traces of environmental influence which may be significantly related with the tendency toward one or the other point of view.

In the present paper it is only with traits of original nature that we are concerned. Broadly speaking the question raised is this : "Is there such a thing as a temperamental predisposition toward conservatism or radicalism?" More specifically stated: "What characteristics of native mental equipment will be found so much stronger or weaker in a group of radicals than in a group of conservatives as to establish the presumption that the amount of these traits may have some influence in disposing a person to a bias in one or the other of these directions?"

My curiosity in regard to the problem was first excited by my noticing in connection with the freshman intelligence tests at Dartmouth, October, 1924, that the twenty-three supporters of LaFollette had an average percentile grade of 67.0 as compared with 49.7 for the 519 supporters of Coolidge and 48.4 for the 113 supporters of Davis. Going farther I found that at Harvard the median scholarship mark of 208 LaFollette supporters in the three upper classes was nearly a half a letter grade higher than that of the college as a whole, and that of fifty-four members of the Liberal Club at Harvard was slightly higher than the median of the LaFollette voters. As against this an intelligence test given to a

( 235) class of 70 students in Psychology at Harvard gave the same score for the 9 LaFollette men, the 23 Davis men, and the 32 Coolidge men. The results were inconclusive, chiefly because of the varied significance of the LaFollette vote itself, but they left me curious as to what would be found if satisfactory estimates of radical tendency could be compared with results obtained from standard psychological tests.

For this purpose the following questionnaire, prepared largely by Professor Stuart A. Rice of the Department of Sociology at Dartmouth, was used.


Directions: Answer each of the following questions by one word, YES or NO in the right hand margin. It is understood that you will have certain mental reservations in regard to each of the proposals: the answer YES will be taken as indicating merely a preponderance of favorable inclination and the answer NO a preponderance of objections.

1. Do you favor the early entrance of the United States into the League of Nations?

2. Do you favor the policy of isolation of the United States from European affairs?

3. Are you sympathetic with the political experiment now going on in Russia?

4. Are you in sympathy with the movement for outlawing war?

5. Do you look with suspicion upon the idea of a Super-State as the future hope of international government?

6. Do you favor government ownership of railroads?

7. Do you favor limiting the power of the Supreme Court?

8. Do you favor the formation of a Labor Party in this country?

9. Do you favor higher taxation of the wealthy class than we have at present?

10. Would you like to see governmental questions settled, as far as possible, by direct popular vote?

11. Do you believe that the advantages of trade unionism outweigh its disadvantages?

12. Do you believe in the principle of a minimum wage for workers?

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13. Are you in sympathy with the participation of employees in the management of industry?

14. Are you inclined to be prejudiced against any political candidate who has the support of Wall Street?

15. Do you believe that the industrial class to which a man belongs depends more on opportunity than on native ability?

16. Are you more impressed with the dangers of race prejudice than with its possible advantages?

17. Are you in sympathy with the present-day attacks upon the doctrine of evolution?

18. In general would your support of an institution depend more upon its traditions than upon its responsiveness to present-day needs?

19. Do you believe in alleviating poverty by social legislation?

20. Are you prejudiced against an unmarried individual who is promiscuous in his sex life?

It was assumed that for the first five questions, having to do with international affairs, the "radical" answer would be YES to all but the second one. For the next five, having to do with domestic politics, and for the succeeding five, having to do with

Graph 1

(237) industrial problems, a thoroughgoing radical would presumably answer YES in each case; and for the last five, which are concerned with miscellaneous topics, he might be expected to answer YES to all but the second and third.

The questions were submitted to 168 Yale undergraduates, whose results are reported in Graph 1; to 163 Dartmouth undergraduates, whose records are presented in Graph 2; and to 46

Graph 2

Columbia students, whose results do not appear because of the fact that their intelligence test scores were not available for comparison with the questionnaire ratings.

In Graphs 1 and 2 a white bar indicates the per cent of men who gave a radical response to the question indicated by the number at the base of the column. Thus, in response to the third question: "Are you sympathetic with the political experiment now going on in Russia?" 21.7 per cent of the Yale students and 40.7 per cent of the Dartmouth students returned the radical answer YES. In each of these two graphs the black bar indicates what per cent of those who gave radical answers to the particular question indicated had an intelligence score which equalled or surpassed the median intelligence score of the men who gave a conservative answer to the same question. Whenever the black bar is higher than the 50 per cent line a superiority of intelligence is indicated

( 238) for the radicals. Whenever the black bar falls below the middle line, inferiority of intelligence is to that extent indicated in the radicals. For example, in answer to the first question, the one concerned with the entrance of the United States into the League of Nations, slightly less than half of the Yale group and considerably less than half of the Dartmouth group gave the radical response YES; but in both groups the League supporters made a better showing on intelligence test scores, as indicated by the fact that more than half of them reached or surpassed the median score made by the conservatives, who answered NO.

Broadly speaking the white surface on these two graphs indicates the amount of radical trend in the two college groups, while the black surface indicates at about what level of intelligence radical opinion is pitched in each group. The fluctuations in the lengths of the white bars indicate the extent to which one kind of radical trend differs from another in numerical strength, and the fluctuations of length in the black bars indicate variations in the intellectual level of different kinds of radical opinion.

The three questions that show the most similar grouping of radicals are the ones dealing with Russia, question 3, the referendum, question 10, and anti-Wall Street prejudice, question 14; and in every case these are groups that are both numerically and intellectually weak. The three questions that show the most similar grouping of conservatives are those having to do with the outlawing of war, question 4, with the disadvantages of trade unionism, question 11, and with the justification of race prejudice, question 16; and in every case these conservative groups while numerically weak are intellectually above the average level of their opponents. We are reminded strongly of what Wolfe has termed the "interested conservative", the man who knows what he wants and is motivated by positive desire rather than by fear of change. As conservatives of doubtful intellectual status we may take those who favor the isolation of the United States, question 2, and those who are opposed to the alleviation of poverty by social legislation, question 19. All in all the honors in intelligence are practically even, with great fluctuations from question to question.

A point of some incidental interest in the gross statistics is that of the per cent of radical and conservative responses in each of the three colleges, although the number of cases is by far too few to justify any general characterization of the institutions on the basis of these per cents. The group of 168 Yale students, with

( 239) radical majorities on only 7 of the 20 questions, showed a relatively conservative trend. The 163 Dartmouth students, with 10 radical and 10 conservative majorities, occupy a middle position. The 46 Columbia students, too few in number to give more than a slight indication, gave radical majorities on 14 of the 20 questions.

Considerable theoretical interest attaches to the great fluctuations as we go from one question to another. They indicate the multiplicity of what we loosely call "radicalism" and "conservatism", and explain the difficulty that any individual will experience in classifying himself with regard to these tendencies. Thus when 235 students at Dartmouth were asked to rate themselves on a scale of eight divisions running from extreme radicalism at one end to extreme reactionism at the other, more than 85 per cent of them classified themselves as either conservative-liberal or liberal-conservative. The inference is plain that the most satisfactory procedure for classifying individuals as conservative or radical is statistical and behavioristic rather than introspective. It is a matter of determining each man's per cent of radical language responses to a varied list of situations rather than having him pass judgment on himself with reference to a scale of adjectives.

The method adopted for obtaining two sharply contrasting groups of radicals and conservatives for individual study was as follows. The questionnaire was submitted to a class of 225 students, and those men who gave radical responses to 14 or more of the 20 questions were classified as "radicals". To get an equal number of "conservatives" I took those men whose radical responses were not more than seven out of the possible twenty. This gave two equal groups, forming about a quarter of the entire class, and reasonably well certified as distinct types by the fact that the "conservatives" averaged little more than a third as many radical replies as did the "radicals".

In Graph 3, which presents the results of the special tests and experiments applied to these two groups, the white bars indicate the per cent of radicals who equalled or surpassed the average score of the conservatives; and the black bars indicate the per cent of conservatives who equalled or surpassed the average grade of the radicals. Length of the white bar above the 50 per cent line thus indicates superiority of the radicals, and failure of the black bar to reach the 50 per cent line correspondingly indicates inferiority on the part of the conservatives.

The equal height of the white and black bars above the word

( 240) "Intelligence" indicates that the average score of the two groups on a standard test of general intelligence was the same. The test used was a 40 item completion test which has given a correlation of approximately .5 with freshman scholarship marks at Dart-mouth for five years. The distribution of individual marks for the two groups was very similar for this test. This evidence,

Graph 3

so far as it goes, indicates that we can hardly look for any fundamental difference in the average intellectual level of radical and conservative groups in the same college.

The next question concerned the emotional stability of our 60 subjects. The so-called true radical is sometimes pictured as a man of exaggerated emotionality, and the true conservative as a person naturally disinclined toward getting stirred up. The most promising device for putting this point to the test seemed to be the questionnaire of Woodworth which was originally prepared for the purpose of singling out the emotionally unstable soldiers in the United States Army. The following are typical of the questions asked. "Have you often been frightened in the middle of the night?" "Are you much bothered by blushing?" "Did you have a happy childhood?" "Do you worry much?" A selected list of 73 questions was prepared from Woodworth's original

( 241) series, and submitted to all the subjects. The average number of neurotic responses for the two groups was the same, 17.0 for the conservatives and 17.1 for the radicals.

Having thus (eliminated general intelligence and emotional stability as significant factors in the differentiation of our conservative and radical groups, the next question was whether there was some particular instinctive characteristic, such as responsiveness to the herd, or to majority opinion, that would afford a distinguishing mark. For the measurement of each individual's susceptibility to majority influence, as indicated by the column labelled "Resistance" in Graph 3, the method used was as follows : First each man was given a list of 18 pairs of personal traits that are in varying degrees morally offensive, and was asked to write down his judgment as to which one of each pair was more offensive. Thus lack of ambition was compared with willingness to climb at the expense of others; lack of respect for other people's religious worship was compared with lack of respect for older people; getting rich by questionable financial methods was compared with disloyalty to friends, and so on. After the original judgments had been put aside for an hour the list was repeated, but in the second series the subjects were told in advance of each judgment how a majority out of 1,000 college students had voted. The original judgments were later checked against the second series for the purpose of finding out how many chances each man had accepted for reversing his original judgment so as to agree with the majority. It was found that the radical group as a whole had accepted only 18 out of 147 chances, or 12.2 per cent, while the conservatives had accepted 34 out of 109, or 31.2 per cent. A comparison of the individual records showed, as indicated by the white and black bars of the graph that 88 per cent of the radicals offered as much or more resistance to majority influence as did the average conservative, while only 14.3 per cent of the conservatives offered as much or more resistance than the average radical.

In our search for psychological characteristics the first one to show a. striking difference was thus independence of majority opinion. This fact offers an experimental corroboration of the statement made by Wolfe that the conservative is more likely than the radical, a control his conduct by the standard : "What will people say?"

Another statement made by the same author is of interest in connection with the next experiment. He says : "The motivation

( 242) of disinterested conservatism boils down to fear and habit." It was the matter of habit-formation that concerned us next. A preliminary test of sheer learning ability, as determined by code learning, resulted in almost equal scores for the two groups, but in a learning experiment which involved the breaking of long established habits, striking differences appeared. The experiment used was the standard mirror drawing experiment in which the subject is asked to trace a star which he is unable to see except as it appears in a mirror. The peculiar difficulty in this kind of performance is that one must suddenly break his lifelong habit of guiding his hand directly by his eye, and must learn to move along each line of the star in a direction opposite to the apparent direction. On this test three different scores were kept for each subject—one of errors, one of the time, and a total efficiency score computed by multiplying seconds by errors. On the score for accuracy 81 per cent of the radicals made fewer errors than the average conservative, and only 25 per cent of the conservatives made fewer errors than the average radical. On the score for speed the difference is not marked, but in gross efficiency 91.3 per cent of the radicals surpassed the average conservative.

A difference of this degree in readiness at breaking habits makes it quite probable that a conservative's sentimental attachment to things as they are may not be altogether due to the fact that his father taught him conservative doctrine, or that he himself happens to occupy a favored position under the present rules of the game. It may very conceivably be due in part at least to a natural proclivity for keeping on in the way he happened to get started, and a consequent rationalizing his preference for the old-fashioned ways into some peculiar merit of those good old ways themselves To be sure this same proclivity might lead to quite different lines of conduct in two individuals whose training had been different. In the early days of the automobile, when the regular shout of derision that greeted the first adventurers was "Get a horse ! Get a horse!" almost everybody was conservative in the sense that he preferred the familiar reins to the unfamiliar steering wheel. Gradually the nature of boyhood training has shifted until to-day, when every five year old is prating of flivvers and Packards, it takes a radical to be interested in bridle paths rather than in gear shifts.

As a further instance of an elementary difference in the neuromuscular make-up of the two groups we may take the results of an experiment in simple reaction time. The mean reaction time

( 243) of the radical was 131.7 sigma as compared with 154.0 sigma for the conservatives. Of the radicals 91.3 per cent were quicker than the average conservative, and only 27.3 per cent of the conservatives were quicker than the average radical. That this superior quickness of the radical is not due to a difference in attention is indicated by the fact that long and irregular preparatory intervals, according to Woodrow's well known detraction method, did not prolong the reaction time of one group noticeably more than that of the other. The detraction effect, a measure of the disturbance due to difficult conditions of attention, was approximately 68 sigma for both groups. Evidently then the difference in simple reaction time is not so much a matter of the factor of attention in listening for the signal, but principally a difference in sheer quickness of reaction.

Two remaining tests throw further light on characteristic differences. The test corresponding to the label "Decision" is one devised by Munsterberg. The subject is asked to sort a special kind of pack of cards under conditions in which both speed and accuracy are important. What is especially significant for the purpose of this study is that the subject does not know the relative importance of the two factors. He only knows that if he either takes too much time or makes too many errors he will have a very poor score. Now under these conditions 70.9 per cent of the radicals work faster than the average conservative. In other words, when the relative importance of accuracy is uncertain the radical more naturally inclines to quick snap judgments, while the fear of taking chances is sufficiently ingrained in the conservative to find its way into his behavior even in a psychological laboratory.

As a last experiment each man was given the 100 words of the standard Kent-Rosanoff list and was asked to write down the first word called to mind by the stimulus word. In scoring the papers every word having a frequency value of less than 10 in the Kent-Rosanoff tables was listed as an unusual association. The average number of unusual words for the conservatives according to this method of scoring was 29, and for the radicals 38.2; but the mean deviation was larger than the difference in the means, so that we have here at best a mere suggestion as to greater originality, or eccentricity in the radical's simplest association of ideas. This point would need much further investigation before it could be maintained with confidence.

To return to our original question: "Is there such a thing as a temperamental predisposition toward conservatism or radical

( 244) -ism?" Considering the fewness of our subjects, the narrowly special conditions of some of the tests used, and in some cases a comparatively large probable error in the average differences, we should be not be justified in more than a very tentative answer. Yet if one may generalize very tentatively on the basis of these few data it could be said that our evidence so far as it goes points to some innate basis of difference. This basis does not seem to be in the level of general intelligence or of emotional stability, nor in any general superiority or inferiority in learning or attention, but in such specific factors as greater speed of reaction, ease of breaking habits, readiness to make snap judgments, and independence in the face of majority influence. The last of these differences is the one most clearly indicated. Now despite the enormous preponderance that environment and education may have in determining the particular radicalism of any particular individual, I submit that these environmental differences may be underlaid in very significant ways by innate differences in type of neuromuscular machinery. If one man is by nature more keyed up for speed and flexibility, and the other is more designed for regularity of function, we can hardly expect that government of the hyperkinetic by the phlegmatic and for the phlegmatic can fail to develop periods of stress and strain. Here at any rate lies a field that is worth extensive research.


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