Saturday, October 2, 2021

Mental Illness and Progressive Politics

Being a thoroughly rational human creature one feels a special affinity for psychological research studies that demonstrate the correctness of one’s opinions.

Especially these days when those who debate political and social issues seem more prone to defamation and slander than to rational deliberation. 

Naturally, the current research does not prove much of anything. And yet, it does provide a certain comfort level to those who believe that the American left has lost its fucking mind. Apparently, previous studies had demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that conservatives were more prone to anxiety disorders than were leftist radicals. The new studies demonstrate just the opposite. They show that leftists are more likely to suffer from emotional distress than conservatives.

In one sense, it’s intuitively obvious. Which group is more likely to suffer fits of apocalyptic hysteria over the pending climate calamities?

This tells us, at the least, why we should always take social psychological studies with a bucket of salt. 

Anyway, the studies are based on sensitivity to threat. One feels compelled to notice that the American left is up in arms about the threat posed by the American right, especially a certain former president and his followers. Apparently, people who have better family values, who are less worried about the environment, and who, the study does not mention it, are more patriotic-- suffer less anxiety disorders. Who would have thought it?

After all, anyone who imagines that the January 6 storming of the capital was more of a danger than months worth of BLM riots must be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Moreover, such a sufferer must also be more detached from reality and must be lacking in sound judgment. The following comes to us from Psychology Today:

Based on this theory, a recent study (Helminen et al., 2021) tested whether conservative political views were related to having an anxiety disorder, as people with such disorders naturally tend to be sensitive to feelings of threat. Additionally, the study aimed to test how sensitivity to threat might be related to various aspects of political beliefs, such as social attitudes (e.g., family values, abortion, etc.) and economic views (e.g., concern for inequality, environmentalism). Contrary to expectations, the study largely found that people with liberal economic views were more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders than their conservative counterparts. Hence, it appears that the theory of motivated social cognition might have things back-to-front.

An interesting sidelight, especially in regard to the previous post, suggests that conservatives have a better work ethic. This means, they feel less dependent on others, especially the government,  for their livelihood, and have more confidence in their ability to provide for themselves. Moreover, they gain confidence for earning what they have and for not being on the public dole. It translates into fewer anxiety disorders:

People with left-wing economic-political beliefs had higher rates of anxiety disorder symptoms.

Results showed that higher overall anxiety symptoms at age 44 predicted concerns about inequality and the environment, distrust in politics, and lower work ethic at age 50. Similarly, concerns about inequality and the environment at ages 33 and 42 predicted higher overall anxiety symptoms at age 44.

Regarding more specific disorders, symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and phobia, but not panic disorder, at age 44 predicted higher concerns about inequality and the environment at age 50. Additionally, phobia symptoms predicted greater distrust in politics and lower work ethic at age 50.

As for worries about the environment, I would simply note the name of Greta Thunberg. Need I say more.

Anxiety disorders seem also to be associated with worries about inequality. In truth, those who believe in equality, who believe that everyone is equal in all ways, must be seriously detached from reality. Aspiring to impossible results will certainly gin up your anxiety.

Similarly, concern about inequality at ages 33 and 42 predicted generalized anxiety disorder, panic (although this was significant at 42 only), and phobia at age 44. The importance of family values had a less consistent effect: people with lower importance of family values at age 42 had higher overall anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder symptoms at age 44 only.

In summary, having an anxiety disorder was associated with some political views but not others. Specifically, over the long term, anxiety disorders symptoms were most consistently associated with higher concerns about inequality in particular and to a lesser extent with the environment, as well as political distrust and with having a lower work ethic. These views were more often associated with generalized anxiety disorder and phobia rather than panic disorder.

These findings run counter to what would be expected from the theory of motivated social cognition because concerns for inequality and the environment are associated with the political left, while an emphasis on work ethic is associated more with the right. Distrust in politics is not clearly left-wing or right-wing as this was measured with items such as “None of the political parties would do anything to benefit me.”

Better yet, the studies suggest that liberals are generally more neurotic. Think AOC:

Liberals Are Higher in Average Neuroticism Than Conservatives

The results are also consistent with another study using American data (and which I discussed in an earlier blog post) that found that people on the extreme political left reported higher rates of having mental disorders than people on the right. As I noted, research on the “Big Five” traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience has found that people identifying as politically liberal tend to be higher on openness to experience and neuroticism and lower on conscientiousness than their conservative counterparts (Fatke, 2017; Gerber et al., 2011). Additionally, surveys find that neuroticism is more strongly related to economic than social liberalism (Gerber et al., 2009).

Furthermore, people with mental disorders tend to be highly elevated in neuroticism and are often low in conscientiousness (Malouff et al., 2005). 

Generalized anxiety disorder in particular, which is characterized by pervasive worry about nearly everything, has been considered one of the purest clinical manifestations of neuroticism (Hale et al., 2010). Hence, it is not surprising that since people with liberal views tend to be higher in neuroticism and lower in conscientiousness than conservatives, they would also be at more risk of mental problems, including anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder.

Which is what we expected anyway….


Sam L. said...

What???? There's a difference? (I couldn't resist.) And I'm 4 hours behind you. Slow day??? And why am I to be the first commenter?

"And yet, it does provide a certain comfort level to those who believe that the American left has lost its fucking mind." I certainly would agree. After all, they ARE staring Joe Biden in the face...and Kamala.

lynney62 said...

I know...I keep saying this but I truly believe it. Being a woman, altho a rare Conservative one (the 50's, the 50's), I believe that the more power (Government, teaching, etc) that our society and culture gives to women, one must see the changes that have happened and continue to happen. Science shows us there are huge differences between hormonal activity in women and men...History has also shown us, if we will research. So...all I can say to try to save the America of our Founders and distant relatives is to stop putting women in positions of power..I'm saying if it continues, they will bring America down to it's knees! *feelings, feelings