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Is the child the father of the political man?

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Some of the enduring questions in the social sciences concern the origins of our political sentiments. For example, why do some support generous welfare provisions, whereas others favour minimal government-level intervention? And why are some advocates for tighter border controls, whereas other embrace immigration as a cultural good? Although the origins of such attitudes almost certainly reflect multiple factors, individual differences in specific personality traits and general intelligence have often been posited as an important driving influence. However the vast majority of this work has been cross-sectional and thus limits our causal understandings of these putative links; that is, reverse causation (or some other causal path) might be at play.

Some of my recent research work has sought to address this gap in knowledge. In this talk I will present results from studies of two large UK longitudinal cohorts of individuals for whom measures of childhood temperament and general intelligence, as well as adult socio-political attitudes, were available. The findings strongly indicated that political attitudes are (in part) grounded in early childhood psychological characteristics; however, the results also deviated notably from previous findings in the literature suggesting that new perspectives concerning the origins of political attitudes need to be considered.

Dr Gary Lewis is a senior lecturer in psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research is broadly concerned with the study of human individual differences and he has specific interests in personality, social attitudes, and social perception. He uses a range of methods to answer questions in these areas, including neuroimaging, quantitative genetics, and behavioural experiments.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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