Another Kind of Diversity – A Case Study on Abortion Attitudes
Cristian G. Rodriguez – University of California, Irvine / Universidad de los Andes, Chile
Peter H. Ditto – University of California, Irvine
During the last decade, worldview diversity in academia, understood as the coexistence of diverse ideological assumptions and perspectives in teaching and research, has emerged as a topic of discussion among psychologists. Studies show that researchers in the field of social psychology are overwhelmingly liberal, with moderates and conservatives comprising less than 10% of the total field (Inbar & Lammers, 2012; von Hippel & Buss, 2017). Should we find this worrisome? Psychologists know very well the dynamics that are more likely to occur amongst highly like-minded groups: prejudice, discrimination, groupthink, selective exposure, ostracism, etc. In fact, about a third of social psychologists in the Inbar and Lammers’ study reported a willingness to actively discriminate against a conservative applicant in hiring decisions. This seems unfair for a group that comprises roughly half of the country’s population. However, beyond fairness concerns, the lack of ideological diversity should be alarming from a scientific perspective. In this piece, we outline a case study that shows how incorporating conservative perspectives can increase the variance explained in psychological models predicting social issue preferences.
How does ideological homogeneity affect research? Many social issues debated today are expressions of larger worldview clashes across ideologies and moral traditions. This defines not only the position a given group will take, but more primarily the way the problem is construed. Take, for example, the abortion debate. For some, the debate is about individual rights of women and the autonomy over their own bodies, ultimately an issue of gender equality. For others, abortion is about the right to life of the unborn, granted its human nature and dignity, and ultimately the so-called “family values”. The protean nature of the debate is the reason why civil discussion on the matter is nearly impossible (MacNair, 2016; Sanger, 2017).
Social psychologists who have addressed the motivations behind support or opposition to abortion have introduced novel hypotheses linking anti-abortion attitudes with sexism and opposition to gender equality (Begun & Walls, 2015; Hodson & MacInnis, 2017; Huang, Davies, Sibley, & Osborne, 2016; Huang, Osborne, Sibley, & Davies, 2014; Osborne & Davies, 2012; Prusaczyk & Hodson, 2018). Though most of the findings are compelling, it is clear that these hypotheses are based on a specific construal of what the abortion debate is ultimately about – namely, the liberal narrative of abortion as a gender issue. But aren’t we missing something? Could hypotheses based on “pro-life” premises help us increase our understanding of abortion attitudes?
Ongoing research in our lab suggests that they can. Since 2015, we have been conducting studies asking people about their abortion attitudes, as well as their religiosity, political orientation and sexism. We have also been asking questions about sexual morality (i.e., normative concerns about sexual behavior) and beliefs about the sanctity of human life in general (i.e., judgments about the morality of life-ending actions, such as euthanasia, suicide, death penalty). Our results show that ambivalent sexism does not predict abortion attitudes once we introduce sexual morality and sanctity of life into our models. These two constructs explain abortion attitudes better than ideology and religiosity across a variety of samples, including student, online, representative and international samples (Rodriguez & Ditto, 2017). On average, the variance explained by the models increased roughly 15% (i.e., from R2= .34 to R2 = .51) after introducing the “conservative” predictors.
This example shows in a quantitative way how ideological one-sidedness can affect research. The problem of worldview diversity is not only a matter of fairness, but also of scientific validity. While the demographics of psychology departments will not change in the short term, it is worth it to take a step back and think about the hidden premises in our hypotheses and constructs. Openness to those we consider to be wrong, may provide us clues about human understanding we may not find elsewhere.
Begun, S., & Walls, N. E. (2015). Pedestal or Gutter: Exploring Ambivalent Sexism’s Relationship With Abortion Attitudes. Affilia - Journal of Women and Social Work, 30(2), 200–215. http://doi.org/10.1177/0886109914555216
Hodson, G., & MacInnis, C. C. (2017). Can left-right differences in abortion support be explained by sexism? Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 118–121. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.07.044
Huang, Y., Davies, P. G., Sibley, C. G., & Osborne, D. (2016). Benevolent Sexism, Attitudes Toward Motherhood, and Reproductive Rights: A Multi-Study Longitudinal Examination of Abortion Attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. http://doi.org/10.1177/0146167216649607
Huang, Y., Osborne, D., Sibley, C. G., & Davies, P. G. (2014). The Precious Vessel?: Ambivalent Sexism and Opposition to Elective and Traumatic Abortion. Sex Roles, 71, 436–449. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-014-0423-3
Inbar, Y., & Lammers, J. (2012). Political Diversity in Social and Personality Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(5), 496–503. http://doi.org/10.1177/1745691612448792
MacNair, R. M. (2016). Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion. Kansas City, MO: Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association.
Osborne, D., & Davies, P. G. (2012). When Benevolence Backfires: Benevolent Sexists’ Opposition to Elective and Traumatic Abortion. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(2), 291–307. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00890.x
Prusaczyk, E., & Hodson, G. (2018). Left-right differences in abortion policy support in America: Clarifying the role of sex and sexism in a nationally representative 2016 sample. Personality and Individual Differences, 127(November 2017), 22–25. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2018.01.030
Rodriguez, C. G., & Ditto, P. H. (2017). What’s sex got to do with it? Sexual morality predicts abortion attitudes better than respect for life or women. San Diego, CA.
Sanger, C. (2017). About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America. New York, NY: Harvard University Press.
von Hippel, W., & Buss, D. M. (2017). Do Ideologically Driven Scientific Agendas Impede the Understanding and Acceptance of Evolutionary Principles in Social Psychology? In J. T. Crawford & L. Jussim (Eds.), The Politics of Social Psychology (pp. 7–25). New York: Psychology Press.