Haidt: Conservatives Understand Liberals Better Than Liberals Understand Conservatives

Haidt describes a study in which he examines how well liberals, conservatives, and moderates understand each other.  From page 334 of The Righteous Mind (emphasis added):

When I speak to liberal audiences about the three “binding” foundations – Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity – I find that many in the audience don’t just fail to resonate; they actively reject these concerns as immoral. Loyalty to a group shrinks the moral circle; it is the basis of racism and exclusion, they say. Authority is oppression. Sanctity is religious mumbo-jumbo whose only function is to suppress female sexuality and justify homophobia.

In a study I did with Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other. We asked more than two thousand American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Qyestionnaire. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing people’s expectations about “typical” partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and the right)’ Who was best able to pretend to be the other?

The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with questions such as “One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal” or ”Justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality), and you listen to the Reagan [i.e., conservative] narrative, what else could you think? Reagan seems completely unconcerned about the welfare of drug addicts, poor people, and gay people. He’s more interested in fighting wars and telling people how to run their sex lives.

If you don’t see that Reagan is pursuing positive values of Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity, you almost have to conclude that Republicans see no positive value in Care and Fairness. You might even go as far as Michael Feingold, a theater critic for the liberal newspaper the Village Voice, when he wrote:

Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don’t give a hoot about human beings, either can’t or won’t. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they causeany more harm)3

One of the many ironies in this quotation is that it shows the inability of a theater critic-who skillfully enters fantastical imaginary worlds for a living-to imagine that Republicans act within a moral matrix that differs from his own. Morality binds and blinds.


51 thoughts on “Haidt: Conservatives Understand Liberals Better Than Liberals Understand Conservatives

  1. I understand why 4 out of 5 history professors would be Democrats, since the neo-Marxists have effectively commandeered our educational institutions and presenting history from a certain “progressive” vantage point is the most pivotal component to their indoctrination efforts. I can also make sense of nearly 9 in 10 undergrads whose major is history identifying as “liberals,” since impassioned/slighted justice-crusaders would be compelled to augment/discuss their findings (and non-conforming history enthusiasts wouldn’t desire/value revisionist history courses).

    I simply cannot believe that most historians (experts and/or hobby aficionados) view world history through the lenses of identity politics or promote dystopian aims, though. What was the political composition of history majors from decades past? What are the political leanings of (non-school-faculty) historians today? I’d an overwhelming majority would vehemently oppose the leftist agenda(s), but I cannot find data supporting that theory. Can anyone help me make sense of this?


    Posted by AlishaR | September 21, 2021, 1:10 pm
  2. I read a bunch of opinions about why Liberals don’t understand Conservatives. Everything from immaturity to lack of self-education. Some of that is true, but I think at it’s core, Liberals can’t understand Conservatives because they have a from of self-induced brain-damage. Neural pathways have formed in their brains connecting parts that shouldn’t be connected because they’ve believed a host of lies that they think are facts, which have been fed to them their whole life. They’ve formed these neural pathways, connecting falsehood to observed reality as if it were fact, and they are no longer CAPABLE of discerning the truth, or discerning reality. They CAN’T make the neural pathways necessary to understand reality, only their narrow little world. Beyond moral issues, Liberals have manifold other character flaws that contribute to the problem. In addition to believing lies, Liberals lie all the time. Consider the high school history teacher teaching falsehoods to her students, or the Left-leaning “journalist” swimming in, and relaying an ocean of lies to viewers, or to the Leftist dictators whose very existence relies on a web of lies told to their people. Liberals also tend to lack mental and emotional maturity. It is in fact a defining characteristic of MANY on the Left, and is settled science, well documented in the world of psychologists. Liberals also tend to be selfish and narcissistic, building themselves up in their own minds as some sort of moral savior, when the actuality is their deeds harm the world on a macro level. They also tend to be uni-dimensional. The combination of belief in lies as if it were the truth, combined with their various neuroses, creates a person who fundamentally CANNOT understand things as they really are. This same mental dynamic is found in cult members. Once a cult member has been indoctrinated into their belief system, a system also founded on lies, they too can no longer understand the truth. A cult member can be told ANYTHING and they will believe it, just like modern liberals. To juxtapose, for better or worse, Conservatives tend to be religious. Conservatives tend to value family. These added dynamics in their relationship to the world around them provides a more well rounded understanding of the world and their place in it. Also consider that Conservatives tend to live in a rational world, always looking to validate their perspective with logical, verifiable beliefs and actions. These very pedestrian behaviors are uninteresting to the Liberal, whose skewed view of themselves is grandiose. They believe themselves superior, yet another lie forming yet another bad neural pathway. This tangled mess of bad neural connections creates a mess, causing all manner of psychological and neurological distortions. Yes, I was raised by a liberal psychologist parent. I know them well. I know how they think. I have spent a lifetime studying liberals, talking to them, probing their thoughts and beliefs, & I lay this on my foundation of psychological knowledge gleaned from decades in its study. I didn’t follow in my parents footsteps because I hate liars, and refuse to be one.


    Posted by Bernardo Sanchez | September 26, 2020, 3:02 pm
  3. And I find it hilarious how movies and media portray themselves (liberals) as the understanding ones who are always being beaten up and the conservatives who shut people down and bully.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Jill | May 2, 2020, 2:14 pm
  4. Life is seldom so black and white. Reality is grey. But our minds want a yes or no.
    That is why we struggle with polarities.


    Posted by Elena | May 2, 2020, 12:08 am
  5. I believe a major contributor to this is the fact that most liberals are immature emotionally and don’t spend near as much time considering the ideas of those with opposing views. However, conservatives tend to be more tolerant of ideas and are more likely to discuss their ideas with those who oppose them. Liberals tend to shut out opposition, therefore they can’t honestly represent a conservative because they haven’t given any real thought to the ideas of conservatives.


    Posted by Steven Turner | June 17, 2019, 6:07 pm
  6. @Regressivaid…Thank you for your posting…You took the words right out of my brain, so to speak. I have been a great admirer of Ayaan’s, and also have a lot of admiration for Maajid. I had to laugh, and shake my head when I heard about SPLC putting them on their ‘hate’ list. My problem with what happened at Brandeis, is that they gave into this ‘shut-down-free-speech’ group. I find the supposed ‘adults-in-charge’ in so many situations/institutions in our culture to not be very in charge at all. Instead they are weak, and gutless. This is one of the major problems in our culture, and more adults need to step up to the plate and be more courageous, and authoritative. (I am talking to myself on this point too).

    Personally, I would say forget about the psychological categories you are thinking of. I think it’s more simple than that. A major reason so many kids are so wimpy is because many parents, and teachers/adults have become so wimpy. When I grew up, we KNEW the adults were in charge, All of them. It didn’t matter where we were. Maybe in a store, or walking on a sidewalk, if we acted wrong, or irresponsible in anyway we knew it was the right of ANY adult to correct us. Unfortunately, this social code has been broken down; much to our societies detriment. I am astounded at the passivity of adults I see in so many situations. And as the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. It’s not always that simple of course, but that is what I see a lot of the time.


    Posted by LR | March 25, 2019, 11:42 am
  7. Right Wing Authoritarianism succinctly voices the essence of the modern right wing conservative republican. It’s a personality disorder.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Darrin Rychlak | November 26, 2018, 7:07 pm
  8. It is a very necessary article because the society is polarized and we need to find a way to communicate so we don’t end up being killed. I am shocked that Michael Feingold wants Republicans exterminated! Pretty radical and genocidal idea that’s for sure!
    I define myself as a conservative and I have friends who are very liberals. I’ve noticed that they will help you if you need it, many of them are animal lovers, have a good core. Once the topic changes to political correctness, racism, immigration – the change is visible. I think that there is guilt, fear of not being called racist, so they compensate by being overly “correct.” I’ve seen a stiffness and the compulsive need to act in such manner.
    The younger ones I think are mostly poorly educated and immature. As schools don’t teach critical thinking, they are incapable of a fact based discussion, instead throw slurs to intimidate the counterpart and stop the discussion. On FB they will block you.


    Posted by CrisS | March 3, 2017, 10:11 pm
  9. https://youtu.be/gb_aSznzu4Y – This got me thinking, as well


    Posted by Yaroslav Ledyaev | November 19, 2016, 3:39 am
    • I see this play out every day on Twitter. I follow both conservatives and liberals (both liberals & leftists more accurately), and it seems that while there is vitriol on both sides, the characterizations of liberals by the conservatives pretty much seem more or less on the mark (while being admittedly abusive) while the leftists all brand conservatives as rabid racists and xenophobes and misogynists which seems quite clearly to be missing the point of conservative arguments (typically not racist arguments).

      The splintering of the left into what Maajid Nawaz is calling the Ctrl-Left or Regressive Left and classical liberals is what I’m experiencing on Twitter. I think of myself as a classical liberal, who feels the push to the right after witnessing the rise of this mutated Left that thinks nothing of shutting down debate by branding anyone as racist, bigoted or misogynist and raising the spectre of hate speech if they criticize Islam or radical feminists or the BLM movement (meanwhile totally missing the point of free-expression). A truly great feminist like Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been de-platformed from her scheduled talk at Brandeis University by a campus Islamic group, and she and Maajid Nawaz were identified by SPLC as ‘anti-Muslim extremists’, a fact that couldn’t be further from the truth for Maajid (still a nominal Muslim) and a bizarre distortion of the truth for Ayan (she escaped from an arranged marriage and is a survivor of FMJ).

      I’m pretty sure that most of the Regressive left is just young Millennials that are at-sea in this confusing modern age, and are clinging to the safe authoritarian structures they were raised in by well-meaning liberal helicopter moms and dads. Perhaps some of my Gen-X contemporaries are among the Regressive left- actually I know there are at least a few thousand, because someone has to be teaching some of these these more ridiculous notions to them. The safe-space/trigger-warning culture clearly hasn’t been dictated entirely by the kids.

      Anyway, I’m developing a theory of liberal-leftism that is psychological in nature. My theory is that these pseudo-liberals or Regressives are actually experiencing some kind of emotional dysregulation that is not unlike the phenomenon formerly called Borderline Personality Disorder (I believe this is in the process of being renamed to emotional regulation disorder), where people suffering with this condition are “triggered” and tend to see things in black and white. A caveat is in order, as conservatives have been the ones traditionally accused by liberals of having black and white thinking. This is why I call these leftists ‘pseudo-liberals’. Instead of seeing nuance and trying to see things from multiple perspectives, they are quick to label any deviation from orthodoxy as “evil” or racist or hate speech for whichever standard offense applies to their emotional triggering.

      Meanwhile, conservatives seem to be the more reasonable ones of late, at least with respect to the issues that the Ctrl-left is absolutely losing the plot on, that is Islam, Black Lives Matter, and Feminism, and perhaps even multiculturalism as a realizable dream (who knows, maybe I’m a closet conservative in the making myself!).


      Posted by regressiveaid | January 11, 2017, 5:06 pm
      • Thanks very much for your thoughts. It’s clear you’ve put a lot of thought into this.

        Closet conservative, liberal, whatever, I appreciate your intellectual honesty.


        Posted by The Independent Whig | January 11, 2017, 11:03 pm
      • Where I would disagree is this: The Regressive Left comes mostly from Generation X, and actually, with the exception of college-aged kids who are directly under the influence of radicalized Gen X professors, Millennials (people born after 1980 generally) are far more libertarian, right-wing and conservative, or at the least, more centrist and classical/old liberal (much like their Baby Boomer forebears/parents). All you have to do is go on Youtube to see what I mean. The rise in populist movements and the rapid disintegration of globalism (such as the failure of Hillary Clinton) has much to do with Millennials rejecting the neo-liberalism and authoritarian leftism of Gen X (and some Boomers).


        Posted by ErickTsiknopoulos | April 2, 2017, 8:08 am
      • I posted a comment previously but this is the edited one. Where I would disagree is this: The Regressive Left comes mostly from Generation X (those born between roughly 1960 and 1979), and actually, with the notable exception of college-aged kids who are directly under the influence of radicalized Gen X professors, and some older ones who have been thoroughly indoctrinated by the same, Millennials (people born after 1980 generally) are generally far more libertarian, right-wing and conservative, or at the least, more centrist and classical/old liberal (much like their Baby Boomer forebears/parents). All you have to do is go on Youtube to see what I mean. The rise in populist movements and the rapid disintegration of globalism (such as the failure of Hillary Clinton) has much to do with Millennials rejecting the neo-liberalism and authoritarian leftism of Gen X in particular (and some Boomers).


        Posted by ErickTsiknopoulos | April 2, 2017, 8:11 am


  1. Pingback: Are Liberals Crazy? – Picket Fence Report - April 2, 2021

  2. Pingback: The Media’s Obsession With Qanon Is More Insidious Than You Think – Patriot Outlook - October 18, 2020

  3. Pingback: The Media’s Obsession With Qanon Is More Insidious Than You Think | Freedom First News - October 17, 2020

  4. Pingback: The Media’s Obsession With Qanon Is More Insidious Than You Think - Truly Times - News - October 17, 2020

  5. Pingback: Nostalgicii anului 1989 și miopia progresistă – România - September 9, 2020

  6. Pingback: Ideology Binds And Blinds – Right Rant - September 6, 2020

  7. Pingback: Americans Tell the Media 'You Just Don't Know Me At All' | Political Bomb Show - June 26, 2020

  8. Pingback: Conservatives Understand Liberals (But Not Vice-Versa) | Nathan Sybrandy - May 1, 2020

  9. Pingback: Vielfalt ist wertvoll - auch bei Meinungen! - Hugin & Munin - April 19, 2020

  10. Pingback: Notes from Nowhere – Together For The Common Good - August 31, 2019

  11. Pingback: The Ideological Divide | Transterrestrial Musings - July 23, 2019

  12. Pingback: Why Liberals Don’t Understand Conservatives - December 14, 2018

  13. Pingback: Fisking with Josh: Korey Lane Can't Stop Hooking Up With Trump Supporters - Three Kraters Media - December 9, 2018

  14. Pingback: The Reader: Media Misrepresentation and K-pop Controversy – Batfort - November 18, 2018

  15. Pingback: The Reason Progressives Can't Understand Conservatives | Culture Beat Project - November 18, 2018

  16. Pingback: Who Is the Real Cult? - Liberty Nation - November 16, 2018

  17. Pingback: Left mindedness – USSA News | The Tea Party's Front Page - October 25, 2018

  18. Pingback: We're Not Worthy - SuperversiveSF - August 24, 2018

  19. Pingback: Only makes sense with r/K | Philosophies of a Disenchanted Scholar - June 19, 2018

  20. Pingback: Liberals Need Conservatives as Much as They Need Us - May 2, 2018

  21. Pingback: Are Some Liberals Against Identity Politics? – Social Justice Survival Guide - January 28, 2018

  22. Pingback: The Fault in our Tongues: Tablet, Spencer, and Political Deafness | evolutionistx - September 27, 2017

  23. Pingback: Lack Of Empathy For Opposing Political Views Threatens Social Cohesion – Semi-Partisan Politics - August 19, 2017

  24. Pingback: Notes from Nowhere « Outside In - August 18, 2017

  25. Pingback: Hiding in Plain Sight: The Insidious Bigotry of the Leftist Righteous Mind | The Independent Whig - August 16, 2017

  26. Pingback: Trump Is Right. Bigotry is Bigotry. Period. | The Independent Whig - August 16, 2017

  27. Pingback: Who the hell knows? But at least we can try to understand. | Fuzzy little things that I find interesting. - July 29, 2017

  28. Pingback: Whose Reality is Most Congruent With Actual Reality? How Do We Know? What Are the Consequences? | The Independent Whig - July 27, 2017

  29. Pingback: For the left: There will always be radicals among us, but they don’t have to be so powerful. - January 1, 2017

  30. Pingback: Moral Foundations Have Facets; Are Experienced Differently by Liberals and Conservatives | The Independent Whig - December 15, 2016

  31. Pingback: The Delusion Behind “Viewpoint Diversity” and “No Labels” Exacerbates Our Problems | The Independent Whig - December 9, 2016

  32. Pingback: Omgaan met de Trumpschock – advies en ondersteuning – Fenixx.org - November 13, 2016

  33. Pingback: Is WEIRDness a Personality Trait? I Propose Yes. | The Independent Whig - August 30, 2016

  34. Pingback: Quora - March 2, 2016

  35. Pingback: Five Challenges to Moral Foundations Theory | The Independent Whig - January 27, 2016

  36. Pingback: Why E. J. Dionne Doesn’t Get Conservatism | The Independent Whig - January 18, 2016

  37. Pingback: A Response To “Why are there so few non-liberals in social psychology? A closer look” | The Independent Whig - November 11, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

I Support Viewpoint Diversity


A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.


Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations and

%d bloggers like this: