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Monday, December 23, 2019

Ideological differences in the expanse of the moral circle

Adam Waytz, Ravi Iyer, Liane Young,
Jonathan Haidt & Jesse Graham
Nature Communications volume 10, 
Article number: 4389 (2019)


Do clashes between ideologies reflect policy differences or something more fundamental? The present research suggests they reflect core psychological differences such that liberals express compassion toward less structured and more encompassing entities (i.e., universalism), whereas conservatives express compassion toward more well-defined and less encompassing entities (i.e., parochialism). Here we report seven studies illustrating universalist versus parochial differences in compassion. Studies 1a-1c show that liberals, relative to conservatives, express greater moral concern toward friends relative to family, and the world relative to the nation. Studies 2a-2b demonstrate these universalist versus parochial preferences extend toward simple shapes depicted as proxies for loose versus tight social circles. Using stimuli devoid of political relevance demonstrates that the universalist-parochialist distinction does not simply reflect differing policy preferences. Studies 3a-3b indicate these universalist versus parochial tendencies extend to humans versus nonhumans more generally, demonstrating the breadth of these psychological differences.


Seven studies demonstrated that liberals relative to conservatives exhibit universalism relative to parochialism. This difference manifested in conservatives exhibiting greater concern and preference for family relative to friends, the nation relative to the world, tight relative to loose perceptual structures devoid of social content, and humans relative to nonhumans.

Others have identified this universalist–parochial distinction, with Haidt, for example, noting “Liberals…are more universalistic…Conservatives, in contrast, are more parochial—concerned about their groups, rather than all of humanity.” The present findings comprehensively support this distinction empirically, explicitly demonstrating the relationship between ideology and universalism versus parochialism, assessing judgments of multiple social circles, and providing converging evidence across diverse measures.

The research is here.