Differences in sensitivity to deviance partly explain ideological divides in social policy support

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2016 Jul;111(1):98-117. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000080. Epub 2015 Nov 16.


We propose that political differences in social policy support may be partly driven by the tendency for conservatives to show greater sensitivity to deviance than liberals, even among targets lacking social or functional relevance. In 3 studies, participants were shown geometric figures and were asked to identify the extent to which they were "triangles" (or circles, squares, etc.). More conservative participants reported greater differentiation between perfect and imperfect shapes than more liberal participants, indicating greater sensitivity to deviance. Moreover, shape differentiation partly accounted for the relationship between political ideology and social policy, partially mediating the link between conservatism and harsher punishment of wrongdoers (Studies 1 and 4), less support for public aid for disadvantaged groups (Study 2), and less financial backing for policies that benefit marginalized groups in society (Study 3). This effect was specific to policies that targeted deviant groups (Study 3) and who were not too highly deviant (Study 4). Results suggest that, in addition to commonly cited affective and motivational reactions to deviant actors, political differences in social policy may also be driven by conservatives' greater cognitive propensity to distinguish deviance. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Financing, Government*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Politics*
  • Public Policy*
  • Punishment*
  • Young Adult