A correction to a frequently cited 2012 study has been issued, after researchers discovered they mixed up results purporting to show conservatives are more likely than liberals to exhibit behaviors linked to psychoticism, such as authoritarianism and tough-mindedness.
In fact, the correction says, the opposite is true.
“Correlation not causation: the relationship between personality traits and political ideologies,” published in the American Journal of Social Science in 2012, initially found that social conservatives might be more genetically hardwired to exhibit psychotic behaviors than their socially liberal counterparts.
“In line with our expectations, [Psychoticism] (positively related to tough-mindedness and authoritarianism) is associated with social conservatism and conservative military attitudes,” the study said.
The study also posited those who are socially liberal are more likely to possess behaviors associated with “Social Desirability,” or the desire to get along with others, than those who are socially conservative.
But in an erratum issued by the journal, first reported by Retraction Watch, the authors said those two findings were “exactly reversed.”
“Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response,” the authors said. “Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck’s psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.”
Pete Hatemi, a Penn State political scientist who co-authored the study, said the mistake doesn’t affect the outcome of the research. He said the study’s primary purpose was to demonstrate the “magnitude of the relationship” between political beliefs and personality traits and its source, so the direction of relationships wasn’t all that important.
“None of our papers actually give a damn about whether it’s a plus or a minus,” he told Retraction Watch.
The error was first spotted by Dr. Steven Ludeke, a researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, who said it is significant, pointing to the frequency at which the study was cited.
“The erroneous results represented some of the larger correlations between personality and politics ever reported; they were reported and interpreted, repeatedly, in the wrong direction; and then cited at rates that are (for this field) extremely high,” Dr. Ludeke told Retraction Watch.
The initial paper was cited 45 times, and subsequent papers that reference the finding have also been cited repeatedly. Several other journals referencing the erroneous data have issued corrections.