New research indicates that psychology experts who have been used in studies to judge Donald Trump’s personality traits are biased against him. The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, found that perceptions of Trump’s personality where strongly linked to one’s own political orientation.
“Research ideas are like a winding staircase; they take you in directions that you never intended to go,” remarked Joshua D. Wright of the University of Western Ontario, the corresponding author of the study.
“As part of a larger study that we conducted pre- and post-2016 election on predicting voting for Donald Trump, we had participants report the personalities of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton post-election as an exploratory look at how voting might be linked to perceived personality traits of political candidates.”
“After reading two papers where researchers attempted to document the personality profiles of Trump and Clinton using expert raters (Visser, Book, & Volk, 2017; Nai & Maier, 2018), I got into conversations with a colleague regarding the mismatch between the congruency model of political preference (Caprara & Zimbardo, 2004) and how voters’ personalities actually linked to voting in the election (Samek, 2017).”
“In short, expert raters thought Hillary Clinton was highly emotionally stable and highly conscientious and yet it was conscientious and emotionally stable voters that preferred Donald Trump (Samek, 2017),” Wright explained.
“Experts in Nai and Maier rated Donald Trump very low in conscientiousness and very low in emotional stability, which should have been off putting for conscientious and emotionally stable voters. Either the congruency model didn’t apply to this particular election or the experts in Nai and Maier were wrong.”
“Knowing how politically imbalanced the social sciences are, we thought that maybe the experts were just highly left-wing and reporting ratings based upon their own political preferences. After examining the supplemental materials in Nai and Maier, we confirmed the extreme left-wing nature of the expert raters and realized that our data could be used to further examine the role of political bias in rating the personalities of political candidates and to examine whether the experts in Nai and Maier were really akin to Clinton voters (they are).”
For their study, Wright and his colleague collected data from 360 Americans via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The participants reported the candidate they voted for the in 2016 presidential election and then rated the personality of both Trump and Clinton. They also indicated their political ideology on a 7-point scale from extremely liberal to extremely conservative.
Unsurprisingly, Trump voters tended to have a more favorable view of their candidate and the same was true of Clinton voters.
Trump voters rated him as much higher than Clinton in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience. Similarly, Clinton voters rated her as much higher than Trump in agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience — but not higher in extraversion.
Wright found that the expert raters from Nai and Maier’s study shared a similar view of Trump as the Clinton voters. But the experts rated Trump as even lower in conscientiousness and agreeableness than the Clinton voters had.
“In examining the personalities of political candidates, people are highly politically biased in their assessments. This isn’t surprising for the average voter (and both Clinton and Trump voters are biased in favor of their own parties’ candidate) but experts attempt to veil their political bias under the guise of ‘expert’ objectivity,” Wright told PsyPost.
“Experts are just as politically biased as everyone else. They cannot objectively rate the personalities of political candidates. When expert raters are highly skewed to the left, the personality profiles will be highly skewed to present the left-wing candidate in a more favorable light. Expert raters are basically Clinton voters in disguise.”
“Without self-reported personality assessments of these candidates and without close friends and relatives providing peer assessments, we are probably left with a very inaccurate portrait of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s personalities. But if I had to pick which ratings were most likely to reflect their personalities, I would choose the assessment of the politically moderate voters in our sample,” Wright continued.
The moderates rated Trump as more extraverted than Clinton and equally open to experience. They also viewed Clinton is more conscientious, agreeable, and emotionally stable than Trump. But the moderates didn’t rate the two candidates as so extremely different
“An experimental test of political bias would provide a more rigorous test and we are developing one, although that comes with its own challenges,” Wright said. “We chose to focus our comparison to Nai and Maier rather than Visser, Book, and Volk because we used the same Big 5 measure at Nai and Maier. The HEXACO, used in Visser et al. is a higher-bandwidth measure likely less susceptible to social desirability biases.”
“Collecting a politically diverse sample for comparison to Visser et al’s expert sample would be desirable but since we had pushback from some reviewers that did not see the value in contradicting Nai and Maier’s work, I would be concerned about spending too much time/effort/money on this when the field may not be interested in publishing it in top journals.”
“Expert assessments go beyond personality assessment,” Wright told PsyPost. “For example, Bandy Lee (a psychiatrist) uses her expert status to make claims that Donald Trump suffers from mental illness.
“The basic finding that political bias influences personality assessments of political candidates can be extrapolated to other contexts, such as experts’ mental health assessments. The public should be wary of these claims, which are made without proper evaluation, and are likely influenced by left-wing experts’ political disdain for Donald Trump.”
“Secondly, the manuscript was initially rejected on the basis of a reviewer claiming that ‘Trump voters in the present study could not care less about personality assessment; how else can it be explained that, for example, they rated Trump far higher than Clinton on Conscientiousness — a ludicrous result by any reasonable standard.’ The reviewer’s inability to keep his/her own political bias out of the review process led to the editor sending the manuscript back out for a fair review — a nice anecdotal example of peer review to drive home the message that experts are incapable of being objective when it comes to politically charged topics,” Wright concluded.
The study, “Personality profiles of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Fooled by your own politics“, was authored by Joshua D. Wright and Monica F. Tomlinson.