Study: Both rightists and leftists are prejudiced — but toward different groups

Regardless of whether people hold right-wing or left-wing beliefs, they tend to disapprove of people who are not aligned with their political preferences, according to new research in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

“The majority of psychological research has been focused on showing that people holding right-wing political beliefs, in comparison to left-wingers, are more prejudiced,” said study author Gabriela Czarnek of Jagiellonian University and the Centre for Social Cognitive Studies.

“Nevertheless, some researchers were questioning this assumption and showed that both rightists and leftists might be prejudiced but toward different groups (this idea is nicely summarized in Brandt and others, 2014).”

“We were, however, not happy with the way political beliefs were measured as we strongly believed political beliefs consist of 2 dimensions: cultural and economic ones. This was especially pertinent to the political context of Eastern European countries and we conducted our study in Poland,” Czarnek said.

“Similar research on the topic but with American samples was published by Crawford and others in JSPS last year. We extend their correlational research using experiments.”

Across three studies, which included a total of 499 participants, the researchers found that individuals on both the cultural and economic right and left showed prejudice against groups on the other side of the political spectrum. The cultural dimension tended to produce stronger levels of prejudice than the economic.

“Both rightists and leftists are not free from biases and negative sentiment toward those with whom they disagree. This is because people who hold different beliefs question our worldviews and prejudice against them might be a way to restore the validity of our own beliefs,” Czarnek told PsyPost.

The study also found evidence that people display more prejudice against groups who they perceive as violating their values. But rightists tended to be more sensitive to these value violations than leftists.

For example, rightists viewed both an extreme atheist who strongly advocated for the removal of religion from schools and a moderate atheist who did not support the removal of religion from schools as violating their values. Leftists, on the other hand, viewed an extreme Catholic who strongly advocated for mandatory religion classes at schools as violating their values, but did not view a moderate Catholic who preferred to teach religion at churches instead of at schools as violating their values.

“The majority of our sample were students. We also do not know whether the effect of right-wingers being slightly more sensitive to value violations than leftists is the effect of the particular method we used or if this is a more general tendency. Ideally, future studies should use more diverse samples and methods,” Czarnek said.

“Our goal was to investigate prejudice, which is a negative attitude toward a group or members of a group. It, however, does not mean that any prejudice, especially prejudice against disadvantaged groups, is legitimized, nor that prejudice of right- and left-wingers have a similar impact on the society.

The study, “Right‐ and Left‐wing Prejudice Toward Dissimilar Groups in Cultural and Economic Domains“, was authored by Gabriela Czarnek, Paulina Szwed, and Małgorzata Kossowska.