Does personality predict resistance to dissonant political information? New research published in Personality and Individual Differences shows that while openness is unrelated to any type of resistance, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism show some links with the four resistance strategies the researchers tested.
Personality shapes how we interact with the world around us. Prior research shows that the cognitive processes employed when dealing with counter-attitudinal information vary at the individual level. Variables such as commitment level, personal importance, or political sophistication may factor into how an individual faces oppositional political content.
In this work, Chiara Valli and Alessandro Nai tested whether individual differences in personality might help explain resistance to dissonant political information.
The Big-5 account of personality outlines a broad structure of human personality that is applicable to all adults; the five factors encompass openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
A total of 936 Swiss citizens participated in this research. Participants provided demographic information and details of their personality profiles via the Ten Items Personality Inventory. Next, they responded to items measuring their opinion on the veiling ban of Muslim women in public spaces (i.e., the “burqa ban”), and were given a counterargument that challenged their initial position.
Those who held a neutral opinion were randomly assigned to the pro- or contra-argument groups. After seeing the incongruent message, they responded to numerous questions that gauged their cognitive, affective, and behavioral reactions to the counterargument.
The defense mechanisms the researchers tested for included avoidance (e.g., bypassing alternative views), contesting (e.g., engaging with content to refute it), empowering (e.g., bolstering pre-existing views with arguments), or negative affect (e.g., rejecting information via negative emotion).
Surprisingly, the researchers found that openness had no significant association with any of the resistance strategies. However, those who scored higher on conscientiousness were less likely to use the resistance strategies; this effect was particularly pronounced for negative affect, and non-significant for avoidance. Those who scored higher on extraversion were more likely to use empowering strategies. As well, agreeableness was positively associated with avoidance and empowering strategies. Lastly, higher neuroticism was weakly associated with greater employment of the contesting strategy.
The authors noted that a potential limitation to this work is the condensed personality battery, which does not capture the subdimensions of personality. Future work ought to replicate these findings using more extensive measures.
Valli and Nai conclude, “In a world increasingly defined by political contrasts and ideological oppositions, knowing why and under which conditions citizens resist incongruent political views likely matters for scholars, public officials, and democracy practitioners alike.”
The study, “Dispositioned to resist? The Big Five and resistance to dissonant political views”, was authored by Chiara Valli and Alessandro Nai.