Defense Date

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Natalie J. Shook

Abstract

Conservatism reflects a general attitude structure characterized by a preference for traditional social practices and an aversion to uncertainty and threat. Though the social environment undoubtedly plays a role in shaping conservative attitudes, recent studies suggest that trait-level characteristics may contribute to their development as well. The present research investigated trait-level cognitive threat detection ability as a factor which may influence the development and maintenance of conservative social attitudes. A computer simulation indicated that socially conservative attitudes may function as a strategy for increasing the survival rate of an individual with poor threat detection ability living in a relatively dangerous environment. Three studies were conducted to further investigate the hypothesis that individuals who are less accurate in detecting threats would report more conservative social attitudes, particularly when the surrounding environment is perceived to be highly dangerous. In Study 1, participants who were less able to distinguish between images of safe and dangerous stimuli presented outside of conscious awareness tended to endorse higher levels of social dominance orientation, and participants who reported higher belief that the world is dangerous tended to endorse higher levels of social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism, as well as a more conservative political ideology. In Study 2, less accurate detection of threats was associated with a more conservative political ideology. In Studies 2 and 3, experimental manipulations of participants’ dangerous world beliefs failed to produce differences in the endorsement of socially conservative attitudes. An additional experimental manipulation of participants’ perceptions of their own ability to detect threats in Study 3 did not affect the endorsement of socially conservative attitudes either. Across the three studies, the results suggest that individual differences in cognitive mechanisms associated with the ability to differentiate between safe and dangerous stimuli presented outside of conscious awareness may hold a weak but significant relation to socially conservative attitudes. Additionally, the results indicate that individuals who hold a stronger belief that the world is a dangerous place tend to endorse more conservative social attitudes; however, these views appear to be pervasive and persist in the face of short term fluctuations in perceptions of danger.

Rights

© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

July 2012

Included in

Psychology Commons

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