Personality and Ideology: A Quick Rejoinder
By Arnold Kling
Suppose someone had the personality least favorable to economic conservatism: a 0 on Extraversion, 1 on Agreeableness, 0 on Conscientiousness, 0 on Stability, and 1 on Openness. According to the same regression referenced earlier, this person is expected to be 1.747 SDs less economically conservative than someone with the opposite profile.
But this hypothetical person is ridiculously improbable. Table 3 from the Gerber, et al paper to which we are referring shows a mean on extraversion of about 0.5 with a standard deviation of about .24, with means of the other personality variables of about 0.7 with a standard deviation of about 0.2.
Therefore, when you say that going from 0 to 1 on stability raises economic conservatism by 0.458 standard deviations, you are saying that a move of 5 standard deviations on stability changes economic conservatism by less than one-half of one standard deviation. That strikes me as having almost no practical significance.
Also, keep in mind that by construction these variables are highly uncorrelated with one another. So that the chance that all five variables lean in the direction of economic conservatism (or that all five lean in the direction of economic liberalism) is only 1 out of 32. Thus, to make an interesting prediction about economic ideology, you need (a) for someone’s personality traits to be implausibly extreme and (b) for those traits to be implausibly aligned.
In his original post, Bryan said that when he himself looked into personality and ideology, “I didn’t find much, and gave up.” That was the right conclusion.