Politics & Personality: Examining political behaviou​r

Ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus, while studying human personality, ​identified that behaviours in seemingly unrelated scenarios are linked and can be explained through underlying personality traits. As such, whilst our individual personalities are molded by environmental factors including experience, education, and relationships, a significant proportion​ of personality inclinations, like the Big Five, are strong from early life and have a profound influence on our preferences, such as our political associations. Crucially, ​evidence​ has suggested that some personality traits have genetic roots and exhibit stability throughout one’s life, influencing behaviour and reactions, thereby shaping social outcomes through the disposition to certain political and social preferences.

The Big Five traits are ​categorised​ as: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness to experience. Using the biological markers and characteristics of the Big Five traits, such as the fact that Conscientiousness is ​linked​ to the volume of the lateral prefrontal cortex – influencing organisational skill and impulse control, scholars have been able to improve their understanding of fundamental variations in how individuals evaluate the world and react. This has thus increased the ability to predict social and political outcomes. Whilst these traits ​cannot account for the entirety​ of an individual’s personality, they do provide insight into generalisable and transferable components of the personality. For instance, research linking the Big Five to political ideology has revealed that Openness to experience is ​associated with​ liberalism and left-wing tendencies, given their typically positive reactions to novel ideas. Whilst, those identifying as Conscientiousness often are drawn to social norms and order, thus usually attracting them ​more towards conservatism​ and right-wing ideology. Extraversion and Agreeableness, however, have been identified with individuals that exhibit a greater depth of partisan identification​.

This research holds valuable insight into co-existence, which encourages acceptance of divergent viewpoints and collaboration instead of conflict. This is because the implication of research on political behaviour, like the Big Five, is that awareness of the findings may help to improve chances of political reconciliation and harmony. This feat is of extreme importance in the current global political climate, particularly in the United States. Specifically, this research may help people to understand that, whilst some people function inherently differently​ from themselves, that does not necessitate demonisation of opposing stances. Instead, it can be understood as a different lens through which to view political issues, thus supporting a more empathetic and considerate approach to political debate and difference.

Partisanship has been shown, in the contemporary era, to play a divisive role in society. It encourages individuals to mobilise​ against one party, as opposed to aligning themselves with another. Consequently, the fission of political harmony is furthered by partisan structures, a finding which can assist in the understanding of why the U.S. is in political turmoil, especially when the Democratic and Republican parties​ differ so greatly in cultural preferences and ideology, fostering sentiments of ‘us vs them’. Consequently, it has never been more important to understand the substantial motivations behind political behaviour and party affiliation and recognise that differing opinions do not inherently demand hostility.

Whilst this research should not be understood as endorsing the discourse of inequality and discrimination, it should encourage healthy debate between political standpoints instead of political hatred, including recognition that different approaches can ultimately seek the same goal by different means.

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