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Are Liberals More Creative Than Conservatives? Science Says Absolutely

December 13, 2012

Blue and Red BrainIf you lean a little to the left, or even a lot to the left, you may secretly believe that you would make a great artist. And if you happen to have Republican friends, you may equally believe that they would not. In fact, you may even feel a little guilty for believing that your Republican friends, all three of them, are seriously deficient in the creativity department.

Damn liberal guilt. Shouldn’t you be out hugging a tree or saving a dolphin or some shit?

Actually, no, you shouldn’t. The truth is, you are empirically justified in feeling more creative than your conservative counterparts. There is solid science to back you up.

In the landmark study “Creativity and Conservatism,” Stephen J. Dollinger, a psychologist at Southern Illinois University, assessed the creative aptitude of 426 undergraduates. He found that left-leaning students — or pinkos, ideologues, and America haters in talk-radio speak — unequivocally performed better than right-wing students in creative activities spanning visual art, literary art, and performing art.

To assess these skills, Dollinger asked participants to finish drawings that had already been started by an artist. Each drawing was rated for its creativity by three separate MFA students. The researcher also asked participants to take photos and write essays about each photo. These works were judged objectively by psychologists.

In the end, the judges largely agreed on the creative merit of the finished products, and the results showed that students who held favorable views on liberal issues — marriage equality, multiculturalism, reproductive rights, and whatnot — produced the most creative work. Meanwhile, those who held favorable views on conservative issues — pre-marital virginity, literal interpretations of the Bible, the death penalty, and other such niceties — produced art of a less inspired variety. Or crap in pedestrian speak.

This isn’t new research, by the way. Dollinger’s study was conducted in 2006 and published the following year on the research portal Science Direct. It followed a similarly revealing study that showed conservatives tend to eschew artwork that’s too abstract or challenging and instead prefer simplistic works (hence Thomas Kinkade and the films of M. Night Shyamalan). In other words, not only do GOPers make bad art, they also make bad art lovers.

Dollinger theorized that such reduced creativity could be the result of a greater threat-induced anxiety among conservatives (e.g., feeling threatened by the ambiguity of creative tasks), or conservatives’ inclination to follow convention and devalue imagination.

Mind you, Dollinger’s findings have surprised pretty much no one, with the exception of Karl Rove, who I hear is preparing a live rebuttal to air on Fox News. (Okay, not really.) But then why should we be surprised that the conservative mindset is one wholly lacking in creativity or artistic inspiration? Let us consider, for a moment, the kind of world most conservatives would prefer to live in. First of all, it would be a world devoid of homosexuals, so you can kiss theater goodbye. Ditto for sculpture and commercial photography. It would also be an all-white world, which rules out decent music, and a world that prohibits women from entering the workforce, so literature and dance would be out the window, too. What’s left? You guessed it: Ted Nugent and Craig T. Nelson.

To be fair, conservatives have, on occasion, contributed great things to the creative community. The late Johnny Ramone, for instance, was a bona fide Bush-loving, NRA-touting right-winger who still managed to be the greatest guitarist who ever walked the planet. And let’s be honest: Moby is further to the left than an ecology major at Evergreen State College, and that hasn’t exactly turned him into a creative genius. Statistical anomalies, after all, are part and parcel with the scientific method. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Dollinger found only a 5 percent creative variance between conservatives and liberals, but the results were still substantial enough to “support the presumption from a number of disciplines that conservatism and creativity are in some opposition,” as he put it.

Fortunately for conservatives with creative ambitions, all hope is not lost. Science may be against them, but let us never underestimate a conservative’s talent for ignoring science.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    December 13, 2012 4:30 pm

    Very interesting, but not much of a surprise. I’d love to see a study about who makes better art patrons. This article on Artinfo isn’t very optimistic on the Republicans’ role here.

    • December 13, 2012 5:32 pm

      Agreed. That would be an interesting study. Well, Frasier Crane was a fine patron and he was played by a conservative.

  2. December 13, 2012 6:06 pm

    You know, I love the Ramones, but Johnny Ramone was not even close to being “the greatest guitarist who ever walked the planet.”

    • December 13, 2012 6:16 pm

      He was at least the best guitarist from Queens.

      • December 13, 2012 9:28 pm

        Absolutely! :-)

      • Kate permalink
        December 14, 2012 4:46 am

        Second to Jimi Hendrix, that is, who was originally from Queens (little known fact).

      • Kate permalink
        December 14, 2012 4:47 am

        (OK. That’s not really true.)

    • Feral Artist permalink
      December 13, 2012 8:46 pm

      I thought the exact same thing. The author is clearly NOT liberal* since he chose Johnny Ramone as the greatest guitarist who ever walked the planet. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE me some Ramones, but how creative is it to make nearly every song sound the same? There’s Hendrix, and then there’s everyone else. And Jimi was LEFT handed.


      • December 14, 2012 6:50 pm

        Ha, I love that the Johnny Ramone argument is becoming the most controversial thing about this. You could make the argument that it takes an astounding amount of creativity to create an entire repertoire of great songs with only three chords. In terms of technical prowess, though, Hendrix is in his own league. No doubt.

  3. Jane permalink
    December 13, 2012 7:54 pm

    Kate, I believe the author addressed that in the 7th paragraph. Conservatives prefer less challenging artwork. What makes a “better” a art patron, though? If it’s amount of money spent on artwork, then conservatives may be the better art patrons since those with wealth enjoy exhorbitant wealth. But, if this study is correct, it explains at least SOME of the starving artist phenomenon, doesn’t it?

    • Kate permalink
      December 14, 2012 6:54 pm

      That’s what I was thinking, but both the Seattle Fringe Festival and the Seattle Opera are starving for funds, so that leaves me confused. For potential art patrons, perhaps it’s not “art for creativity’s sake,” but “art for the sake of a tax-deductible charitable contribution–if it’s a good year.”

      I know this sounds jaded and bitter, and I don’t mean it to, but I’m glad this topic is being discussed.

  4. Jane permalink
    December 13, 2012 7:59 pm

    Loved the article and have to use it to rib my conservative bro, who may very well be the finest guitarist Michigan has ever seen. (Sisterly bias aside.)

  5. Carolyn permalink
    December 13, 2012 11:40 pm

    I wonder which is cause and which is effect? Are artists more liberal because they are artistic, and liberals more creative because they were born with creativity, or is it that they were raised in a liberal environment which fostered creativity?

  6. chris permalink
    December 14, 2012 3:55 pm

    We Built That. LOL6

  7. October 28, 2014 3:08 pm

    I know quite a few liberals that are anything but creative. Conservatives are creative, they just don’t wear it on the sleeve. Liberals are more likely to point out how much more creative and intelligent they are. That is typical of people who aren’t.

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