Science & Technology



Right-wing and left-wing authoritarians, pretty much the same, report says

Brian Niemietz, New York Daily News on

Published in Science & Technology News

Right-wing authoritarians and left-wing authoritarians have more in common than they’d like to think, a new study from researchers at Emory University seems to indicate. Those findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggest dictatorial types may be driven by personality traits more so that ideology.

“It’s a mistake to think of authoritarianism as a right-wing concept, as some researchers have in the past,” the study says. “We found that ideology becomes secondary. Psychologically speaking, you’re an authoritarian first, and an ideologue only as it serves the power structure that you support.”

In other words, for bullies, power is the goal and politics is secondary.

Researchers claim that studies on authoritarian figures has mostly focused on conservative leaders for nearly a century. Those on the left, said to be less analyzed, have been dubbed “the Loch Ness Monster” of political psychology. Focusing more so on fascist-types than lefties, the study says, may miss what leads to autocratic tendencies overall.

“Our results raise the possibility that a shared psychological core underlies different kinds of authoritarianism,” the study’s authors found.

Emory Ph.D. psychology student Thomas Costello wrote his team “found that in terms of their psychological characteristics and their actual behaviors, left-wing authoritarians are extremely similar to authoritarians on the right.”


Researchers also found that totalitarian types from both sides of the ideological spectrum are capable of political violence. Fortunately, of the 1,000 respondents sampled, only a dozen participants said they’d personally engaged in political violence. All 12 of those people scored high for authoritarianism tendencies.

“There’s a big difference between criticizing those with opposing views and being willing to use violent force against people who disagree with you as a means of changing the status quo,” analysts found.

That said, a third of respondents reported they wouldn’t be upset about seeing a political rival assassinated. That sentiment resonated most with those who displayed a propensity toward authoritarianism, regardless their political orientation.

A summary of the report from Emory University concluded that authoritarians on the left were more likely to see the world as dangerous and experience intense emotions and “a sense of uncontrollability in response to stress.” On the right, authoritarian-types tended to be inflexible in their convictions and less likely to trust science.

“Having clarity about the appeal of authoritarianism may be relevant to help better understand what’s going on in the political landscape today,” Costello said.

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