Pop psychology should not be taken seriously

“Liberal” and “conservative” are two labels that dominate our daily lives, whether on news programs or in conversations with fellow students. Although the terms are usually associated with political leanings, a recent article  by Chris Mooney from The Washington Post suggests these terms reach beyond that to reveal something about the way we think and act.

Mooney argues that one’s political ideology reflects one’s personal psychology. Unfortunately, his article is a gross oversimplification of reality.

irene Wang | Daily Trojan

“Liberals and conservatives don’t just vote differently, they think differently,”Mooney said.

According to the article, liberals are more open-minded than conservatives. They possess an “openness to experience” that makes them more willing to try new things, whether it be books, films or ideas. Conservatives are characterized as resistant and unmovable.

There are, however, obvious cracks in Mooney’s argument. As a self-proclaimed “liberal,” he holds an inherent bias that causes his pop psychology to lose its validity.

Pop psychology such as this is appealing because it offers packaged explanations for what otherwise remains mysterious.

Why do we behave and think differently? Mooney’s piece only serves to pacify a desire to have general formulas for complex human differences. We want our information presented to us on a silver platter, neatly tied up with a ribbon. The unexplainable is unnerving. Therefore, by defining political ideology so rigidly, by translating a type of political thought into a type of person, Mooney only polarizes the two sides further, satisfying stereotypes and making dangerous generalizations.

The same sweeping generalizations have been used in other pop psychology studies — most notably those concerning race and intelligence. For example, in 2007, Slate reported “an IQ deficit for Africans relative to Europeans” and “Europeans relative to Asians.” Who can say, however, that the data of these tests is reliable? Considering the size of the test pool, the validity of the test itself, and other complex cultural or environmental factors, it has long been established that intelligence is nearly, if not completely, impossible to measure.

Generalizations based on unreliable test scores only put up more boundaries, instill more bias and allow the superficial satisfaction that can come from being able to group people into neat sections.

Pop psychology is dangerous because it so often amplifies our biases.

How can we assume that there isn’t a great number of open-minded conservatives, close-minded liberals or even that both sides can be open-minded and close-minded at once to various aspects, aspects so various that they cannot be measured?

By attempting to put people within defined boundaries, we might feel a temporary relief.

In the end, however, the effects of such simple thinking will hurt us more than we might think.


Kelly Belter is a freshman majoring in English and French.