By Blake Neff
A group of researchers has issued a dramatic corrections to a paper that linked political conservatism with psychotic traits.
The paper in question was “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies,” authored by Brad Verhulst and Lindon Eaves of Virginia Commonwealth University along with Peter Hatemi of Penn State University. The paper investigated the connection between innate personality traits and political beliefs as an adult, and produced the following conclusion:
In line with our expectations, P [Psychoticism] (positively related to tough-mindedness and authoritarianism) is associated with social conservatism and conservative military attitudes. Intriguingly, the strength of the relationship between P and political ideology differs across sexes. P‘s link with social conservatism is stronger for females while its link with military attitudes is stronger for males. We also find individuals higher in Neuroticism are more likely to be economically liberal. Furthermore, Neuroticism is completely unrelated to social ideology, which has been the focus of many in the field. Finally, those higher in Social Desirability are also more likely to express socially liberal attitudes.
In other words, according to the original paper, social conservatism was associated with psychotic traits such as interpersonal aggression, hostility, impulsiveness, and more, while liberalism was associated with “social desirability,” which in the paper represents a desire to get along with others.
Now, in a remarkable correction, the paper’s original authors have announced that their original conclusion was not only incorrect, but was actually the opposite of reality, thanks to some baffling mistake while assembling their data.
The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed … Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck’s psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.
Since publication, the erroneous paper has been cited 45 times in other academic works.
The correction was first made in the January 2016 edition of the American Journal of Political Science, but was noticed Tuesday by Retraction Watch, a blog that chronicles mistakes and flubs in the world of academia.
The authors of the piece told Retraction Watch their massive blunder had no bearing on the paper’s validity, as they said their research was only intended to investigate whether a connection existed between political views and personality, not what the nature of that connection was.
Steven Ludeke, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark who spotted the error and thus brought about the correction, isn’t as convinced.
“The erroneous results represented some of the larger correlations between personality and politics ever reported; they were reported and interpreted, repeatedly, in the wrong direction; and then cited at rates that are (for this field) extremely high,” Ludeke told Retraction watch. “And the relationship between personality and politics is, as we note in the paper, quite a ‘hot’ topic, with a large number of new papers appearing every year. So although the errors do not matter for the result that the authors (rightly) see as their most important, I obviously think the errors themselves matter quite a lot.”