Fearful Kids More Likely to Hold Conservative Political Views as Adults

(Image credit: Parent Talking to Child Image via Shutterstock)

Parenting style and childhood temperament might play roles in shaping one's political mindset, new research suggests. Specifically, kids who have fearful temperaments and are raised by parents who value obedience are more likely to endorse conservative ideologies as young adults, the study found.

A team led by psychology researcher R. Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign examined data from 708 children who originally participated in a National Institute on Child Health and Human Development study.

Based on the parents' answers to questionnaires when the kids were 1 month old, the researchers determined which parents fell into the authoritarian camp (those who, for example, agreed with the statement "Children should always obey their parents") and which ones were more egalitarian.

The researchers also looked at the mothers' assessments of their kids' temperaments at 4 1/2 years old and broke down childhood disposition with five factors: restlessness-activity, shyness, attentional focusing, passivity and fear.

The team found that children with authoritarian parents were more likely to have conservative values at age 18. Meanwhile, children who had parents with egalitarian parenting attitudes were more likely to have liberal political attitudes at that age.

In addition, children with higher levels of fearfulness during young childhood were more likely to turn out conservative, and kids with higher levels of attentional focusing and activity or restlessness were more likely to be liberal. The researchers controlled for gender, ethnic background, cognitive functioning and socioeconomic status.

"One of the significant challenges in psychological science is understanding the multiple pathways underlying personality development," Fraley said in a statement. "Our research suggests that variation in how people feel about diverse topics, ranging from abortion, military spending, and the death penalty, can be traced to both temperamental differences that are observable as early as 54 months of age, as well as variation in the attitudes people's parents have about child rearing and discipline."

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.