Researcher: Error in Scientific Paper Falsely Linking Conservatives With Psychoticism ‘Quite Minor’

Liberals actually ‘uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, socially withdrawn, manipulative’

/ AP
June 10, 2016

Researchers who corrected a scientific paper claiming social conservatives are associated with psychoticism—when it was in fact liberals—are calling the correction "quite minor."

The correction came three years after the paper claimed social liberals were linked with "Social Desirability," and conservatives with authoritarianism.

The paper "Correlation not Causation: The Relationship Between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies" was released in October 2013. The researchers admitted the results were "exactly reversed," in a correction in January, which was first reported by Power Line Blog.

The researchers had expected conservatives to be more likely to exhibit traits of "psychoticism," which they defined as "uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, and socially withdrawn," as well as "manipulative."

Their initial findings reported just that.

"In line with our expectations, [psychoticism] P (positively related to tough-mindedness and authoritarianism) is associated with social conservatism and conservative military attitudes," the original paper stated. "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," the paper said. "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."

However, the authors of the paper, Virginia Commonwealth University researchers Brad Verhulst and Lindon Eaves and Pennsylvania State University researcher Peter Hatemi, had to issue a correction after learning the findings were exactly the opposite.

"The authors regret that there is an error in the published version of ‘Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies,’" the correction reads. "The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed."

"Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response," the researchers said. "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."

In other words, the study actually found that liberals were more associated with being "more uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, socially withdrawn" and "manipulative." They noted having a "high Psychoticism score is not a diagnosis of being clinically psychotic or psychopathic."

When contacted by the Washington Free Beacon, Verhulst said the error was "quite minor."

"The correction to the original manuscript was quite minor, and consisted of an error in the descriptives," Verhulst said. "None of the primary conclusions were affected by the error."

Verhulst said the paper was not about conservatives being more authoritarian, but about the relationship between personality traits and political beliefs.

"The reason that the correction is quite minor is because we were looking at whether personality traits caused people to develop political attitudes," he said. "We found that personality traits and political attitudes were correlated, but that there was no evidence that there was a causal relationship."

"Accordingly, this is a minor error because the fact that the correlation is ‘exactly reversed" does not change the fact that personality traits do not cause political attitudes," Verhulst added. "Thus, while the descriptive statistics were incorrect, the conclusions based on the analyses do not change."

Verhulst said researchers from Denmark first alerted his colleague Dr. Hatemi to the error. His team re-analyzed the data but did not find any mistakes.

"To be extra sure that there was no error, we then contacted the data managers from whom we obtained the data," he said. "It was at this point that we found the inconsistency between the code book that we were using and the original code book. As soon as we found the error (which was 3 years after the publication of the original manuscript), we issued the relevant corrections."

Verhulst added that the study was not taxpayer-funded, but relied on data collected from previously funded research by the National Institutes of Health.