"Authorities with liberal agendas, such as environmentalists and civil rights activists, elicited positive moral sentiment from liberal participants."
Toronto, June 28 - Historically, conservatives are viewed as being more obedient and more respectful of leadership whereas liberals tend to be associated with protests and blatant acts of rebellion.
Researchers have now found that liberals and conservatives value obedience equally.
Beneath the surface of some of these ideological debates is a fundamental need to belong to a group that has a strong leader, said lead researcher Jeremy Frimer from the University of Winnipeg in Canada.
Both sides feel the need. And both sides believe that people should do as their leader tells them to do, Frimer added.
The difference between the groups is not whether they value obedience to authority. Rather, the difference is about which authority they think is worthy of obedience, Frimer explained.
In surveying participants, the researchers found that the act of obedience itself elicits similar moral sentiments from both conservatives and liberals.
The differences sparked only when participants perceived the authorities to advance a political agenda.
Testing the participants' perceptions proved trickier than expected, because the researchers found that the concepts of authority and obedience automatically elicit thoughts of a conservative authority.
This finding may explain why obedience to authority appears to be a concept conservatives favour over liberals.
Once researchers were able to move beyond the cognitive baggage of the term 'authority' in the first two studies, the third and final study illustrates that liberals and conservatives value obedience equally.
Authorities with a conservative agenda, such as religious leaders and commanding military officers, elicit a positive moral response from participants who are politically conservative.
Authorities with liberal agendas, such as environmentalists and civil rights activists, elicited positive moral sentiment from liberal participants.
The findings were published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.