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Liberal or Conservative: Study Finds Childhood Influence

Did you talk back to your parents? Were you fearful or focused?

THURSDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- A person's temperament in childhood and the type of parenting they received have a major effect on their political beliefs, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at data from more than 700 children who took part in an earlier study from the U.S. National Institute on Child Health and Human Development.

As part of that study, children's parents provided information about their parenting style, such as authoritarian (children should always obey their parents) or egalitarian (children should be allowed to disagree with their parents).

The researchers found that children with authoritarian parents were more likely to have conservative political beliefs when they were 18, while those with egalitarian parents were more likely to have liberal beliefs.

The findings held true even after the researchers accounted for factors such as gender, ethnic background and socioeconomic status, according to the study, which was published online this month in the journal Psychological Science.

The findings are consistent with theories from political psychology, said R. Chris Fraley, a psychological scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and colleagues.

As for temperament, children who were more fearful when they were between 4 and 5 were more likely to be conservative at age 18, while those who were more active and able to focus their attention were more likely to be liberal at age 18, according to a journal news release.

"Our research suggests that variation in how people feel about diverse topics, [including] 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," Fraley wrote.

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers tips for effective parenting.


SOURCE: Psychological Science, news release, Oct. 22, 2012

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