Sunday, December 13, 2009

Two Channels vs. Five Channels

In a discussion of different perceptions of climate change, and change in general, on the Ecological Society of America listserv, a reader posted a link to Jonathan Haidt’s talk at the 2008 Ted Conference. In it he shared a social psychologist’s view of the moral roots of progressives and conservatives.

Jonathan Haidt started by describing the great difference in openness to new experiences between progressives and conservatives; what I call their ability to live with ambiguity. Progressive embrace new experiences and conservatives avoid them.

Haidt and a coworker then identified five aspects, or channels, of moral decisions:
Caring for others
Respect for authority
Group loyalty

They polled 23,000 people in the US to describe the moral foundations of progressives and conservatives (You can learn about your moral foundations at

I’ve reproduced Jonathan Haidt’s graph of the differences (below). Progressives scored high in Caring for others and Fairness, but low in the other three aspects. Conservatives scored high in all five aspects. Haidt described the pattern as “Two channel” versus “Five channel” approaches to morality.

Everyone agrees that Caring for others and Fairness are important apsects of moral decisions, but only Conservatives also value Respect for authority, Group loyalty, and Purity/Sanctity. Haidt makes the case that both approaches to moral decisions are important and that each balances the other. Progressives “want change, even at the cost of chaos”; conservatives “want order, even at cost to those at the bottom.” Progressive speak for those at the bottom of society and conservatives speak for institutions and traditions.

Both progressives and conservatives contribute to improving our society through their different and complimentary views on change and tradition.

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