Little Authoritarians: The Closing of Young Minds

The Huffington Post:

John Dean, former Nixon crony, White House lawyer and Watergate co-conspirator, turned on the Republican Party a few years ago. The reason for his turnabout, he writes in his book Conservatives Without Conscience, is that true conservatism has been perverted by politicians and thinkers — primarily the religious right — who embrace an extreme version of authoritarianism, in both philosophy and policy. This authoritarian mentality, as Dean sees it, celebrates obedience, intolerance, and government intrusion into citizens’ choices and personal values.

It’s notable when a Republican of Dean’s stature rejects the party’s core principles, and his book is an important addition to the substantial literature on authoritarian thinking. Psychological scientists have been investigating the origins and consequences of authoritarianism for many years, but the mentality remains somewhat of a puzzle. Where does this tendency to submit to authority and social convention come from, and how does it unfold into xenophobia and prejudice?

A team of behavioral scientists, led by Michal Reifen Tagar of the University of Minnesota, decided to explore this possibility by actually studying preschool children and their parents. The scientists had the idea that they could look for signs of nascent authoritarianism in the way kids trust others. It’s known that, while children rely on others for much of their early learning, they are not completely credulous. Indeed, they are quite discriminating in who they consider a reliable source of knowledge, and they rely on cues to help. Specifically, kids are more likely to trust reliably conventional sources, and they are more likely to trust adults.

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

Wray Herbert is an author and award-winning journalist who writes two popular blogs for APS, We’re Only Human and Full Frontal Psychology. Follow Wray on Twitter @wrayherbert.

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