Political Psychology, Vol. 0, No. 0, 2021
0162-895X © 2021 International Society of Political Psychology.
Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ,
and PO Box 378 Carlton South, 3053 Victoria, Australia
When Left Is Right and Right Is Left: The Psychological
Correlates of Political Ideology in China
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
A robust empirical literature suggests that the development of one’s political ideology is the product of an
“elective affinity” between the discursive, socially constructed elements of ideological belief systems and the
psychological constraints, motives, and interests of those who are drawn to those belief systems. However, most
studies which support this elective affinity theory have been conducted in the West. In the present study, we
tested the theory in China to see whether elective affinities between psychological traits and political ideology
are more likely to be universal. Across a nationally representative sample (N=509), we found initial support
for the characterization of the left- right divide in China, albeit in reverse. Namely, the “liberal Right in China
mostly evinces traits of the psychological Left in the West (e.g., lower intolerance of ambiguity), while the
“conservative Left” mostly evinces traits of the psychological right in the West (e.g., higher system justification).
Epistemic motives were most reliably related to political ideology, while existential and relational motives
were more mixed; economic and political aspects of ideology were more closely linked to psychological traits
than social/cultural aspects. The present findings provide an extension of existing theory and opportunities for
KEY WORDS: China, cross- cultural, elective affinities, ideology, psychological traits
“For a social science theory to be correct, it must also be valid for the Chinese.”
— Max Weber (1949, p. 58)
“Wherever there are masses of people— everywhere except deserts— they are invariably divided
into the Left, the middle and the Right...”
— Mao Zedong (1957)
From hundreds of studies carried out overwhelmingly in Western countries, we know that
political- economic ideology correlates with a range of psychological traits. Ideology thus seems
2Beattie et al.
to be not merely the result of cold cognition aimed at arriving at an accurate understanding of the
political world, but also, at least partially, the product of various psychological needs or motives. But
what about non- Western contexts, where the ideological elements “on offer” during the process of
socialization, education, and media use are radically different? Are all ideologies across the world
the result of motivated social cognition, and are there “elective affinities” between psychological
traits and all broad means of understanding and organizing the political world, even outside of the
West? Would a country like China, with an ideological spectrum quite different from that of liberal
capitalist democracies, also evince links between psychological traits and ideology? If so, how would
the psychological traits studied in Western contexts attach to the predominant ideological cleavages
in China? Answering such questions has been a difficult research task, given the lack of research in
China on elective affinities or ideology as motivated social cognition and barriers to data collection.
This study seeks to uncover the linkages between psychological traits and political beliefs in China
using a nationally representative sample and to provide an initial test of the universality of a political-
psychological theory widely researched in the West.
Just as some chemical compounds mix and some repel each other, we display “elective affini-
ties” toward some ideas and aversions to others. In this view, the development of one’s political ide-
ology “is the product of an ‘elective affinity’ between the discursive, socially constructed elements
of ideological belief systems and the psychological constraints, motives, and interests of those who
are drawn to those belief systems” (Jost, Nam, Amodio, & Van Bavel, 2014, p. 29). One’s history
of exposure to such discursive elements— one’s intellectual biography— plays a commanding role,
determining to which ideas one’s psychological traits may provide an inclination or affinity. Also,
different social environments offer different discursive elements from which one’s ideology or polit-
ical worldview can be built. Hence China, with a radically different set of discursive elements from
which to build an ideology, offers an ideal context in which to explore the reach and application of
Despite its Western origin, the left- right ideological divide organized around equality and change
versus hierarchy and tradition is a fair approximation of ideological spectra around the world, includ-
ing among capitalist democracies in East Asia (Caprara et al., 2017; Caprara & Vecchione, 2018; Jou,
2010; Noël & Thérien, 2008; cf. Ashton et al., 2005). Conceived according to this ideal type of the
left- right divide, “left psychology” would then comprise epistemic, existential, and relational traits
inclining one toward embracing social change and desiring greater equality, and “right psychology”
would comprise traits inclining one toward fearing change and desiring stasis, stability, and hierar-
chical order (Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloway, 2003). As Jost (2017a) explains (using “liberal”
in the U.S. political sense),
the style and substance of conservative ideology— which includes the maintenance of what is tra-
ditional and familiar and the justification of hierarchical, unequal forms of social organization—
promise certainty, simplicity, order, security, and orthodoxy in a way that liberal ideology seldom
does. To embrace the vicissitudes of liberal ideology— which emphasizes equality, progress, di-
versity, and tolerance of differences— one must be willing to accept, psychologically speaking,
some degree of uncertainty, complexity, novelty, and ambiguity. (p. 169)
If ideological asymmetries in left and right psychology were found throughout the world, it
would provide some support for the view of elective affinities as a context- dependent evolutionary
adaptation (or exaptation). In this view, such ideological asymmetries in psychological traits form
an “evolutionarily stable strategy” directing social evolution along a middle ground between stasis
(detrimental in changing environments) and rapid change (during which useful adaptations may be
lost) (Beattie, 2019; Hibbing, Smith, & Alford, 2014; Petersen & Aarøe, 2014).
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
However, there is suggestive evidence from global survey data that the content of left and right
psychology may be better characterized as contrasting sets of traits inclining toward desires for pro-
tection versus freedom (Malka, Lelkes, & Soto, 2017). These contrasting traits inclining toward
different desires have effects that vary according to information ecology: For instance, in countries
where ideological “bundles” combine social- welfare policies with conservative sexual mores (or
where levels of political knowledge, ideological constraint, and economic development are relatively
low), those inclined toward desiring protection over freedom would tend to prefer left- wing eco-
nomic, and right- wing social, policies (Malka, Soto, Inzlicht, & Lelkes, 2014). Further research is
needed on how to best characterize the affinities or inclinations comprising left and right psychology,
whether desires for freedom versus protection, or change and equality versus tradition and hierarchy.
Evidentiary support for elective affinities, and the more specific theory of political conservatism
as motivated social cognition, is considerable. Perhaps the strongest evidence comes from the fact
that while decades of public opinion research in the United States have revealed persistent igno-
rance about politics and a widespread inability to define liberalism and conservatism (e.g., Kinder
& Kalmoe, 2017), nonetheless people in the United States clearly evince a latent form of ideology
linked to their psychological characteristics (Azevedo, Jost, Rothmund, & Sterling, 2019). Meta-
analyses of hundreds of studies on the relationships between ideology and a dozen psychological
variables have revealed robust relationships, even after testing for publication bias (Jost, Sterling,
& Stern, 2018; Jost, Stern, Rule, & Sterling, 2017). However, while such studies have been carried
out in over a dozen countries, these countries have all been Western (minus Israel, South Africa, and
If this political- psychological theory is accurate, cross- culturally shared psychological traits
should evince elective affinities with the different ideas in varying information ecologies, each with
their own ideological menus (which political ideas “go with” each other; for instance, in the United
States, opposition to abortion and favoring small government go together). Significant differences in
the distribution of these psychological traits across cultures— which might affect which ideological
components are found most attractive— are not expected. To determine the extent to which psycho-
logical traits are shared cross- culturally, Stankov (2017) administered a large number of psycholog-
ical scales to participants from over 30 countries. The results revealed that cross- cultural differences
on measures of personality, morality, and values are comparatively small; individual differences were
found to be more pronounced than cross- cultural differences.
The psychological influences affecting the selection of ideas within one’s information ecology
(the set of information— ideas, facts, beliefs, narratives— available within a region) have been divided
into epistemic, existential, and relational motives— that is, psychological traits that affect one’s atti-
tudes toward understanding the world, responses to threats affecting life’s meaning, and relations to
others, respectively. Among epistemic traits, dogmatism, personal need for structure, need for cogni-
tive closure, intolerance of ambiguity, “bullshit receptivity,” and conscientiousness have been found
to correlate with right- wing ideology, while openness, cognitive reflection, and need for cognition
have been found to correlate with left- wing ideology; among existential traits, fear of death, threat
and disgust sensitivity, authoritarianism, and system justification tendency have been associated with
right- wing ideology; and among relational traits, attachment anxiety and avoidance, social domi-
nance orientation, and a preference for cohesiveness have been found to correlate with right- wing
ideology (Bettache & Chiu, 2019; Fatke, 2017; Jost, 2017a; Jost, van der Linden, Panagopoulos,
& Hardin, 2018; Jost et al., 2017; Sterling, Jost, & Pennycook, 2016; Weber & Federico, 2007).
Ideological asymmetries extend into moral psychology, with the moral foundations or senses of
respect for authority, loyalty, and sanctity more acute on the right, and care and fairness more acute
on the left (Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009). Ideological asymmetries have even been found in con-
sumer behavior, like trying new brands or preferences for domestic versus foreign products (Jost,
2017b). Studies of selective exposure to political discourse, or cognitive dissonance avoidance, have
4Beattie et al.
had mixed results, with some indicating a symmetrical pattern between left and right, and others
suggesting these behaviors are more common on the right (Jost, 2017a).
Asymmetries in psychological traits should be expected within different populations, but those
between liberals and conservatives in the United States might not be expected in populations with
vastly different ideological belief systems— particularly if ideological belief systems influence the
development of correlated psychological traits, rather than the other way around (Beattie, 2017; Jost
et al., 2014). Opposing groups in political- economic and ideological environments other than those
of the West might evince asymmetries in different psychological traits; or, none at all. Yet there is
some reason to expect that the same psychological traits may influence the development of ideology
in vastly different contexts. After all, few of the measurements for traits asymmetrically distributed
between U.S. conservatives and liberals, or European rightists and leftists— e.g., needs for cognition,
structure, closure— were originally designed with any expectation of ideological asymmetries, which
were only discovered later (Jost, 2017a, p. 169). If the same psychological traits influence the devel-
opment of ideology in vastly different political- economic contexts, as the theory would suggest, they
should attach to different ideas in different information ecologies. There is some evidence for this
in social democracies and postcommunist societies (Langer, Vasilopoulos, McAvay, & Jost, 2020;
McFarland, Ageyev, & Djintcharadze, 1996; Oskarsson et al., 2015; Soboleva, 2020; Thorisdottir,
Jost, Liviatan, & Shrout, 2007).
In these political- economic contexts, an uncertainty- reducing desire for stasis or resistance to
change may incline people to support socialism over capitalism (Jost, Krochik, Gaucher, & Hennes,
2009)— just as, theoretically, a desire for equality may incline people to support a one- party polit-
ical hierarchy to enforce economic equality. Another issue arising outside of North America and
Western Europe is that “what is the “old” to be conserved and what is the “new” to be embraced vary
across political contexts” (Soboleva, 2020, p. 72). In China, for instance, the “old” could be the past
40years of reform and opening, the Mao era, the republican era, or the imperial/feudal/Confucian
era, and the “new” is similarly overpopulated terrain.
Research on elective affinities in countries other than Western capitalist democracies has been
relatively rare, limiting the scope and further development of this theory. On the one hand, cross-
cultural psychologists have shown little interest in political science; on the other hand, political psy-
chologists who study ideology seldom explore beyond the Western context (cf. Kim, Kang, & Yun,
2012; Roets, Au, & Van Hiel, 2015; Talhelm et al., 2015; Zhang & Zhong, 2019).
Beyond Euro- American Ideology
China offers an ideal location to test for elective affinities between psychological traits and po-
litical ideology outside of the West, due to its vastly different ideological spectrum and information
ecology (Jenco, 2013). Having experienced a socialist revolution nearly a century ago, it offers a test
of Hannah Arendt’s speculation that “[t]he most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the
day after the revolution” (Seldes, 1985, p. 96). Certainly, the original revolutionaries would initially
seek to preserve their new system, and subsequent generations may be attracted to preserving the
(revolutionary) status quo out of similar psychological motives to those that incline Westerners to
Officially, China is a socialist country (albeit, again officially, in the primary stage of building
socialism), although starting in the late 1970s, it began taking the “capitalist road” to development
(Bramall, 2008; Xi, 2017). At the elite level, even within the Communist Party, ideological tensions
are evident (Lynch, 2015; Tang, 2017). Contrary to what some might expect in a one- party state,
ideological differences are evident among segments of the mass public as well. These differences
were revealed by the results of an online political survey, the Chinese Political Compass (CPC),
designed by netizens at Peking University to measure opinions on political, economic, and social/
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
cultural issues. This measurement was designed by “Chinese intellectuals [who] have defined the
core ideological divides in China as those between conservatives on the left who support a socialist
(authoritarian) state, who emphasize national unity and security, who think highly of the old com-
munist/socialist economic system, and who value traditional culture, versus liberals on the right
who advocate for a constitutional democracy, who embrace individual liberty, who support market-
oriented reform, and who are enthusiastic about modern science and technology” (Pan & Xu, 2015,
p. 2, emphasis added). Hence Pan and Xu define the ideological spectrum in China as ranging from
the “conservative left” to the “liberal right.” (This classification prioritizes the economic divide be-
tween left and right [see also Wu, 2019], which is more similar worldwide than divides on political
philosophy and social/cultural issues; the economic divide focuses on equality versus inequality, the
content- laden side of the equality/change versus hierarchy/stasis dichotomy, while change versus
stasis is non- directional or content- free; Jost et al., 2009). On economic issues, the Chinese left is
more similar to U.S. liberals, although with a much greater acceptance of government economic
intervention (closer to socialists in the United States); the Chinese right is similar to center- right
liberals and conservatives in their embrace of capitalism. On political issues, the Chinese left shares
little with U.S. liberals; they share some views in common with U.S. conservatives on national unity,
patriotism, national security, and state sovereignty. The Chinese right, on the other hand, shares much
in common with U.S. liberals and conservatives alike, mostly on issues like electoral competition
and constitutional democracy taken for granted and left uncontested in the West. On social/cultural
issues, the Chinese left shares something in common with U.S. conservatives (although with vastly
different cultural values to protect, and opposite positions on social issues like abortion and religion),
and the Chinese right looks similar to U.S. liberals in their commitment to individual freedom (see
also Lu, Chu, & Shen, 2016). This makes China an ideal place to test for elective affinities, particu-
larly whether they primarily “attach” to social/cultural or economic aspects of ideology.
In Mao’s conception, “left” and “right” meant much the same as in the change/equality versus
tradition/hierarchy conceptualization; only the goal of equality (communism) was unquestioned, so
left and right referred to quicker or slower paths, respectively, toward the ultimate goal (Nathan &
Shi, 1996, pp. 526– 527). After reform and opening, while communism remained the official goal,
the means of attaining it changed from state- directed development to market- directed development
managed by the state. This split the combination of equality with change and tradition with hierar-
chy: Change in the direction of capitalist markets meant greater inequality (empirically, if not theo-
retically), while tradition meant hewing to Mao- era policies promoting economic equality. Whether
post- Mao China has broken with Marx’s ideas has inspired vigorous debate. On one reading of Marx,
since pre- revolution China was still in a feudal stage of development, the country required a capitalist
stage to develop the forces of production to a cutting- edge level before transitioning to socialism and
then communism (Bramall, 2008, pp. 84– 87). This interpretation is closest to the official line (Jiang,
2018; Xi, 2020). Others contend that reform and opening represented a rejection of Marxism and so-
cialism (Hart- Landsberg & Burkett, 2005), and contemporary China’s poor record on redistribution
means that it is not fully socialist (Naughton, 2017).
Conservative left and liberal right form a broad categorization, intended to capture the most
common, widespread forms of ideology. But it does not describe the full breadth of ideological diver-
sity in China— like the New Left or neo- Confucianism (Blanchette, 2019; Fogel, Cheek, & Ownby,
2019)— just as the liberal- conservative categorization in the United States excludes ideologies like
democratic socialism or paleoconservatism. For instance, one study of online political discourse in
China identified 11 ideological clusters, only some of which would fit seamlessly under a “liberal
right”- “conservative left” organization (Shi- Kupfer, Ohlberg, Lang, & Lang, 2017). Even within this
broad dichotomy, surprises (for many Westerners) abound. Communist Party members tend to take
more progressive stances on social issues and have less authoritarian views than the general public
(Ji & Jiang, 2020). Many liberal intellectuals in China (“liberal” in the economic sense of favoring
6Beattie et al.
unimpeded free- market capitalism, and in the political sense of favoring competitive democracy—
the same usage as in “liberal right”) support Donald Trump and adopt U.S. conservative positions on
political correctness, Islam, feminism, and other issues (Lin, 2021). However, these are ideological
trends evident only among the most politically knowledgeable; among the mass public, even the left-
right dichotomy is poorly understood, despite having been used by political elites since the founding
of the PRC (Wu, 2020).
China therefore offers an ideal test of the universality of elective- affinity theory. Its ideologi-
cal spectrum is fundamentally different from those of Western countries. Its “liberal right” roughly
combines the socially liberal/left- wing and economically conservative/right- wing beliefs of Western
contexts, and its “conservative left” roughly combines the socially conservative/right- wing and eco-
nomically liberal/left- wing beliefs of Western contexts. Uncovering how psychological traits attach
(or not) to ideology in the Chinese context may reveal more about which aspects of ideology have an
elective affinity with psychological traits. Are economic aspects of ideology naturally aligned with
social aspects, as in the hierarchy/stasis versus equality/change conception of elective affinities? Or
are the links between psychological traits and both economic and social ideology in Western coun-
tries, where almost all studies have focused, simply the result of the historically contingent ideolog-
ical bundles prevalent there; and in countries with different ideological bundles, psychological traits
more naturally incline people to either the freedom promised by right- wing economic and left- wing
social ideology, or the protection promised by left- wing economic and right- wing social ideology?
Or are these elective affinities even more historically contingent, with psychology- ideology links
arrayed in as- yet unconceived manners across different countries? Still another possibility is that ide-
ology in Western contexts is uniquely linked to psychological traits, and in other contexts psychology
has no measurable relationship to ideology.
Given the dearth of research outside of the West, we were left with our own educated guess.
Conservative left ideology would seem to evince an affinity to psychological traits similar to those
correlated with right- wing ideology in the West: The ideology promises to maintain the traditional
and familiar; to justify political, if not economic, hierarchy; and to promise order, certainty, security,
and orthodoxy. (That is, protection over freedom.) Likewise, liberal- right ideology seems to pro-
vide psychological support similar to that provided by left- wing ideology in the West: challenging
the traditional and familiar; undermining political, if not economic, hierarchy; and accepting com-
plexity, uncertainty, and novelty. (Or freedom over protection.) Hence, we expected that in China,
conservative- left ideology would correlate with traits of the psychological right, and liberal- right
ideology would correlate with traits of the psychological left (according to how the psychological
left and right have been defined in the West).
Overview of Present Research
We selected 19 psychological constructs and the scales used to measure them in which previous
research in Western contexts had found ideological asymmetries. Some, like dogmatism, had rela-
tively large effect sizes; others, like need for cognition, had relatively small effect sizes. Some, like
the personal need for structure, had been tested repeatedly; others, like anxious/avoidant attachment,
had been tested infrequently. Some, like need for cognitive closure, had exhibited an unambiguous re-
lationship with political ideology; others, like selective exposure, had exhibited contradictory, mixed
results. Some, like cognitive reflection and death anxiety, were clearly epistemic and existential mo-
tives, respectively; others, like moral foundations and Schwartz values, were difficult to classify. We
included two novel questions to explore whether participants conceived of equality as primarily po-
litical or economic and whether a completely free market would lead to more or less equality. Where
available, we used previously validated Chinese translations of scales, and where unavailable, we
translated English scales into Chinese, then back- translated them into English to ensure accuracy.
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
In short, building off the limited results of elective- affinity research in social democracies and
postcommunist societies, our overarching expectation was that in China, traits of the psychological
left would correlate with “liberal right” opinions, and traits of the psychological right would correlate
with “conservative left” opinions. That is, we expected that in China, the left is (psychologically)
right, and the right is (psychologically) left.
Meta- analyses of studies (mostly in Western capitalist democracies) on links between “Big Five”
personality traits and political ideology have found the strongest correlations between openness to
experience and left- wing ideology, and conscientiousness with right- wing ideology (Cichocka &
Dhont, 2018). Fatke’s (2017) analysis of World Values Survey data replicated the same two rela-
tionships but also found that extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness were positively correlated
with left- wing ideology. The study further found that relationships between personality traits and
ideology varied by country and were affected by levels of human development and political freedom.
In countries scoring lower on the Freedom House Index, agreeableness, neuroticism, and consci-
entiousness were more strongly correlated with policy preferences, but extraversion and openness
were more strongly correlated with policy preferences in countries scoring higher on the index.
Correlations between all five personality traits and policy preferences were stronger the higher a
country’s score on the Human Development Index. Given the results of past cross- national studies,
we expected conscientiousness to be higher in those further to the left in China, and openness, extra-
version, neuroticism, and agreeableness to be higher in those further to the right (RQ1).
Past research has found that scores on the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) correlate positively
with left- wing political opinions (Deppe et al., 2015). The CRT measures miserly information pro-
cessing, or the tendency to use automatic, Type 1 processing over more cognitively taxing Type 2
processing. We expected cognitive reflection to be higher among those further to the right in China
Jost, van der Linden, et al. (2018) meta- analysis found dogmatism, a relatively unshakeable but
unjustified certainty in one’s beliefs, to have the strongest correlation (among several other traits)
with right- wing ideology in Western countries. We expected dogmatism to be higher among those
further to the left in China (RQ3).
People vary in the complexity with which they structure information, with some preferring sim-
ple structures and being more likely to apply stereotypes to new situations (Neuberg & Newsom,
1993). Jost, van der Linden, et al. (2018) meta- analysis found a personal need for structure to cor-
relate positively with right- wing ideology. We expected need for structure to be higher among those
further to the left in China (RQ4).
Defining “bullshit” in Harry Frankfurt’s terms as an insidious form of speech unconnected with
truth and irrelevant to describing reality, Sterling et al. (2016) analyzed relationships between ratings
of pseudo- profound bullshit statements and political ideology, finding a correlation between right-
wing economic beliefs and bullshit receptivity. We expected bullshit receptivity to be higher among
those further to the left in China (RQ5).
Jost, van der Linden, et al. (2018) meta- analysis found need for cognition, a measure of engage-
ment in and enjoyment from thinking, positively associated with left- wing ideology in Western coun-
tries. We expected need for cognition to be higher among those further to the right in China (RQ6).
Past research in Western countries has found intolerance of ambiguity, a measure of the extent to
which ambiguous situations are perceived as threatening, to be associated with right- wing ideology
8Beattie et al.
(Jost, van der Linden, et al., 2018). We expected intolerance of ambiguity to be higher among those
further to the left in China (RQ7).
The desire to avoid confusion and ambiguity by seizing upon a definitive explanation, or clo-
sure, has been associated with right- wing ideology in Western countries (Jost, van der Linden, et al.,
2018). We expected need for closure to be higher among those further to the left in China (RQ8).
System justification theory proposes that people are motivated (to avoid negative affect and
cognitive dissonance), to varying extents, to justify the existing social system, even when such ratio-
nalization conflicts with other affect- based motives to protect self- esteem and ingroup standing (Jost,
Banaji, & Nosek, 2004; Jost et al., 2003, 2011). People higher in system- justification tendency tend
to be on the right in Western countries, as elements of right- wing ideology provide more support for
the status quo, reducing negative affect, than left- wing ideology. We expected the opposite pattern in
China: Those further to the left would exhibit a higher system- justification tendency (RQ9).
One of the oldest areas of elective- affinity research focused on the relationship between right-
wing ideology and authoritarianism (Jost et al., 2003). Some of this research has been criticized for
using measures of authoritarianism contaminated by content- predictor overlap (Malka, Lelkes, &
Holzer, 2017). We expected authoritarianism to be higher among those further to the left in China
Meta- analyses of the relationship between right- wing ideology and fear of death have found
conflicting results, with Onraet, Van Hiel, Dhont, and Pattyn (2013) finding a significant relationship
and Jost et al. (2017) a nonsignificant relationship. We expected fear of death to be higher among
those further to the left in China (RQ11).
Terrizzi, Shook, and McDaniel’s (2013) meta- analysis found disgust sensitivity to correlate with
right- wing ideology (cf. Tybur, Merriman, Hooper, McDonald, & Navarrete, 2010). Jost, van der
Linden, et al. (2018) meta- analysis found threat sensitivity to correlate with right- wing ideology (cf.
Crawford, 2017). We expected greater disgust and threat sensitivity among those further to the left
in China (RQ12).
Social dominance orientation (SDO), a generalized preference for group hierarchies and in-
equality, correlates with right- wing ideology in Western countries, and has been found to medi-
ate conservatives’ relatively lower acuity in the moral senses of care and fairness (Kugler, Jost, &
Noorbaloochi, 2014). We expected SDO to be higher among those further to the left in China (RQ13).
Regarding cohesiveness, previous research has found that U.S. conservatives evince a greater
preference for “tight,” cohesive, behaviorally uniform social groups (Bettache & Chiu, 2019). The
effect of conservative (right- wing) beliefs in the United States was comparable to the effect of living
in a collectivist culture among the study’s Indian sample. We expected a greater preference for cohe-
sive, behaviorally uniform groups among those further to the left in China (RQ14).
Early unsuccessful attempts at emotional attachment are hypothesized to result in insecure at-
tachment styles: anxious attachment, a preoccupation with seeking protective proximity, and avoid-
ant attachment, keeping emotional distance from others. Previous research has linked right- wing
ideology with anxious (through SDO) and avoidant (through right- wing authoritarianism) attach-
ment styles (Weber & Federico, 2007), though results have differed across studies (Koleva & Rip,
2009). We expected anxious and avoidant attachment to be higher among those further to the left in
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
Past research has found self- reported socioeconomic standing to correlate with right- wing ide-
ology (specifically, a measurement of neoliberal beliefs) in the United States and India, although not
in Hong Kong (Beattie, Bettache, & Chong, 2019). We expected power- ladder rankings to be higher
among those further to the left in China (RQ16).
Moral foundations theory proposes that humans evolved distinct moral senses or foundations
rooted in emotions and quick, effortless thought, which are activated when a moral question is pre-
sented. Past research has shown that the moral senses of care and fairness are more acute in those
further to the (secular) left, while the senses of authority, loyalty, and purity are more acute in those
further to the (religious) right (Bettache, Hamamura, Amrani Idrissi, Amenyogbo, & Chiu, 2019;
Graham et al., 2013). We expected those further to the right in China to be higher in moral progres-
Past research has had mixed results concerning the relationship between selective exposure to
media and ideology, with some finding greater selective exposure on the right, and others finding
no ideological asymmetry (Jost, 2017a). We therefore had a weak expectation of selective exposure
being higher among those further to the left in China (RQ18).
The meaning of tradition versus change is relatively straightforward in the Chinese ideological
context; however, equality versus hierarchy is fraught with multiple interpretations. Hierarchy could
evoke the party/government, or the hierarchy of wealth; equality could evoke the political principle
of “one person, one vote,” or wealth/income parity. In keeping with the conception of left/right psy-
chology as consisting of traits inclining toward desires for equality versus hierarchy, we expected
the right in China to have this feature of left psychology; given their political commitments, we
expected them to be more likely to interpret equality as primarily political and to believe that further
“reform and opening” leading to a perfectly free market would reduce wealth and income inequali-
The currently dominant psychological classification of values organizes them according to
two axes— conservation (conformity, security, and tradition) versus openness to change (stimu-
lation, self- direction, hedonism), and self- enhancement (power, achievement, hedonism) versus
self- transcendence (universalism, benevolence). Personality traits affect one’s prioritization of val-
ues, which in turn affect the development of ideology, and vice versa (Jost, Basevich, Dickson, &
Noorbaloochi, 2016). In Western European countries, the Schwartz values of universalism, stimula-
tion, and benevolence tend to correlate with left- wing ideology, and the values of security, confor-
mity, tradition, and power correlate with right- wing ideology (Piurko, Schwartz, & Davidov, 2011).
In several postcommunist Eastern European countries, fewer relationships were found between ide-
ology and values; in the Czech Republic, right- wing ideology was associated with the openness to
change values (plus achievement) and left- wing ideology with security and conformity. Given the
mixed results among postcommunist and capitalist democratic countries, we tentatively expected the
self- transcendence and openness to change values to be more important among those further to the
right in China, and the conservation and self- enhancement values to be more important among those
further to the left in China (RQ20).
Jost’s (2017b) review of elective- affinity research on correlations between ideology and brand
preferences found among others, relationships between left- wing beliefs and a greater desire to try
new brands, and right- wing beliefs and a greater preference for domestic over foreign brands. We
expected a greater preference for domestic over foreign brands, and a lower willingness to try new
brands, among those further to the left in China (RQ21).
10 Beattie et al.
We employed a polling company to give a survey to a nationally representative sample of urban
residents of mainland China using an online panel (n=509, after eliminating for failed attention
checks). This number of participants was selected after using G*Power to determine the sample size
required for (1−β)=.95 (Faul, Erdfelder, Buchner, & Lang, 2009). Based on previous meta- analytic
results, our sample size provided 95% power for all variables for which weighted effect sizes had
been previously calculated, other than conscientiousness, cognitive reflection, threat sensitivity, and
need for cognition (Jost, 2017a).
Participants were selected by the company to reflect national proportions of gender, age, and
education and income levels. Participants’ average age was 38.97years (SD=13.69, range=18– 91);
men comprised a bare majority (51.5%, n=262) and women the minority (48.5%, n=247). Levels
of education ranged from below primary school (3.5%, n= 18), primary school (10.4%, n = 53),
junior school (25.3%, n=129), high school or technical secondary school (23%, n=117), some
college (13.9%, n= 71), bachelor’s degree (20.2%, n=103), master’s degree (3.3%, n=17), and
doctoral degree (0.2%, n=1). The median and mean level of reported monthly income was between
¥6000 and ¥7000. A plurality were employed by private enterprises (45.4%, n=231), and the rest
were self- employed (13.2%, n=67) or employed by state- owned or - held enterprises (13%, n=66),
joint- venture or foreign companies (10.8%, n=55), town and village enterprises (3.5%, n=18), the
party or government (2.8%, n=14), collective enterprises (2.4%, n=12), or non- profits or social
service organizations (1.8%, n=9); the rest worked as farmers (3.7%, n=19) or were unemployed
We used the Mandarin Chinese MFQ20 scale (α=.81; binding foundations [authority, loyalty,
purity] α=.71; individuating foundations [care, fairness] α=.64) by Buchtel, Wu, Hornbeck, Ma,
Li, Leung, Zhang, and Zhang from the moralfoundations.org website. A sample item measuring the
moral sense of purity is “People should not do things that are disgusting, even if no one is harmed,”
and level of agreement/relevance to moral judgment was measured from 0 (Strongly disagree/not at
all relevant) to 5 (Strongly agree/extremely relevant). An MFQ “progressivism” (referring to cor-
relations found in the West) measure can be calculated by subtracting the mean of responses to the
authority, loyalty, and purity items from the mean of responses to the care and fairness items.
Pan and Xu’s (2015) analysis of over 170,000 participants taking the CPC survey found a single
left- right dimension covering political, economic, and social issues. Their subsequent analysis of
over 470,000 results found that a slightly better fit to the data was provided by three dimensions—
nationalism, market orientation, and tradition— that were strongly correlated, such that most partic-
ipants were either nationalistic, antimarket, and pro- tradition, or took the opposite positions (Pan &
Xu, 2018; cf. Wu & Meng, 2017). Because survey length and comparability with Western studies
were primary concerns, we selected the top half of political, economic, and cultural questions by
factor loading on the left- right dimension (α =.67). However, the polling company required us to
remove 12 of the 20 political questions due to perceived political sensitivity, so we had to devise
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
two new questions. A sample item is “Human rights take precedence over sovereignty,” and level
of agreements was measured as in the original CPC, four options from −2 (Strongly oppose) to 2
(Strongly agree). Participants were then asked to classify their ideology on a 0– 100 left- right sliding
scale for comparison.
Selective Exposure, Interest, Media Use
Participants were told that now that their political opinions had been measured, would they like
to receive a few articles “that provide arguments for political opinions you disagree with.” Next, they
were asked how often they seek to learn about political opinions differing from their own, from 0
(Never) to 4 (Always). Participants were then asked for their level of interest in political issues and
debates, from 1 (Not interested) to 10 (Very interested), and how often they read, listen to, or watch
political news or debates in the media, from 1 (Never) to 10 (Every day).
Meaning of Equality
We asked participants whether their first thought of “equality” was political (open elections,
right to vote) or economic (wealth and income at similar levels), and whether they thought “a per-
fectly free market, with no government interference, will naturally lead to more or less economic
To avoid content- predictor overlap in some longer versions (Charney, 2015), we used Carciofo,
Yang, Song, Du, and Zhang’s (2016) Chinese language 10- item Big Five Personality (BFI- 10) inven-
tory; a sample item is “I see myself as someone who is outgoing, sociable,” and level of agreement
was measured from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 5 (Strongly agree).
We used Tan, Liu, Huang, Zheng, and Liang’s (2016) eight- item (α = .86) general system-
justification scale. A sample item is “China serves the greatest good for its citizens,” and level of
agreement was measured from 1 (Completely disagree) to 9 (Completely agree).
We used Toplak, West, and Stanovich’s (2014) seven- item CRT- 7 scale, with minor changes to
monetary units and objects (e.g., “baseball and bat” to “racket and birdie”). A sample item is “A man
buys a pig for ¥600, sells it for ¥700, buys it back for ¥800, and sells it finally for ¥900. How much
has he made?” Due to comparative features of open- ended, two- answer, and four- answer variations
of the CRT- 7, we used the four- answer version (Sirota & Juanchich, 2018); the correct response
was ¥200, the intuitive (Type 1 processing) response was ¥100, and ¥0 and ¥300 options were also
We used Lindeman and Verkasalo’s (2005) Short Schwartz Value Survey (SSVS), which con-
tains items like “Power (social power, authority, wealth)” with level of importance measured from
12 Beattie et al.
0 (Opposed to my principles) to 8 (Of supreme importance). To control for differences in acquies-
cent responding, we centered participants’ responses around their within- person means, following
We used Altemeyer’s (2002) DOG dogmatism scale. To minimize survey length, we selected the
top half of items (α=.64) by factor loading (Crowson, 2009). A sample item is “My opinions are
right and will stand the test of time,” and agreement was measured from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 7
Personal Need for Structure
We used Wu’s (2011) 11- item (α = .75) Chinese version of the Personal Need for Structure
(PNS) scale. A sample item is “I don’t like situations that are uncertain,” and agreement was mea-
sured from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 6 (Strongly agree).
Social Dominance Orientation
We used Tan, Liu, Zheng, and Huang’s (2016) Chinese version of the SDO scale. However, the
polling company determined that seven items were too politically sensitive and were removed; the
remaining nine items had an acceptable reliability (α=.70). A sample item is “If certain groups of
people stayed in their place, we would have fewer problems,” and agreement was measured from 1
(Strongly disagree) to 7 (Strongly agree).
Participants viewed Bettache and Chiu’s (2018) individuated versus homogenized group-
animated video, which portrays one group of humanoid characters moving in lockstep and another
moving in uncoordinated fashion, and they were asked to report to which group they would want to
belong, indicating a preference for “loose” or “tight” sociocultural groups.
We selected the top five items (α=.66) by item- total correlation from Pennycook, Cheyne, Barr,
Koehler, and Fugelsang’s (2015) bullshit- receptivity scale, containing items like “Imagination is
inside exponential space time events.” Profundity was rated from 1 (Not at all profound) to 5 (Very
To avoid the aforementioned problem of content- predictor overlap, we used Im’s (2014) author-
itarianism scale using items from the Asian Barometer Survey. After one item was removed by the
polling company for political sensitivity, the scale included seven items (α=.65), for instance, “A
person should not insist on his own opinion if his coworkers disagree with him.” Level of agreement
was measured from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 4 (Strongly agree).
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
We used Wei, Russell, Mallinckrodt, and Vogel’s (2007) Experiences in Close Relationship
Scale- short form, which contains six items each for avoidant (α=.69) and anxious (α = .68) at-
tachment. Sample items include “I try to avoid getting too close to my partner” and “I need a lot of
reassurance that I am loved by my partner”; agreement was rated from 0 (Does not apply to me at
all) to 5 (Applies very well).
Need for Cognition
We used Kao’s (1994) Chinese short version of the Need for Cognition (NFC) scale, which
contains 18 items (α=.87). A sample item is “I would prefer complex to simple problems,” and
agreement was measured from 0 (Does not apply at all) to 5 (Applies very well).
Intolerance of Ambiguity
We used the shortened, seven- item (α=.66) version of Budner’s intolerance of ambiguity scale
(Kirton, 1981). A sample item is “What we are used to is always preferable to what is unfamiliar,”
and agreement was measured from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 6 (Strongly agree).
Need for Cognitive Closure
We used Roets and Van Hiel’s (2011) 15- item (α=.83) version of the Need for Closure Scale
(NFCS). A sample item is “When I have made a decision, I feel relieved,” and agreement was mea-
sured from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 6 (Strongly agree).
We used the four- item (α= .92) fear of death subscale from Cai, Tang, Wu, and Li’s (2017)
Chinese Scale of Death Anxiety. A sample item was “In the past month, I often felt terrified when
I thought of death,” and agreement was measured from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 5 (Strongly agree).
Disgust and Threat Sensitivity
Threat and disgust sensitivity were measured by displaying three (α=.86) threatening (pictures
number 6230, 6350, 9635.1) and three (α = .88) disgusting (pictures number 3103, 9302, 9322)
images from the International Affective Picture System database (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 2008)
and asking for participants’ ratings from 0 (It isn’t threatening/I am not disgusted at all) to 10
(I’m extremely disgusted/It is extremely threatening). (A pilot study indicated significant ideological
asymmetries in disgust and threat sensitivity using this method.)
At the polling company’s suggestion, to avoid the appearance of an overtly political focus, we
added questions asking participants to state the frequency with which they try new brands, from 0
(Always stick to the same brand) to 10 (Always try new brands), and to rate three famous foreign and
domestic brands, from 0 (Very bad) to 10 (Very good).
14 Beattie et al.
To measure perceived socioeconomic standing, we asked participants to place themselves on a
power ladder, from 1 to 8, representing “where people stand in our society” (Adler, Epel, Castellazzo,
& Ickovics, 2000).
All participants completed an online questionnaire including the measures described above. Our
strategy was to explore whether the same correlations between psychological traits and political ide-
ology found in Western countries would be found in China and, if so, which traits would be related
to different aspects of ideology. After giving their consent, participants were directed to follow the
instructions on screen in answering the questions. Past research in China has found that controver-
sial questions elicit high levels of social desirability bias (Meng, Pan, & Yang, 2017). To minimize
such bias, we began the survey with a bogus pipeline manipulation, which urges participants to give
honest answers even when others might not approve of them, since their true opinions would be de-
tected by sophisticated techniques (this is illustrated with a simple example). This method has proven
successful in reducing social desirability bias in past research (Roese & Jamieson, 1993). We also
included attention- check questions throughout the survey (two were included in the moral founda-
tions survey, and a simple math problem and a question instructing participants to select none of the
answers were also included). In the end, all participants were asked to provide basic demographic
data before signing off the webpage.
Pan and Xu’s (2015, 2018) principal component analyses (PCA) of the opt- in CPC survey data
found the first PC to explain significantly more variance than subsequent PCs (17% vs. 5.4%, 19%
vs. 6%). We performed the same analysis on our sample to look for differences between their (pre-
sumably) more politically interested respondents and ours with a more average level of political
interest and knowledge. Our representative sample demonstrated far less ideological constraint: The
first PC explains only 12.1% of the variance, the second PC, 11.6%, and the third, 5.8%. The KMO
value (Kaiser- Meyer- Olkin measure of sampling adequacy)=.74, and the significant Bartlett’s test
of sphericity, χ2 (300)=1630.5 (p<.001), indicated suitable conditions for PCA. Both PCs reflected
a left- right split, with the first PC loading most strongly on political, economic, and cultural items
expected to be endorsed by the left, and the second PC loading most strongly on items expected to be
endorsed by the right, with two (cultural- item) exceptions each. (See AppendixA for scree plot and
factor loadings.) Self- reported ideology on a left- right scale did not correlate with scores from our
ideology questionnaire, not a surprising result given that left/right or liberal/conservative distinctions
do not animate political discourse in China’s mass media.
Like Pan and Xu’s (2015) opt- in sample, ours displayed a slight difference in ideology by age,
with those 18– 39 (roughly corresponding to the Millennial generation in the United States) slightly
(but nonsignificantly) further to the conservative left than those 40 and older on economic and po-
litical issues and further to the liberal right on social/cultural issues (M=−.038, SD=.574) than
those older than 40 (M=−.156, SD=.571); t(507)=−2.32, p<.05 (cf. Harmel & Yeh, 2015). (See
AppendixB for visualizations.) There were no significant differences in ideology between men and
women. The only significant difference in ideology by income level was the lowest quartile being
further to the conservative left on economic issues (M=−.482, SD=.509) than those in the top three
quartiles (M=−.341, SD=.490); t(507)=2.50, p<.05. The only significant difference in ideology
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
by level of education was the highest quartile being further to the liberal right (M=.003, SD=.589)
than the bottom three quartiles (M=−.120, SD=.568); t(507)=2.02, p<.05.
Means, standard deviations, and t tests of mean differences (between the left- most and right-
most halves of the sample, by ideology scores) on all variables of interest are reported in AppendixC.
Bivariate correlations between variables of interest and economic, political, social/cultural, and over-
all ideology are reported in Table1.
Of 21 research questions, results matched our expectations in nine cases, four received par-
tial support, three were directly contradicted, and five received no support. Among epistemic traits,
RQ1, that conscientiousness would be higher on the left, and openness, extraversion, neuroticism,
and agreeableness would be higher on the right, received partial support. Conscientiousness and
left- wing ideology evinced the strongest relationship, but openness and agreeableness were also
associated with the left. RQ2, that cognitive reflection would be higher on the right, was directly
contradicted by the results. Cognitive reflection was higher on the left, and intuitive answers were
more common on the right. RQ3, that dogmatism would be higher on the left, was partially sup-
ported: Only social/cultural ideology evinced the expected relationship with dogmatism. Overall,
there was a weak, marginally significant relationship with right- wing ideology, driven by a signifi-
cant relationship with right- wing political ideology. RQ4, that need for structure would be higher on
the left, was supported by the results. RQ5, that bullshit receptivity would be higher on the left, was
also supported. Need for cognition (RQ6), which an a priori power analysis indicated would require
double and triple our sample size for 80% and 95% power, respectively, received no support from the
nonsignificant findings. RQ7 and RQ8, that intolerance of ambiguity and need for cognitive closure,
respectively, would be higher on the left, were supported.
Among existential traits, RQ9 and RQ10, that system- justification tendency and authoritarian-
ism would be higher on the left, were supported by the results. However, RQ11 and RQ12, that threat
and disgust sensitivity and fear of death would be higher on the left, received no support. (Our a pri-
ori power analysis indicated that we had less than 80% power to detect the effect of threat sensitivity
with our sample size.)
Among relational traits, RQ13, that social dominance orientation would be higher on the left,
was contradicted by the results: SDO was higher on the right in China, as it is in Western countries.
RQ14, that a preference for cohesive, tight groups would be higher on the left, received no support.
RQ15, that anxious and avoidant attachment would be higher on the left, was directly contradicted
by the results: Instead, both were significantly higher on the right, except on social/cultural ideology,
where they were related to the conservative left. RQ16, that power- ladder rankings of socioeconomic
status would be higher on the left, was also supported by the results.
RQ17, that those further to the liberal right would be higher in “moral progressivism”— the
difference between the importance of care and fairness, and that of loyalty, authority, and purity—
was supported. Unexpectedly, the conservative left does not fit the moral foundations profile of the
Western right: They are higher on the three “binding” foundations, but also on one of the “individ-
uating” foundations, fairness. H18, that selective exposure would be higher among the conservative
left, was not supported; self- reported desires to learn about and try to understand “the other side”
did not vary by ideology. We also found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that those reporting more attention
to political news tended toward the conservative left. RQ19, that those on the liberal right would be
more likely to think of “equality” as political rather than economic, and to believe that a perfectly
free market would reduce inequality, was supported.
RQ20, that the self- transcendence and openness to change values would be more important
to the right, and the conservation and self- enhancement values would be more important on the
left, received partial support. Composite measurements of self- enhancement values minus self-
transcendence values, and conservation values minus openness values, reveal that the right tends to
endorse self- transcendence values more than self- enhancement values, as expected, but the left tends
16 Beattie et al.
Table 1. Bivariate Correlations: Psychological Traits and Political Ideology (−2 Conservative left, +2 Liberal right)
(Combined) (Economic) (Political) (Social/Cultural)
MFQ (0– 5) Care −.036 −.004 −.063 .006
MFQ (0– 5) Fairness −.137** −.110*−.167** .065
MFQ (0– 5) Loyalty −.221*** −.160*** −.268*** .07
MFQ (0– 5) Authority −.200*** −.178*** −.155*** −.032
MFQ (0– 5) Purity −.160*** −.140** −.143** .002
MFQ (0– 5) Progressivism .175*** .159*** .131** .03
Learn about other side 0 no .002 .025 .017 −.066
Understand other side 0– 4 (greater desire) .013 −.010 .056 −.042
Political interest 1– 10 −.040 −.062 −.012 .006
News media use 1– 10 −.106*−.101*−.067 −.032
“Equality” means 0 Political −.196*** −.171*** −.073†−.179***
Free market causes 0 inequality .206*** .204*** .187*** −.050
Personality (1– 5) Extraversion .003 −.012 −.026 .075†
Personality (1– 5) Agreeableness −.165*** −.121** −.194*** .044
Personality (1– 5)
−.264*** −.233*** −.245*** .025
Personality (1– 5) Neuroticism −.006 .034 .001 −.079†
Personality (1– 5) Openness −.086†−.034 −.097*−.032
System Justification 1– 9 −.237*** −.184*** −.242*** .018
Cognitive reflection (0– 7) Correct −.125*** −.079†−.147** .010
Cognitive reflection (0– 7) Intuitive .106*.084†.098*.008
Schwartz values (0– 8) Power −.026 .033 −.107*.053
Schwartz values (0– 8) Achievement .076†.058 .108*−.057
Schwartz values (0– 8) Hedonism −.171*** −.139** −.170*** .015
Schwartz values (0– 8) Stimulation −.237*** −.131** −.271*** −.022
Schwartz values (0– 8) Self- Direction −.052 −.046 −.005 −.072
Schwartz values (0– 8) Universalism .126** .133** .108*−.034
Schwartz values (0– 8) Benevolence .135** .034 .203*** −.022
Schwartz values (0– 8) Tradition .137** .032 .091*.205***
Schwartz values (0– 8) Conformity .017 .006 .024 −.001
Schwartz values (0– 8) Security .136** .091*.203*** −.099*
Schwartz values Enhancement minus
−.134** −.078†−.168*** .021
Schwartz values Conservation minus
.229*** .138** .237*** .047
Dogmatism 1– 7 .081†.072 .134** −.110*
Personal Need for
1– 6 −.257*** −.170*** −.252*** −.051
SDO .189*** .090*.221*** .035
Cohesiveness 0 Tight −.011 −.023 −.007 .017
Bullshit receptivity 1– 5 −.111*−.089*−.138** −.057
Authoritarianism 1– 4 −.188*** −.117** −.152** −.105*
Anxious attachment 1– 6 .088*.076†.130** −.092*
Avoidant attachment 1– 6 .188*** .124** .250*** −.078†
Need for Cognition 0– 5 −.043 −.058 −.041 .041
Ambiguity intolerance 1– 6 −.136** −.050 −.158*** −.054
Need for Closure 1– 6 −.154** −.070 −.145** −.094*
Death anxiety 1– 5 −.037 −.026 −.008 −.054
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
to endorse openness values more than conservation values, contrary to expectations. The conserva-
tion versus openness result was driven by the greater importance of hedonism and stimulation on the
left and tradition and security on the right, and the self- enhancement versus self- transcendence result
was driven by the greater importance of universalism and benevolence on the right and hedonism on
the left (although achievement was weakly associated with the right). RQ21 was partially supported:
Those on the liberal right reported a lower preference for domestic over foreign brands but reported
less willingness to try new brands.
Our representative sample demonstrated less ideological constraint than previous opt- in sam-
ples, while still clustering around the conservative left- liberal right split on political, economic, and
social/cultural issues (Pan & Xu, 2015, 2018). We are not aware of public- opinion surveys in China
equivalent to those in the United States which have found, over several decades, a widespread igno-
rance of the content of liberal and conservative ideology (e.g., Kinder & Kalmoe, 2017). Nonetheless,
echoing Azevedo et al.’s (2019) U.S. findings, in our sample psychological traits predicted taking
issue positions consistent with the prevailing ideological cleavage in China. Demographic character-
istics vastly underperformed psychological traits in predicting political ideology. (See Appendix D
for regression results.)
According to Max Weber’s test of social science theories, the theory that ideology evinces elec-
tive affinities with psychological traits receives support from the results— that is, it also seems to
apply in China. A majority of the research questions replicating previous research in Western coun-
tries were fully or partially supported within our Chinese sample. Arendt’s conjecture that after a
(left- wing) revolution ardent revolutionaries would become conservatives, was prescient; if not a day,
then at least after a generation or two those with the psychological traits associated with the right in
the West evince an elective affinity with the left- wing ideas institutionalized and established as the
Epistemic traits most clearly evinced this “left is (psychologically) right” pattern. Existential
traits mostly displayed the same pattern, but relational traits evinced mixed and unexpected results.
Moral psychology also mostly reflected the “left is (psychological) right” pattern, with “moral pro-
gressivism” higher on the right. Likewise, this pattern was partially found in Schwartz values and
Big Five personality traits.
However, the plurality of mixed and null results suggests that a simple “left is (psychologically)
right” description of elective affinities in China is incomplete. As expected, system justification was
higher among the conservative left, whose ideological forebears won a civil war to form a government
nearly a century ago; as in France, where long- institutionalized principles of liberty, equality, and
fraternity incline leftists toward greater system justification (Langer et al., 2020). However, several
unexpected results require explanation. Dogmatism, found to be higher among U.S. conservatives,
(Combined) (Economic) (Political) (Social/Cultural)
Disgust sensitivity 0– 10 .057 .058 .055 −.022
Threat sensitivity 0– 10 −.020 −.034 .034 −.022
Try new brands 0– 10 −.100*−.034 −.109*−.058
−10– 10 −.176*** −.135** −.140** −.063
Power ladder 1– 8 −.076†−.112*−.007 −.025
***p < .001; **p < .01; *p < .05; †p < .10
Table 1. (Continued)
18 Beattie et al.
was found to be higher among supporters of representative democracy in China. Cognitive reflection,
found to be higher among U.S. liberals, was found to be higher among supporters of CCP rule and
greater state economic intervention in China. SDO, higher among U.S. conservatives, was found to
be higher among those favoring free markets and competitive elections in China. What can account
for these relationships?
One potential factor is the arbitrariness or indeterminacy of the links between psychological
needs and political commitments that arise from varying interpretations of key concepts and expec-
tations about the results of different policies. If “equality” is conceived according to the liberal right,
it is a matter of flattening hierarchies in political voice or influence; but conceived according to the
conservative left, it is a matter of flattening hierarchies of economic power and wealth. One who be-
lieves that “free markets” lead to greater economic equality may be attracted to ideological positions
the opposite of those who believe that they lead to greater inequality in wealth and income— even if
both have similar psychological needs and motivations. However, differences of this sort in expec-
tations and interpretations are hardly unique to China and cannot fully account for the unexpected
relationships found here.
Dogmatism correlating with liberal- right ideology was perhaps our most counterintuitive find-
ing: Why would an unshakeable certainty in one’s beliefs not be more common among those whose
ideology hews closely to the official line of a one- party state? One possibility is that much of the
content of liberal- right ideology in China is the mainstream, dominant position in most of the world:
free- market capitalist democracy. In China, one can find support for the content of conservative-
left ideology in the media and schools; but one can also find support for the content of liberal- right
ideology in those same domestic institutions and, in addition, in most of the rest of the outside
world. Hence from a global perspective, those higher in dogmatism would find far greater support
for liberal- right ideology than its opposite, making it a more attractive refuge for those desiring a
certainty in their beliefs that only international majority support can provide. Dogmatic individuals
would find domestic support for conservative- left ideology, but outside of China, its contents are
widely considered anachronistic, holdovers from before the “end of history,” swimming against the
This may also explain the unexpected result of cognitive reflection being higher on the conser-
vative left. For those inclined toward quick, effortless judgment, aligning oneself with the position
of a sizeable portion of the domestic elite and the overwhelmingly dominant position in most of
the world outside of China may be an easy, “no- brainer” judgment. For those higher in cognitive
reflection, an initial inclination to align oneself with a global majority (and a considerable portion of
the ruling party) may be overruled by other considerations. For instance, one might view the Great
Leap Forward famine as conclusive proof that the structure of government in China is irredeem-
ably flawed, possibly even evil— an intuitive, quick, and evidence- based judgment, inclining one
toward the liberal right. But when comparing excess mortality in communist China versus capitalist-
democracy India, Drèze and Sen (1989) conclude that “despite the gigantic size of excess mortality
in the Chinese famine, the extra mortality in India from regular deprivation in normal times vastly
overshadows the former … India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every
eight years than China put there in its years of shame” (pp. 214– 215). This sort of counterintuitive
judgment requires greater cognitive reflection (and information), and this may be behind the unex-
pectedly higher average cognitive reflection on the conservative left.
From this perspective, a greater social dominance orientation on the liberal right in China begins
to make more sense. As in Western countries, where SDO correlates with conservative or right- wing
ideology, those in China with a greater preference for hierarchy and inequality may see in capitalist
democracy an opportunity to insert themselves in their rightful place at the top of the pecking order.
Currently stymied by a political- economic system in which the state still occupies the commanding
heights, bank credit is disproportionately available to state- owned enterprises, and the CCP exercises
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
oversight over private enterprises, a “liberal right” turn in governance may be seen as a way to climb
the social hierarchy by amassing wealth. Looking at the United States, for instance— with Senator
Dick Durbin describing the relationship between big banks and Capitol Hill bluntly: “they frankly
own the place” (Ciara Torres- Spelliscy, 2009)— those in China who are high in SDO may see in lib-
eral right ideology an opportunity to translate their economic power into political power.
These interpretations are preliminary and tentative. Further research is needed to uncover pre-
cisely which ideological elements meet which psychological needs— particularly for smaller ideo-
logical subgroups under the broad conservative left- liberal right umbrella. Not all liberal intellectuals
in China have undergone a “Trumpian metamorphosis” (Lin, 2021), seeing in the U.S. populist right
a champion of liberalism; others take a position similar to U.S. liberals. Likewise, the New Left
or neo- Maoists would likely have a different psychological profile from nationalists, who would
both be included in the broad conservative- left category. Neo- Confucians may have a psychological
profile more similar to conservatives/rightists in the West, with existential and relational motives
drawing them to their stance on social/cultural issues. Smaller ideological subgroups have also been
understudied in Western research.
In stark contrast with research in Western countries, where social ideology is generally more
strongly linked with psychological traits than economic ideology, in China splits on social/cultural
issues were in most cases unassociated with psychological asymmetries. Instead, economic and po-
litical (or political- economic) ideology evinced stronger links. There are clear elective affinities in
China, but these cluster around issues of political economy: the proper role of the state in the eco-
nomic system (intervention versus a free market) and the way government should be structured
(party leadership versus competitive elections). This could be due to the CPC having overlooked rel-
evant social/cultural issues, faster “turnover” regarding which social/cultural issues are hotly debated
compared with political/economic issues, or simply that such issues do not comprise a significant
part of China’s contemporary political debates. Perhaps Western countries should be viewed as the
outliers, with moral/religious concerns over homosexuality and abortion and cultural/economic con-
cerns over immigration forming an outsized part of political debate, and attracting public attention
due to their resonance with psychological characteristics.
Overall, the characterization of the psychological left- right divide as consisting of traits in-
clining people toward desiring change and equality versus tradition and hierarchy looks relevant
in China, albeit largely in reverse. That is, the liberal right in China mostly evinces traits of the
psychological left in Western countries, inclining them toward desiring change toward open and
competitive political elections and economic markets, which are believed to lead to political and
economic equality. The conservative left mostly evinces traits of the psychological right in Western
countries, inclining them toward desiring the tradition of CCP leadership and political authority,
endorsing the political hierarchy this entails. At the same time, they are not inclined toward social
dominance and they desire greater economic equality, a goal toward which they entrust the govern-
ment with leadership. The results may also fit with the protection versus freedom dichotomy, with
the conservative left finding needs for protection met by supporting the existing government and a
strong social safety net, and the liberal right’s need for freedom met by endorsing greater political
liberty and freer markets.
However, since the freedom versus protection conceptualization relies on right- wing social po-
sitions matching with left- wing economic positions, the present results lend greater support to the
equality/change versus hierarchy/stasis conceptualization of elective affinities. Alternatively, per-
haps in China “political” issues are the equivalent of “social” issues in the West; that is, debates over
whether China should be governed through multiparty elections or the Communist Party meet the
same range of psychological needs as debates over immigration and gay rights do in Western coun-
tries. (Relationships between psychological traits and “political” ideology were generally stronger
than economic ideology.)
20 Beattie et al.
It should be noted that our use of a long, omnibus survey was required to test a wide range of
trait- ideology correlations, but the attention required for such a long survey may have added to sta-
tistical noise. Shorter surveys covering a narrower range of psychological traits may provide more
accurate results. Likewise, narrower surveys can use longer versions of individual scales, providing
more faithful comparability with prior research. While the present research provides evidence that
elective affinities exist in the Chinese context, there is still a long way to go in building a theory of
ideology as motivated social cognition in China. The present evidence is suggestive, but much more
research is needed to trace how entire ideological packages (from the broad categorization used here,
to minority ideological groupings from neo- Maoism to pro- Trump liberalism) meet sets of psycho-
logical needs. Additionally, participants may have felt uncomfortable giving their true responses
to politically charged questions, particularly in the context of China, even with survey anonymity
and the bogus pipeline manipulation. Lastly, the survey company’s software did not allow for the
randomization of survey components (as opposed to items within a scale); hence order effects may
have affected results.
Elective affinities, and the theory of ideology as motivated social cognition, looks to be on an
incrementally sounder footing. That several relationships between psychological traits and political
ideology were found in a radically different political- economic and cultural context from those of the
West indicates that such elective affinities may be universal, although appearing in combinations that
vary by culture and political- economic context. In other words, psychological traits— which on their
face would seem to have nothing to do with ideology— are nonetheless related to ideology in radi-
cally different political and cultural contexts. These elective affinities are important to understand,
as they promise to illuminate precisely how psychological traits give rise to inclinations and desires
that can be met by the varying political beliefs or opinions on offer in different information ecologies.
This is of intrinsic interest, but it may have practical applications as well: Political messaging that
takes into account psychological traits of opposed ideological groups may prove more effective than
traditional approaches (e.g., Lammers & Baldwin, 2018; Wolsko, Ariceaga, & Seiden, 2016). Further
research, particularly in diverse contexts, is due.
This research was funded by a generous grant from The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Faculty of Social Science (Direct Grant for Research #4051085). The authors would like to thank
Prof. Chi- yue Chiu for his assistance. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Peter Beattie, Faculty of Social Science, 516A Chen Kou Bun Building, The Chinese University of
Hong Kong, Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong SAR. E- mail: email@example.com
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Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
P7(r) .528 −.358 −.445
E2(r) .515 −.379
P9(r) .501 .428
P3(r) .493 −.411
E10(r) .488 .337
P6(r) .484 −.388
P2(r) .481 −.337
P5(r) .481 .343
E8(r) .431 .307 −.312
C3 −.372 .317 .315
C1 .587 −.323
P4 .499 −.325 .348
C2(r) −.478 .396 .333
E7 .411 .303
C4 .408 −.347 −.376
E3(r) −.339 .498
P1(r) .328 −.473 .326 .358
E1(r) −.391 .439
P8 .504 .364
C5(r) .390 −.337 −.419 .302
E9 .376 −.406
Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis.
aEight components extracted. (r) indicates reverse scoring.
E4(R) If pork prices are too high, the government should intervene. .543
P7(R) Both primary and secondary- school students or college students should participate in
military training arranged by the state. .528
E2(R) Those areas that are related to national security and other important national and people’s
livelihood must be controlled by state- owned enterprises. .515
P9(R) Once China has fully caught up with the West, private ownership should be reduced, and
we should focus on providing education and medical services to everyone. .501
P3(R) The Western countries headed by the United States cannot truly allow China to rise to
become a rst- class power. .493
E10(R) The minimum wage should be prescribed by the state. .488
P6(R) The state should take measures to train and support sports athletes to win glory for the
country in various international competitions. .484
P2(R) If the country’s comprehensive strength permits, then China has the right to take any
action to protect its own interests. .481
P5(R) Even if the market tends to use coal and oil as energy, the government should intervene to
implement wind and solar. .481
26 Beattie et al.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
P7(r) .528 -.358 -.445
E2(r) .515 -.379
P9(r) .501 .428
P3(r) .493 -.411
E10(r) .488 .337
P6(r) .484 -.388
P2(r) .481 -.337
P5(r) .481 .343
E8(r) .431 .307 -.312
C3 -.372 .317 .315
C1 .587 -.323
P4 .499 -.325 .348
C2(r) -.478 .396 .333
E7 .411 .303
C4 .408 -.347 -.376
E3(r) -.339 .498
P1(r) .328 -.473 .326 .358
E1(r) -.391 .439
P8 .504 .364
C5(r) .390 -.337 -.419 .302
E9 .376 -.406
Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis.
a. 8 components extracted. (r) indicates reverse scoring
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
E8(R) Education should be as public as possible. .431
C3 The fundamental criterion for judging the value of a work of art is to see if it is loved by the
P1(R) The state is obliged to provide foreign aid. .328
C5(R) Chinese traditional medicine has a higher concept of human health than modern main-
stream medicine. .390
P10 Chinese citizens should be allowed to have foreign nationality at the same time. .602
C1 The Eight Diagrams (Bagua) in the Book of Changes (Zhouyi) can explain many things well.
E6 Private individuals should be able to own and trade land. .536
E5 Instead of letting state- owned enterprises lose money, it is better to resell them to capitalists.
P4 It is better to recruit students from independent examinations than the national unied exam-
C2(R) Chinese characters do not need to be articially simplied. −.478
E7 Foreign capital in China should enjoy the same treatment as national capital. .411
C4 If it is voluntary, I will recognize that my child has a relationship with the same sex. .408
E3(R) The process of capital accumulation is always accompanied by the harm to the interests of
ordinary working people. −.339
E1(R) People who make money from working capital don’t contribute to society more than peo-
ple who make money from labor. −.391
E9 Attempts to control real- estate prices can undermine economic development. .376
28 Beattie et al.
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
Mean scores, t tests of mean differences between left- most half and right- most half of participants
Side 0– 4
0 Political 1
0 − Equality 1
Mean 3.60 4.11 3.78 3.59 3.63 .188 .70 3.36 6.20 6.03 .37 .33
SD .544 .729 .756 .796 .799 .525 .457 1.00 2.41 2.30 .483 .471
left mean 3.62 4.18* 3.91*** 3.70** 3.72** .121** .72 3.35 6.24 6.24* .43** .27**
right mean 3.58 4.02* 3.61*** 3.46** 3.52** .266** .69 3.37 6.16 5.80* .30** .40**
t(507) 0.68 2.59 4.55 3.44 2.82 −3.14 −0.64 −0.22 0.39 2.17 3.12 −3.04
1– 5 SJT 1– 9
Mean 3.02 3.49 3.66 2.85 3.44 5.95 3.68 2.41 7.09 7.80 6.74 6.56
SD .848 .714 .800 .791 .814 1.33 2.24 1.85 2.01 1.71 1.97 2.07
left mean 3.02 3.58** 3.82*** 2.86 3.47 6.15*** 3.89* 2.23* 7.20 8.05*** 6.60†6.38*
right mean 3.02 3.39** 3.48*** 2.83 3.40 5.70*** 3.43* 2.63* 6.95 7.51*** 6.90†6.77*
t(507) −0.07 3.13 4.94 0.42 0.96 3.83 2.33 −2.47 1.41 3.63 −1.72 −2.11
1– 7 PNS 1– 6 SDO 1– 7
0 Tight 1
Mean 7.73 7.60 8.04 7.60 7.40 8.50 −.610 .824 3.66 4.27 3.05 .39
SD 1.63 1.81 1.59 1.70 1.82 1.56 1.66 1.61 .639 .624 .672 .489
left mean 7.90* 7.94*** 8.39*** 7.92*** 7.58* 8.84*** −.928*** 1.189*** 3.63 4.39*** 2.93*** .38
right mean 7.54* 7.20*** 7.63*** 7.22*** 7.19* 8.10*** −.269*** .434*** 3.69 4.14*** 3.20*** .41
t(507) 2.49 4.64 5.43 4.74 2.43 5.52 −4.56 5.45 −1.05 4.63 −4.53 −0.67
Mean 3.67 2.57 4.06 3.20 3.73 4.29 4.09 2.43 8.97 8.39 8.02 .122 4.70
SD .629 .479 .978 .968 .763 .671 .547 1.20 2.15 2.23 1.79 1.43 1.35
left mean 3.69 2.60†3.93** 3.05*** 3.75 4.33 4.13†2.49 8.85 8.41 8.15†.297** 4.77
3.65 2.53†4.21** 3.37*** 3.71 4.25 4.04†2.36 9.12 8.36 7.88†−.082** 4.60
t(507) 0.87 1.74 −3.26 −3.79 0.60 1.39 1.90 1.23 −1.40 0.25 1.71 3.06 1.41
*** p<.001; **p<.01; *p<.05; †p<.10.
30 Beattie et al.
Summary of multiple regression analyses for categories of variables predicting ideology
questions Moral foundations
B SE B βB SE B βB SE B Β
Age −.000 .001 −.004 Learn other
−.006 .037 −.007 Care .043 .031 .067
Female −.010 .032 −.014 Understand
.013 .020 .037 Fairness −.006 .028 −.013
Income .007 .005 .076 Political
.002 .010 .013 Loyalty −.072 .026 −.155**
Education .001 .013 .004 News media
−.028 .010 −.182** Authority −.051 .024 −.116*
Job status −.001 .016 −.004 “Equality”
.144 .032 .197*** Purity −.017 .026 −.038
.152 .032 .204***
R2 (Adj. R2) .006 (−.004) .100 (.089) .063 (.054)
F.642 9.292*** 6.770***
***p≤.001; **p≤.01; *p≤05; †p≤.10.
Personality Schwartz values Epistemic traits
Openness −.011 .019 −.025 Security −.029 .012 −.129* Dogmatism −.006 .026 −.010
Neuroticism −.018 .020 −.039 Tradition −.029 .012 −.138* Need for
−.116 .030 −.205***
Agreeableness −.044 .022 −.090* Conformity −.002 .010 −.011 Need for
−.035 .021 −.076†
Extraversion .019 .019 .046 Power −.005 .009 −.026 Need for
−.014 .038 −.022
Conscientiousness −.107 .021 −.243*** Achievement −.020 .012 −.094 Cognitive
−.015 .007 −.098*
Hedonism .006 .009 .034 BS receptivity −.030 .025 −.054
Stimulation .028 .009 .166** Int. of
−.037 .027 −.071
Self- direction .003 .012 .015
Universalism −.024 .011 −.124*
Benevolence −.002 .015 −.010
R2 (Adj. R2) .082 (.073) .135 (.118) .087 (.074)
F8.947*** 7.783*** 6.793***
***p≤.001; **p≤.01; *p≤05; †p≤.10.
Psychological Correlates of Ideology in China
Existential traits Relational traits Consumer preferences
B SE B βB SE B βB SE B Β
−.057 .012 −.216*** Cohesiveness .001 .031 .001 Try new
−.006 .026 −.010
Authoritarianism −.091 .034 −.124** Power ladder −.024 .011 −.093* Domestic—
−.116 .030 −.205***
Death anxiety −.006 .013 −.022 SDO .075 .025 .142**
.022 .009 .133* Avoidant attach. .048 .019 .131*
−.006 .008 −.037 Anxious attach. .009 .018 .025
R2 (Adj. R2) .083 (.074) .061 (.051) .042 (.038)
F9.159*** 6.513*** 10.955***
***p≤.001; **p≤.01; *p≤05; †p≤.10.
Summary of multiple regression analysis for all variables predicting ideology (N=508)
B SE B Β
Age .000 .001 −.005
Female −.033 .030 −.047
Income .002 .004 .026
Education .006 .012 .026
Job status .011 .015 .034
Learn other side: yes −.019 .035 −.025
Understand other side −.015 .019 −.044
Political interest .005 .010 .033
News media use −.013 .009 −.086
“Equality” means political .135 .030 .185***
Free market means greater equality .125 .032 .167***
Care .012 .031 .018
Fairness .040 .029 .083
Loyalty −.038 .025 −.079
Authority −.025 .023 −.057
Purity −.035 .025 −.079
Openness −.026 .020 −.060
Neuroticism −.003 .021 −.006
Agreeableness −.020 .022 −.040
Extraversion .026 .019 .063
Conscientiousness −.059 .022 −.134**
Security −.002 .024 −.007
Tradition −.022 .012 −.104†
Conformity .001 .010 .006
Power −.001 .009 −.007
Achievement −.003 .012 −.015
Hedonism −.006 .009 −.031
Stimulation .021 .010 .124*
Self- direction −.004 .012 −.019
Universalism −.017 .011 −.089
Benevolence .008 .015 .035
Dogmatism .008 .027 .014
Need for structure −.055 .031 −.098†
Need for cognition .019 .022 .041
32 Beattie et al.
B SE B Β
Need for closure −.002 .037 −.004
Cognitive reflection −.008 .007 −.048
BS receptivity −.002 .024 −.003
Int. of ambiguity .020 .028 .039
System justification −.053 .013 −.201***
Authoritarianism −.075 .037 −.101*
Death anxiety −.013 .013 −.045
Disgust sensitivity .020 .008 .122*
Threat sensitivity −.005 .008 −.030
Cohesiveness .019 .029 .026
Power ladder −.030 .011 −.115**
SDO .009 .027 .018
Avoidant attach. .006 .019 .017
Anxious attach. .023 .019 .062
Try new brands .009 .010 .048
Domestic— foreign brand preference −.010 .011 −.041
R2 (Adj. R2) .338 (.266)
***p≤.001; **p≤.01; *p≤05; †p≤.10.