Previous research revealed that cognitive abilities are negatively related to right-wing and prejudiced attitudes. No study has, however, investigated if emotional abilities also show such a relationship, although this can be expected based on both classic and recent literature. The aim of the present study was 2-fold:
(a) to investigate the relationship between emotional abilities and right-wing and prejudiced attitudes, and
(b) to pit the effects of emotional and cognitive abilities on these attitudes against each other.
Results from 2 adult samples (n = 409 and 574) in which abilities scores were collected in individual testing sessions, revealed that emotional abilities are significantly and negatively related to social-cultural and economic-hierarchical right-wing attitudes, as well as to blatant ethnic prejudice. These relationships were as strong as those found for cognitive abilities. For economic-hierarchical right-wing attitudes, emotional abilities were even the only significant correlate.
The authors concluded that the study of emotional abilities has the potential to significantly advance our understanding of right-wing and prejudiced attitudes.
The researchers found that individuals with weaker emotional abilities — particularly emotional understanding and management — tended to score higher on a measure of right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation. Right-wing authoritarianism is a personality trait that describes the tendency to submit to political authority and be hostile towards other groups, while social dominance orientation is a measure of a person’s preference for inequality among social groups.
The results of this study were univocal. People who endorse authority and strong leaders and who do not mind inequality — the two basic dimensions underlying right-wing political ideology — show lower levels of emotional abilities,” said Van Hiel, the lead author of the study. “Those with lower emotional and cognitive abilities were also more likely to agree with blatantly prejudiced statements such as “The White race is superior to all other races.”
Of course, the study only collected correlational data, preventing inferences of causality from being made. “Caution should be exercised in the interpretation of such results,” Van Hiel said. “One cannot discredit any ideology on the basis of such results as those presently obtained. Only in a distant future, we will be able to look back upon our times, and then we can maybe judge which ideologies were the best. Cognitively and emotionally smart people can make wrong decisions as well. The results have been obtained in one particular context. Would similar results be obtained in other contexts besides in a Western country with a long-standing stable democracy? Whether these tendencies are universal, or limited to particular contexts, is very intriguing.”