UNCG Campus Weekly

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Ethan Zell’s study shows young adults overestimate conservatism – they’re more liberal than they think

Portrait of Dr. Ethan ZellYoung adults tend to be more liberal than they think they are, according to a new study by a UNCG researcher that’s getting national attention.

Dr. Ethan Zell (Psychology) co-authored the study with Dr. Michael Bernstein (Pennsylvania State University-Abington). Zell and Bernstein based their results on three separate surveys of college students and other adults under 30, and published the study in the journal “Social Psychological and Personality Science.”

Across the board subjects underestimated their liberal leanings with the exception of those who considered themselves liberal democrats. The gap between self-perception and reality was more pronounced among those who considered themselves conservative.

While Zell can’t be certain of why this trend exists, he and Bernstein speculate that there may be a difference in psychology among conservative and liberal thinkers.

“Conservatives may value loyalty more than liberals, including loyalty to a political party,” he says. “They may want to see themselves as fitting into a particular group more than they really do. We’re not trying to make either group look better or worse, or to make any judgments.”

The researchers plan to continue their research with a sample of older adults, but the initial study, which has been picked up by Salon.com and Pacific Standard, has important implications for young voters.

“If their perception of themselves is wrong they may be voting for the wrong person, or at least voting for people who don’t match their views,” Zell says.

Full story at UNCG Now.

By Michelle Hines.