Fear and aggression
Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
Need for cognitive closure
These are the characteristics which the Berkeley study on conservatives found were consistent among the people they studied. Guess what? They are consistent across all people.
This study was fundamentally flawed in two ways.
One, the study labeled as conservative anyone who the liberals did not like. Their “conservatives” include
Adolf Hitler (a national socialist)
Benito Mussolini (a socialist)
Ronald Reagan (a conservative republican)
Rush Limbaugh (a conservative republican)
Fidel Castro (a Marxist communist, which is a form of socialism)
Joseph Stalin (a Marxist communist)
You cannot simply decide that the people you don't like should be labeled as anything other than “the people we don't like.” This is a major flaw in the study.
Since academia is primarily a liberal group, however, I do not expect to see many rebuttals in the academic presses.
A second flaw with the study has already been mentioned. The five characteristics of conservatives. What they really are is five characteristics of people across national, cultural, and time boundaries.
Terror management: This was when, as a child, we were taught to hide under our desks from tornadoes. We would be as well-protected as we could be in school and we had the feeling that adults knew what to do. This is terror management. Turning on a night light for your two year old is terror management. Finding out from a friend if the girl will accept a date with you if you ask her is terror management. Using statistics to console yourself over a loved one's illness is terror management.
Need for closure: This is the reason we have funerals, wakes, burials. People need to say good-bye to the person they loved and realize they are gone. It is one of the main reason for open-coffin funerals in the US. It is the reason morticians make a lot of money for dressing and putting make-up on the departed. It is also the reason books say “The End.” And the reason that we have official divorces, even though you can have common law marriages.
Uncertainty avoidance: This is the reason we have contracts. Yes, I know what you said and you know what you said and we both know what I said, but we need a piece of paper which makes those things clear so that we can avoid uncertainty later on down the road. Ah-hah! Anyone who has signed a contract, including those four liberal scholars, are conservatives. It is the reason people write down formal job offers, so you will know you are really being offered the job. It's the reason why your child may ask you a hundred times, “Are we really going to go to Astroworld?”
Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity: Okay. Dogmatism is one thing and intolerance of ambiguity is another. However, since the researchers themselves lumped them together, I can deal with one and the other will be knocked out. So, intolerance of ambiguity means that we want to know what you mean. That was the whole point of writing their research. They wrote it because they wanted to show “unambiguously” the character traits of conservatives. Intolerance of ambiguity is why people expect a yes or no answer to a yes or no question. If one of those professors has a student who writes a paper and tells the professor what is in the people but doesn't turn it in, that student will not get an A because the idea of the paper was good. The professors will not tolerate the ambiguity of the possibility that the paper wasn't really written. It is also the reason they sent out press releases to explain what their research said. They didn't want their study findings to be ambiguous to non-academics.
Fear and aggression: Here we go again, lumping two things together that don't go together. If this had been a conservative paper, the study would not even have been published. Who has never felt fear? Fear of failing, whether your doctoral defense or your first spelling test or your role as parent. If your wife is dying and you feel fear, does this make you a conservative? If you are afraid of heights or spiders or public speaking, are you a conservative? By this definition, that conservatives are those who have fear, the entire world is conservative. If that's true, these four academics ought to relax. They're on the same side as Hitler and Mussolini.
These two flaws with the study are real, relevant, and debilitating. The study is inaccurate because what it purports to study is not, in fact, what it does study. Therefore, any conclusions which the study draws are faulty and have as much likelihood of being right as a dart thrown by a first time dart player.