Accordiing to Diply,

Researchers in Belgium have linked a lack of emotional intelligence with right-wing political views, reports PsyPost. The study, published in Emotion, found that those who lack the ability to understand and manage emotions are more likely to have right-wing and prejudiced attitudes.

The referenced PsyPost article says:

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.

I can only see the abstract of the study itself:

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. It is therefore concluded that the study of emotional abilities has the potential to significantly advance our understanding of right-wing and prejudiced attitudes.

The first line of the abstract seems to take it for granted that cognitive abilities are negatively related to right-wing and prejudiced attitudes, and then they go on from there. I see the accepted answer to Are liberal/left-wing people more intelligent than conservative/right-wing people? indicates otherwise.

I'm struggling to understand if the link to emotional intelligence still applies, considering that the negative link to cognitive abilities may not.

  • 7
    Comments deleted. Sorry, but we don't care about your political opinions..
    – Oddthinking
    Sep 13, 2019 at 9:07
  • 4
    If you want to chat about politics. take it to chat. If you want complain that political comments are deleted take it to meta. If you want to know what definitions the researchers have used and why the researchers have used apparently controversial ones, please either read the answers, or read the original papers and write an answer addressing the question and putting the answer in context for others.
    – Oddthinking
    Sep 13, 2019 at 16:45
  • 1
    Has anyone considered that it might have nothing at all to do with right-wing views? I.e. perhaps highly emotional people tend to be attracted to idealistic left-wing presentations of helping the underprivileged and those that can't stand up for themselves. And that simply means that those people that support the right tend to be the ones left over after the emotional people have gone to the left. Oct 1, 2019 at 0:18

3 Answers 3


The short answer

The study in question (Van Hiel et al. 2019) has been published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal. It presents empirical support for the hypothesis that emotional abilities negatively correlate with right-wing attitudes. This answers the question in the title.

The question body also asks about the link between cognitive abilities and right-wing attitudes. This link is assumed by Van Hiel et al. (2019) on the basis of a meta-analysis by Onraet et al (2015), also published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal. The meta-analysis finds significant small-to-medium evidence for a negative relation between cognitive abilities and right-wing attitudes.

The long answer

The "Belgian study" that the question mentions is "The Relationship Between Emotional Abilities and Right-Wing and Prejudiced Attitudes" by Van Hiel et al. (2019). It was published by the academic journal Emotion, one of the journals of the American Psychological Association. According to its Wikipedia article, the journal ranks 15th out of 85 journals in the category "Psychology, Experimental".

The primary reference in the study for the claim that cognitive ability is negatively related to right-wing attitudes and prejudice is the meta-analysis "The association of cognitive ability with right-wing ideological attitudes and prejudice: A meta-analytic review" by Onraet et al. (2015), https://doi.org/10.1002/per.2027, published in the European Journal of Personality. According to the Wikipedia article, this journal "ranked second of all empirical journals in the social-personality field, and first when looking at journals exclusively devoted to research on personality". The study by Onraet et al. (2015) found a medium-sized, but significant relation between cognitive ability and ideological attitudes. From their conclusion:

The present meta-analysis reveals relationships of small-to-moderate strength between (lower) cognitive ability and right-wing ideology and prejudice. These findings further enforce the call of Hodson and Busseri (2012) that "...cognitive abilities, particular in relationship to ideology, need to become increasingly focal to and integrated into existing literatures" (p. 193).

Note that the study by Hodson and Busseri (2012) is the one that the accepted answer to the other question is referencing. Effectively, the meta-analysis supports their findings that there is a link between right-wing attitudes and cognitive attitudes. Yet, note that the authors make sure to put this result into perspective: the effect size is described as "small-to moderate". In lay terms, this may be translated as "of course there are many other things affecting right-wing ideology and prejudice, but our analysis provides solid evidence that lower cognitive ability is a measurable factor".

This is the background on which Van Hiel et al. (2019) claim that

people with fewer cognitive resources are more likely to adhere to social-cultural right-wing attitudes and tend to be more prejudiced toward ethnic minority groups, whereas those higher in cognitive abilities are more likely to endorse left-wing beliefs and to be less prejudiced (Van Hiel et al. 2019: 917).

Their article investigates the question whether emotional abilities are also aligned with ideological attitudes. Their first study (N=409) relates the results from standardized tests of emotional abilities and the results from different tests that elicit right-wing and prejudiced attitudes. They find that individuals scoring low on emotional abilities were significantly higher in on the scores indicating increasing right-wing attitudes, even if controlling for age, sex, and education.

Their second study (N=574) additionally incorporates tests of cognitive abilities. The results appear to agree with the results from their first study. Their analyses reveal that

both emotional and cognitive abilities were significant predictors of RWA [=right-wing authoritarianism] and blatant prejudice. For SDO [=social dominance orientation], emotional abilities were the only significant, unique predictor, whereas for subtle prejudice only cognitive abilities were a significant, unique predictor (Van Hiel et al. 2019: 920).

Van Hiel et al. (2019: 920) conclude that their results

corroborate the hypothesis that people with lower emotional abilities are more likely to be found at the right-wing side of the ideological spectrum, whereas those having higher emotional abilities are more likely to endorse left-wing beliefs. Second, compared to cognitive abilities, emotional abilities are an at least equally potent correlate of such attitudes. […] Finally, emotional abilities, but not cognitive abilities, were related to economic-hierarchical right-wing attitudes.

As good scientific publications should, the authors point out some limitations of their study. For instance, they emphasize that their study is a cross-sectional study that yields correlational data, which forbids making inferences of causality. They propose that future longitudinal studies or experimental studies should address this. Also, they found the effect of emotion recognition to be weaker in their second study, thus calling for replication studies.

So, to summarize: There is little reason to doubt that the studies (Van Hiel et al. 2019, Onraet et al. 2015) meet the current standards of personality research as they are published in reputable academic journals relevant to the field. The newer study finds a negative link between emotional abilities and right-wing attitudes, and it confirms the negative link between cognitive abilities and right-wing attitudes that is reviewed in the older meta-analysis.

It should be noted that the authors of neither study present their findings in a sensational form. Effect strengths and limitations of the studies are dutifully noted in the text. Nowhere do they argue that their findings should be considered in any regard as a categorical distinction between adherents of left-wing and right-wing attitudes. Clearly, the take-away message is that emotional and cognitive abilities are linked to traits that are associated with the right-wing political spectrum. But the studies do not allow any argument along the lines that a member of the right-wing spectrum has to be emotionally or cognitively deficient, whereas a member of the left-wing spectrum is bound to excel in emotional and cognitive tasks.

  • 4
    I found your answer easier to understand than @Fizz's. I'm tired. Maybe I need to come back tomorrow and read them both again. Sep 11, 2019 at 14:41
  • 8
    @JeromeViveiros: yes, Schmuddi has better explained a number of aspects for non-specialists . Sep 11, 2019 at 14:48
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    I don't know if the actual study does this, but this answer seems to use right wing and right wing authoritarianism interchangeably.
    – horns
    Sep 11, 2019 at 19:40
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    @horns: Right-wing authoritarianism is considered by Van Hiel et al. (2019) to be one facet of right-wing attitudes, among other facets. I tried to stay as close to this usage in my answer as possible. Can you point out where you have the impression that I confused the terms? I'd go back to the study and check if I misrepresent them in my paraphrases.
    – Schmuddi
    Sep 11, 2019 at 19:46
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    I would argue that "right-wing and prejudiced attitudes" (from the abstract) is "[presenting] their findings in a sensational form" (disclaimer: I didn't read the full study). Who is to say that right wing and prejudiced attitudes are part of the same category?
    – JBentley
    Sep 12, 2019 at 18:52

Here are the relevant paragraphs from the intro to the paywalled paper justifying the first line of the abstract:

Over the years however, it has been acknowledged that right-wing authoritarianism is only one indicator of right-wing attitudes and that such attitudes can be arranged according to two broad dimensions (see, Duckitt & Sibley, 2009; Lipset, 1981). The first dimension—social-cultural attitudes—relates to traditionalism at one pole, versus openness, autonomy, and personal freedom at the other pole. The second dimension— economic hierarchical attitudes—relates to belief in hierarchy and inequality at one pole versus egalitarianism, humanitarianism, and concern with social welfare at the other pole. Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO) are the most commonly used concepts that represent the first and second dimension, respectively. Although these two right-wing dimensions are often correlated, they are based on separate motivational schemas and values (Duckitt & Sibley, 2009; Duriez & Van Hiel, 2002).

Many studies have focused on the psychological bases of right-wing attitudes and prejudice. A recent meta-analysis demonstrated that people with fewer cognitive resources are more likely to adhere to social-cultural right-wing attitudes and tend to be more prejudiced toward ethnic minority groups, whereas those higher in cognitive abilities are more likely to endorse left-wing beliefs and to be less prejudiced (Onraet et al., 2015). In one of the included studies in this meta-analysis, intelligence measured at age 10 even predicted prejudice 20 years later (Deary, Batty, & Gale, 2008; see also Hodson & Busseri, 2012). Interestingly, cognitive abilities primarily relate to the social-cultural dimension of right-wing attitudes, whereas its relationship with economic hierarchical right-wing attitudes is much weaker and even nonsignificant (Choma, Hodson, Hoffarth, Charlesford, & Hafer, 2014; Onraet et al., 2015).

The full text of the meta-analysis of Onraet et al. is freely available on researchgate, so hopefully you can take it from there. Abstract:

The cognitive functioning of individuals with stronger endorsement of right-wing and prejudiced attitudes has elicited much scholarly interest. Whereas many studies investigated cognitive styles, less attention has been directed towards cognitive ability. Studies investigating the latter topic generally reveal lower cognitive ability to be associated with stronger endorsement of right-wing ideological attitudes and greater prejudice. However, this relationship has remained widely unrecognized in literature. The present meta-analyses revealed an average effect size of r =-.20 [95% confidence interval (95% CI) [-0.23, -0.17]; based on 67 studies, N=84,017] for the relationship between cognitive ability and right-wing ideological attitudes and an average effect size of r=-.19 (95% CI [-0.23, -0.16]; based on 23 studies, N=27,011) for the relationship between cognitive ability and prejudice. Effect sizes did not vary significantly across different cognitive abilities and sample characteristics. The effect strongly depended on the measure used for ideological attitudes and prejudice, with the strongest effect sizes for authoritarianism and ethnocentrism.

If I may comment, it's not a strong correlation, but it is there. They even include the relevant discussion in the paper:

For the statistical meta-analyses, we used the software COMPREHENSIVE META-ANALYSIS version 2.2 (Borenstein et al., 2005) in combination with metafor, a meta-analysis package for R (Viechtbauer, 2010). We applied a random effects model to compute the overall effects, because we assumed that effect sizes would vary across studies. Random-effects models produce results that can be generalized to future studies with different designs (Hedges & Vevea, 1998). First, Fisher-Z coefficients were calculated based on the Pearson correlations to permit an unbiased comparison of effect sizes. Second, we computed mean weighted effect sizes and 95% CIs around the point estimate of the combined estimates. Next, for interpretation convenience, the effect size estimates were transformed back to correlations. According to Cohen (1988), effect sizes (rs) of .10 are considered small effects, .30 are considered moderate effects and .50 are considered large effects. Based on an analysis of meta-analysis in psychological research, Hemphill (2003) recommended interpreting effect sizes of .10, .20 and .30 as small, moderate and large effects, respectively, to better reflect effect sizes in psychology per se.

And since someone mentioned this in comments, they also conducted an analysis of publication bias (see table 4 in paper and related discussion):

the PEESE results can be regarded as the best estimates of the effect sizes corrected for publication bias (Carter & McCullough, 2014; Stanley & Doucouliagos, 2014). Notably, these PEESE estimates provide a somewhat less negative effect between cognitive ability and right-wing ideological attitudes (r =-.15) and between cognitive ability and authoritarianism (r =-.23). All other PEESE estimates resemble the original estimates.

If there is something that makes me doubt the universality of these findings, it is that most psychology studies tend to have a narrow range of respondents (the low-hanging fruit of undergraduate or graduate students). The Onraet et al. meta-analysis seems to escape that somewhat in that they seem to have a healthy dose of adults (defined also as 27+ y.o.) in the sample. It's not clear how far up in age the sample went, beyond that. The location was (predictably) mostly the "Western world", actually there's a heavy emphasis in the sample on US/Canada. Both of these issue can be noted in the moderator table (which is also probably interesting for other aspects, so I've included all of it below.)

enter image description here

And as sort of check further afield on the sanity of these findings... cognitive evaluations (IQ in particular) correlate fairly well with the level of formal education attained (that's one of the few things that critics and supporters of IQ testing don't disagree on). And since it's easier to inquire about formal education than it is to subject people to more detailed cognitive testing, it turns out there is a world-wide study by Hans Geser correlating formal education with the left-right political orientation, based on the widely used World Values Survey, which has a large sample (at least 1,200 respondents per each country included--note that in order to get representative aggregate multi-country results, the per-country samples need to weighted by the total population of each country.)

The results of this are somewhat more mixed and vary by country group (which is more or less geographical in this study, but they also use a linguistic/cultural grouping).

enter image description here

The more surprising finding here (to me) is that there was no clear pattern in the "Anglo Saxon" group, but there was one (in the direction confirming Onraet's meta-analysis) in Western Europe. Alas the Anglo Saxon group (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, United States) was not further broken down in this paper, which would be interesting.

Less surprisingly, for the post-communist countries, which mostly buck the Western trend, it is observed/assumed that in these countries

the rightest leanings of educated strata may be explained by their particular abhorrence of former authoritarian regimes

Also, the World Values Survey has a broader focus in its political-orientation questions than the narrower ones many studies included in the Onraet meta-analysis, a lot of which focus on authoritarianism and prejudice.

Finally, I cannot offer much commentary on the Van Hiel (2019) study in itself. By its own abstract, it is the first to relate emotional intelligence to right-wing attitudes. For some numerical perspective/comparison, in the Onraet meta-analysis,

Fifty-seven studies showed negative relations, nine showed positive relations and one showed a correlation of approximately 0.

So that is a good caveat about the validity of a single study (with a small sample).

Also, the Wikipedia article on emotional intelligence details some criticism of the construct, which some people have commented/hinted about under the question here; the validity of emotional intelligence as a construct/measure would probably make a good separate question...

Since some of the criticism against emotional intelligence is that it may lack incremental validity over IQ combined with "standard" personality testing such as the Big Five... I'll note that studies linking personality with right-wing attitudes are also aplenty, including a 2008 meta-analysis by Sibley and Duckitt:

The authors reviewed and meta-analyzed 71 studies (N = 22,068 participants) investigating relationships between Big Five dimensions of personality, RWA, SDO, and prejudice. RWA was predicted by low Openness to Experience but also Conscientiousness, whereas SDO was predicted by low Agreeableness and also weakly by low Openness to Experience.

  • 1
    Nice answer – it basically renders my own answer (I needed ~20 minutes longer than you) redundant. :)
    – Schmuddi
    Sep 11, 2019 at 14:39
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    @Schmuddi I think both your answer and Fizz' complement each other well. +1 to both.
    – Dronz
    Sep 12, 2019 at 5:06
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    I'd like to see the funnel plot on this meta analysis. Social psychology has had a well-documented problem with failed replications and publication bias. Sep 13, 2019 at 16:07
  • The bar chart, figure 3, is interesting, and I think there is a simple explanation for the difference between anglo-saxon and germanic results: People with less education are more prone to appreciate authoritarian rule, while people with more education are more strongly opposed to authoritarian rule. This isn't strange. Those with less education are more likely to live under chaotic circumstances, with high crime rates etc, and are more likely to benefit from a society with more order, even if it would lead to reduced freedom. They lean towards the direction of previous authoritarian rule. Sep 16, 2019 at 16:14

I see this question is already answered, but there is an important dimension to the question you are answering which has not been addressed.

Namely: This study shows that right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), not right-wing political views, correlates with low emotional intelligence.

You should also note: This study does not examine links between left-wing authoritarianism (LWA) and emotional intelligence.

Why would Van Hiel et al. only apply a measure of right-wing authoritarianism and not a left-wing measure? Unfortunately, it is the opinion of some influential voices in the field of political psychology that LWA does not exist (Altemeyer, 1996, 1998; Jost et al., 2003; Stone, 1980).

However, in my summary of this study, I am also going to argue that LWA does exist and that the failure of the academic political science community to study it in tandem with RWA thus far has led to a popular conflation of right-wing political views and RWA. In addition, better tools exist which allow the researcher to measure overall authoritarianism that stems from either right- or left-wing beliefs, not one or the other.

What This Study Looks At

The study you are referencing, The Relationship Between Emotional Abilities and Right-Wing and Prejudiced Attitudes, by Van Hiel et al., takes a number of measures of emotional intelligence and examines their relationship with scores on 3 other scales:

The results of this study can be seen here:The Relationship Between Emotional Abilities and Right-Wing and prejudiced Attitudes

The eye-popping Diply headline you reference is clearly referring to the negative correlation between RWA and emotional intelligence. But is RWA the same as right-wing political views? According to the creator of the RWA, Bob Altmeyer, in pages 9-10 of his book The Authoritarians, it wasn't supposed to be, but rather was meant to measure one's propensity to follow the established conventions and authorities in society. However, I strongly disagree with Altmeyer. It is my opinion that the RWA scale measures one's propensity to follow the right-wing conventions and authorities in society.

Why RWA is a Poor Measure of Overall Authoritarianism

I don't have access to the 11-question scale used by Van Hiel et al., as they do not provide a copy of their scale, only referencing Altmeyer's 1981 book, Right-Wing Authoritarianism, and the only copy of it I can find is listed for over $700 on Amazon, but OpenPsychometrics lists a 22-question RWA scale, also citing Altmeyer's 1981 text, so I can assume the questions are similar. In the interest of space, I'll reproduce just 5 of the statements here. Keep in mind they are meant to be answered on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) scale:

  • Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.

  • This country would work a lot better if certain groups of
    troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group's traditional place in society.

  • Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the perversions eating away at our moral fiber and traditional beliefs.

  • The "old-fashioned ways" and the "old-fashioned values" still show the best way to live.

  • God's laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed
    before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished.

Think of the most authoritarian left-winger you know. Do you think they would strongly agree with those statements? Now think of the most authoritarian right-winger you know. To me, it seems like the RWA is measuring the authoritarian tendencies of someone who is conservative, but not the authoritarian tendencies of someone who is liberal. Some interpret studies showing that a higher score on the RWA correlates with more political conservatism to mean that conservatives are more authoritarian, but I believe they simply show that conservatives, like anyone else, are more likely to accept authoritarian statements that cater to their beliefs. However, because study after study has shown that (shocker) people who have higher RWA scores tend to be conservative, a popular conception has arisen that right-wingers are overall more authoritarian than left-wingers.

A Better Way to Measure Overall Authoritarianism

Let's assume for a minute that the RWA scale mostly measures the authoritarianism of people who are right-wing. Maybe we could put together a scale that mostly measures the authoritarianism of people who are left-wing? Thomas H. Costello and Scott O. Lilienfeld at Emory University are working on just that, and are currently developing what they call a Left-wing Authoritarianism Index. Let's go ahead and look at five of its statements, also intended to be answered on a 1-5 scale:

  • Our country desperately needs a mighty and liberal leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical traditional ways of doing things that are ruining us.
  • This country would work a lot better if certain groups of Christian troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group’s proper place in society.
  • Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the traditional beliefs eating away at our national fiber and growing progressive beliefs.
  • The "old-fashioned ways" and "old-fashioned values" need to be abolished.
  • Books that offend oppressed groups should be banned.

Try and think of any right-wing authoritarian who would strongly agree with these statements! Conway et al. have found that, when responding to a modified LWA scale, liberals scored far higher than conservatives:

enter image description here enter image description here.

Costello and Lilienfield have also posted a survey for their in-progress LWA scale online, with the following results:

enter image description here

Given that LWA can certainly be separated from RWA, researchers should be controlling for both to arrive at an overall politically-neutral authoritarianism score.

Right, that's enough digression. Let's get back to the study at hand.

Conclusions on The Relationship Between Emotional Abilities and Right-Wing and Prejudiced Attitudes

Van Hiel et al. perform a narrow investigation into whether emotional intelligence is correlated with a subtle prejudice scale, a social dominance hierarchies scale, and a right-wing authoritarianism scale. They find a weak correlation with emotional intelligence and all three scales. However, this study cannot be taken to say that left-wingers have higher emotional intelligence than right-wingers or vice-versa, because there is no control for political belief in the study or investigation into left-wing authoritarianism and emotional intelligence.

My opinion of this study, in the absence of further research, is that if the researchers controlled for political belief, they would find people who have less emotional intelligence are more likely to be authoritarian.

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