Any legislator at any level would be a political ace if they only took the time to review the data.
By: S. Christopher Michaels
The Foundation for Economic Education published an article in 2018 under the title, What Makes Someone Decide to Be a Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, or Statist? The column’s premise is that scientists have reverse-engineered personality traits to paint a surprisingly accurate picture of a person’s likely political affiliation as an adult. The piece is well-founded in research and provides an objective lens to begin a challenging discussion.
If an individual’s future political affiliation can be reasonably ascertained based on childhood personality traits, what childhood events might provide clues to determine those personality traits?
For background, an incredible study began in the 1980s in California to look at adverse childhood experiences. The research started as a public health investigation into why patients dropped out of an obesity program in a San Diego clinic. Over twenty-five years, with 17,000 participants, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) came into existence. The groundbreaking research is so revolutionary that it is available on the CDC website under violence prevention and used in many school districts across the country as professional development training for staff.
A 2019 column in Psychology Today, by Dr. Robert Weiss, offers an easily digestible explanation of how adverse childhood experiences can affect a person later in life. He referenced a 2005 study from the Department of Health and Human Services to show that such experiences made an individual more likely to:
· Smoke cigarettes (1.8x)
· Become obese (1.9x)
· Experience ongoing anxiety (2.4x)
· Experience panic reactions (2.5x)
· Be depressed (3.6x)
· Qualify as promiscuous (3.6x)
· Engage in early-life sexual encounters (6.6x)
· Become an alcoholic (7.2x)
· Became an intravenous drug user (11.1x)
The data is damning. While it may not be a life sentence, it is evident that adverse childhood experiences put individuals at risk for a myriad of concerning behaviors. What remains unclear is any possible connection to these behaviors and the development of personality traits.
Dr. Bruce Perry has committed his life’s work to study and develop the Neurosequential Model (NM) to address clinical problem-solving for children and their development. Essentially, the approach highlights the brain’s bottom-up development to help clinicians and educators adjust how they work with anyone suffering from childhood trauma. Psychologist Dr. Catherine Caplin stated in her doctoral dissertation, “there is a robust body of literature that indicates that early exposure to abuse and neglect can interrupt healthy neurodevelopment, and cause neuropsychological deficits.”
The evidence is overwhelming in its conclusions. Bad things at an early age can impact the lifelong development of an individual. However, there is no current research available to suggest how these traumatic incidents morph into personality traits. Nor is it understood how those traits might be used to predict an individual’s future political affiliation. Before going further, being the victim of childhood trauma does not suggest a person is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as an adult. Those are value judgments that are typically based on context. Furthermore, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ political affiliation. An individual’s worldview is his or her divine right. How a person develops their perspective is intriguing though.
It is also essential to know that current research on positive childhood experiences (PCEs) is underway. It is not nearly as developed in its conclusions as the original ACEs studies. The idea of PCEs is that some degree of adversity can be counteracted or overcome with enough positive experiences during childhood development.
All of this results in an inevitable ‘so what.’ The link to childhood experiences and personality traits is yet to be established. At the same time, it would be valuable to know how those experiences shape personality traits. It is especially the case when the data already links personality traits to political leaning.
Knowing how people are likely to view political and social issues would offer a forecast of future likelihoods. It would provide lawmakers an opportunity to be proactive for Americans instead of constantly working from a reactive position.
Imagine if authorities knew how citizens were likely to respond to the COVID mental health crisis? Wouldn’t that have offered the opportunity to present legislation that considered mental health factors?
Regardless of an individual’s political affiliation, Americans have to find a way to live together and craft legislation that meets all residents’ needs. The gridlock in Congress drags out any possible solutions when politicians focus only on their careers because they are not held accountable for looking out for their constituents. For instance, having the data to say, 64% of my constituents would prefer this legislation based on these predictive factors seems like a more potent claim based on evidence than the rhetoric that passes for debate between elected officials.
Americans deserve better politics. Partisanship has brought good government to a halt. Wouldn’t it be better if politicians had an ace up their sleeve? Wouldn’t it be great if lawmakers understood how their constituents were likely to respond to potential legislation? It seems simplistic, but any legislator at any level would be a political ace if only they took the time to review the data.
As always, this has been the World According to Chris.