Department of Political Science

Cognitive ability is a powerful predictor of political tolerance

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DOI

Objectives

Despite the broad appeal of abstract notions of political tolerance, people vary in the degree to which they support the political rights of groups they dislike. Prior research highlighted the relevance of individual differences in the cognitive domain, claiming the application of general tolerance ideals to specific situations is a cognitively demanding task. Curiously, this work has overwhelmingly focused on differences in cognitive style, largely neglecting differences in cognitive ability, despite compelling conceptual linkages. We remedy this shortcoming.
Methods

We explore diverse predictors of tolerance using survey data in two large samples from Denmark (N = 805) and the United States (N=1603).
Results

Cognitive ability was the single strongest predictor of political tolerance, with larger effects than education, openness to experience, ideology, and threat. The cognitively-demanding nature of tolerance judgments was further supported by results showing cognitive ability predicted tolerance best when extending such tolerance was hardest. Additional small-sample panel results demonstrated substantial four-year stability of political tolerance, informing future work on the origins of political tolerance.
Conclusions

Our observation of a potent role for cognitive ability in tolerance supports cognitively-oriented accounts of tolerance judgments, and highlights the need for further exploration of cognitive ability within the political domain.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Personality
Volume90
Issue3
Pages (from-to)311-323
Number of pages13
ISSN0022-3506
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

    Research areas

  • cognitive ability, political psychology, political tolerance

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