Dispositional Fear and Political Attitudes

Peter K. Hatemi, Rose McDermott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Previous work proposes that dispositional fear exists predominantly among political conservatives, generating the appearance that fears align strictly along party lines. This view obscures evolutionary dynamics because fear evolved to protect against myriad threats, not merely those in the political realm. We suggest prior work in this area has been biased by selection on the dependent variable, resulting from an examination of exclusively politically oriented fears that privilege conservative values. Because the adaptation regulating fear should be based upon both universal and ancestral-specific selection pressures combined with developmental and individual differences, the elicitation of it should prove variable across the ideological continuum dependent upon specific combinations of fear and value domains. In a sample of ~ 1,600 Australians assessed with a subset of the Fear Survey Schedule II, we find fears not infused with political content are differentially influential across the political spectrum. Specifically, those who are more fearful of sharp objects, graveyards, and urinating in public are more socially conservative and less supportive of gay rights. Those who are more fearful of death are more supportive of gay rights. Those who are more fearful of suffocating and swimming alone are more concerned about emissions controls and immigration, while those who are more fearful of thunderstorms are also more anti-immigration. Contrary to existing research, both liberals and conservatives are more fearful of different circumstances, and the role of dispositional fears are attitude-specific.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-405
Number of pages19
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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