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Researchers develop scale to assess differences between ‘Progressives’ and ‘Traditional Liberals’

13 October 2022


Researchers from the School of Psychology have developed a measure called the Progressive Values Scale (PVS), which distinguishes progressive from traditional liberal views within the political Left wing.

With progressivism increasingly challenging traditional liberalism as the dominant influence within left-wing ideology, no psychological measure has directly assessed the attitudes and behaviours that characterise a distinctly progressive worldview. Across four studies, the research aimed to capture this difference and understand the divisions that appear to be manifesting themselves across politics and society.

The research revealed key emerging differences between progressives and traditional liberals on various outcomes, for example:

  • Advocates for "Mandated Diversity" were relatively agreeable but motivated to present themselves in an unrealistically positive light.
  • Those who manifested "Cultural Appropriation Concerns" were associated with a preference for avoiding those with different values.
  • Advocates for "Public Censure" were associated with a feeling of having a privileged understanding of the political right and a more negative view of oneself.

The research was led by Travis Proulx who explained that: “The rise of progressivism is an era-defining shift within the Western Left-wing. Rivalries with Traditional Liberals play out across various platforms including social media with ‘cancel culture’, in academia by ‘de-platforming’ campus speakers, and in electoral politics with ‘Establishment Democrats’ vs. ‘The Squad’ in the US Congress".

Our studies hold a mirror to the contemporary Left, reflecting core divisions and the especially derisive images that progressives maintain of others, with implications for the broader gulf between the Left and Right.

Dr Travis Proulx Senior Lecturer

In one of the studies, the researchers had progressive and traditional liberal participants generate prototypical images of a political ingroup and outgroup member and found that progressives generated particularly positive images of political ingroup members and particularly negative images of political outgroup members.

It is hoped that this new progressive values measure can be useful in understanding similarities and differences within the left, and in resolving – or at least accommodating – these perspectives within a broader left-wing worldview.

You can read more about the study in this blog on Psychology Today and you can view the academic journal on the Sage website.

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