In the Toronto Star, an already much-blogged story about anxious, whiny kids tending to grow up conservative, according to a study in Berkeley, CA (hmm…), while the more easygoing, confident kids grow up liberal.

In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids’ personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There’s no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it’s unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.
A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.
The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.
Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold. He reasons that insecure kids look for the reassurance provided by tradition and authority, and find it in conservative politics. The more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are, and find liberal politics more congenial.

This reminded me of the debate I had during college with Texan Blake Hargrove, over whether you should need a fraternity to make you a better person, training you to be nice to a frat brother you don’t even like, or whether it might be better to develop that instinct on your own ’cause it’s just better to be nice to people.
Of course, if my liberal parents had bonded with me less and forced me to do things more, I might not have written 90% of my college papers in the final 36 hours.
Now I’m picturing an epsiode of Oprah or Dr. Phil with easygoing Clinton and whiny Bush as the guests, both wearing little baby bonnets, talking about their childhoods.


  1. I enjoyed finding and taking a look at your website which I found due to a google search of my name.
    Though you correctly remember me as a Texan, you incorrectly remember me as a conservative. I was not one then, nor am I one now. I realize, of course, this impossible to prove. I could argue that I’ve never voted for a conservative, but could hardly prove it. I could argue that I am an ardent civil libertarian, but how would you know. Anyway, I’m not conservative — so there.
    You also correctly remember that I was active in my fraternity and thought that people should be allowed to join. You incorrectly assert that one “should need a fraternity to be a better person.” That would have been a really stupid argument. Many have correctly labeled me (or the person that I was at that time) a drunk, obnoxious, immoral person. But to my knowledge, no one ever accused me of being stupid. As far as my childhood, “whiny and anxious” don’t really apply. Again, pretty hard too prove, isn’t it?
    The purpose of this email was mainly just to say hello and to point out how cool Google is. As far as your blog mentioning me, I am not offended. Calling me a conservative would be just about this nicest lie anyone from Amherst ever told about me.
    Take care and good luck.

  2. How cool is that?! Have corresponded with Blake, who proves that cordiality is certainly a Texan trait. Have owned up to my assumption about his politics, but not entirely resolved the fraternities debate. But it’s worth noting that he was never even slightly obnoxious to /me/.

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