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Negativity bias, personality and political ideology


Research suggests that right-wing ideology is associated with negativity bias: a tendency to pay more attention and give more weight to negative versus positive stimuli. This work typically relies on either self-reported traits related to negativity bias in large, often-representative, samples or physiological and behavioural indicators of negativity bias in small convenience samples. We extend this literature and examine the relationship of negativity bias to political ideology using five distinct behavioural measures of negativity bias in four national samples of US residents with a total analytical sample size of about 4,000 respondents. We also examine the association of these behavioural measures to four of the most common self-report measures of personality in the literature on ideology. Across a wide range of tests, we find no consistent evidence for a relationship of negativity bias to either ideology or self-reported personality.

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Fig. 1: Associations between operationalizations of negativity bias and political ideology.
Fig. 2: Associations between operationalizations of negativity bias and self-reported personality traits.
Fig. 3: Interactions of operationalizations of negativity bias with political engagement.
Fig. 4: Mean reaction time to legal English words in the lexical decision task as a function of word frequency.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are publicly available in Harvard Dataverse with the identifier

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The code necessary for reproducing the findings of this study are publicly available in Harvard Dataverse with the identifier


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Funding for this project was provided by Duke University and the Worldview Lab at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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C.D.J. and G.J.M. contributed to research design, data collection, analyses and write-up.

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Correspondence to Christopher D. Johnston.

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Johnston, C.D., Madson, G.J. Negativity bias, personality and political ideology. Nat Hum Behav 6, 666–676 (2022).

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