Mar. 29, 2017

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Tolerance, Ignorance for World: Researching Millennials’ Beliefs

Psychology professor Dr. Gary Gregg is set to unveil new book [Andrew Parsons / The Index]. Psychology professor Dr. Gary Gregg is set to unveil new book [Andrew Parsons / The Index].
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Psychology professor Dr. Gary Gregg is set to unveil his new book come late Spring.

As a compilation of his last five years of research, the book will explore millennial young adults’ worldviews and an evaluation of psychological theories which aim to describe the development of belief systems.

Dr. Gregg finds that long, life-history style interviews offer a better opportunity to understand populations than simple polling with preset questions and answers.

“Millennials have been surveyed to death; we know a lot about their opinions and attitudes from polling data,” said Dr. Gregg, adding, “I’m not convinced that gives us convincing evidence of how people are thinking about the world.”

“Our research asked [open-ended] questions and allowed for people to tell us about their religious, moral, and social values, letting the respondents define and explore these concepts,” Dr. Gregg continued. At the conclusion of his study, he collected 70 two- to four-hour long interviews.

His latest research examines 18-25 year olds as they become adults in a world after 1989.

“We explore how young adults are thinking about the new world they’re growing up in. It’s a new world because it’s after the fall of communism and it’s a globalized world. It’s a new world because of the economic crises, growing inequality, and anxiety about career paths. And of course, it’s a new era because of digital communications.”

Contextualized as a response to the resurged interest in psychological underpinnings of belief systems, Dr. Gregg sought to link generational identifiers with larger understandings of social behavior.

Throughout his work, Dr. Gregg examined the work of psychologists like Dr. Jonathan Haidt. Dr. Haidt theorizes that evolution has selected for six “moral foundations” derived from different emotional orientations to the world.

“These moral intuitions [sic] influence people with varied strength, based on peoples’ biological temperament, early experience, and development,” explained Dr. Gregg, acknowledging, “though a lot of it has to do with social group and standing.”

“These underling moral intuitions work like taste buds. Some [taste buds] are tuned to respond to sweet, some are tuned to respond to sour, and in the same way people are primed to resonate with liberal or conservative or libertarian ideas.”

Dr. Gregg noted that, “Haidt believes that conservatives have more complex views of the world; they seem to rely on all six [moral intuitions], whereas liberals seem to use just two—care and fairness.”

According to psychological studies, liberals tend to not resonate with the other moral intuitions like authority and respect, sanctity and purity, and in-group/out-group boundaries.

As for the research’s findings?

“There are arch-conservative Millennials, but on the whole, we know that they tend to be more liberal than earlier generations, especially on cultural issues—sexual orientation, same-sex marriage, abortion rights, gender and ethnic equality, etc. We observed enthusiasm for environmentalism and enormous ignorance when it came to international and economic issues.”

One possible explanation is that Millennials are constantly presented with questions of culturally accepted behavior, whereas international and economic issues aren’t part of Millennials’ everyday lives.

“Even on issues where you’d think people would have strong convictions—religious fundamentalism, US-Mexican relations, the Great Recession—the vast majority had no clue. Respondents continually apologized for their ignorance in stunning contrast to their extremely articulate responses to cultural issues,” remarked Dr. Gregg.

Surprisingly few respondents talked about rights, claimed Dr. Gregg, but both liberal and conservative respondents endorsed social hierarchy as legitimate, justified, and based on meritocracy.

“More than half of the [respondents] expressed both remarkable tolerance and an endorsement of personal responsibility, meritocracy, and a social hierarchy.”

Deliberating the balance between the two proved to be quite contentious, said Dr. Gregg, where “[respondents] got into serious dialogues about how to balance the two.” He continued, saying, “I conclude that one hallmark of emerging adults is the tension between those two moral outlooks on the world, and where each one should apply.”

Despite successfully concluding the comprehensive study, Dr. Gregg has faced challenges during the publication process. Potential publishers have questioned the book’s target audience; Dr. Gregg struggled with its blended direction, and has repeatedly asked himself, “is it a book about Millennials or about early adulthood? Or about the psychology of belief systems?”

Taylor & Francis will ultimately publish Dr. Gregg’s findings in a book set for a springtime release.

1 Comment on Tolerance, Ignorance for World: Researching Millennials’ Beliefs

  1. Here’s an article about a recent survey about millennials’ views (or lack thereof) of communism: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/poll-millennials-desperately-need-to-bone-up-on-the-history-of-communism-2016-10-17 . I think the survey is becoming a landmark. Here’s another site (much more anecdotal) reporting that only one third of millennials even studied communism in high school: http://www.communiststats.com/about.html

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