Uncharted Lecture Series: A Nation Under Joint Custody: How Conflicting Family Models Explain Conservatism and Liberalism

Elisabeth WehlingElisabeth Wehling

ICSI and UC Berkeley

Thursday, May 21, 2015
4:00 p.m., ICSI Lecture Hall

Although on the surface the most hotly contested political issues seem unrelated, individuals' stances across these diverse issues tend to align themselves into two groupings: liberal or conservative. What might explain this pattern of political division? A widely influential account of the liberal-conservative divide is Moral Politics Theory (Lakoff, 1996). This theory contends that (1) political attitudes stem from moral worldviews that are conceptually anchored in idealized family models, such that endorsement of a strict-father model predicts conservatism and endorsement of a nurturant-parent model predicts liberalism; (2) the mapping of idealized family models onto politics occurs because individuals metaphorically conceptualize the nation as a family; and (3) a portion of the population subscribes to both family models (biconceptuals), and therefore possesses more flexible political attitudes which can shift depending on whether a policy stance is framed in terms of strict-father or nurturant-parent values. This investigation constitutes the first comprehensive empirical test of Moral Politics Theory across six studies, lending support to its three principal components.


Elisabeth Wehling, PhD, was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1981. She studied sociology, journalism, communication psychology, and cognitive linguistics in Hamburg, Rome and Berkeley. She graduated with a PhD in cognitive linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley; her doctoral research was in political cognition and moral judgment. Since 2013, she has been a postdoctoral fellow at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley.