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Childhood harshness induces long-lasting preference for authoritarian leaders


  • Lou Safra

    (École normale supérieure - Paris (ENS Paris))

  • Yann Algan

    (Département d'économie)

  • Teodora Tecu

    (University of Bucharest)

  • Julie Grèzes

    (École normale supérieure - Paris (ENS Paris))

  • Nicolas Baumard

    (École normale supérieure - Paris (ENS Paris))

  • Coralie Chevallier

    (École normale supérieure - Paris (ENS Paris))


Understanding the origins of political authoritarianism is of key importance for modern democracies. Recent works in evolutionary psychology suggest that human cognitive preferences may be the output of a biological response to early stressful environments. In this paper, we hypothesized that people's leader preferences are partly driven by early signals of harshness. We experimentally elicited children's (Study 1) and adults' (Study 2) political preferences using faces controlled for dominance and trustworthiness and showed that early childhood harshness has an enduring effect on adult political attitudes. Importantly, this effect was further confirmed using self-reported extreme authoritarianism (Study 2) and by the analysis of the large database of the European Value Survey (Study 3). We discuss the potential political implications of this early calibration of leader preferences.

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  • Lou Safra & Yann Algan & Teodora Tecu & Julie Grèzes & Nicolas Baumard & Coralie Chevallier, 2017. "Childhood harshness induces long-lasting preference for authoritarian leaders," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/ih2m9dvno9g, Sciences Po.
  • Handle: RePEc:spo:wpmain:info:hdl:2441/ih2m9dvno9gvr1k7587npkpjg

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. McFadden, Daniel, 1980. "Econometric Models for Probabilistic Choice among Products," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 53(3), pages 13-29, July.
    2. Hugo Mell & Lou Safra & Yann Algan & Nicolas Baumard & Coralie Chevallier, 2017. "Childhood environmental harshness predicts coordinated health and reproductive strategies: A cross-sectional study of a nationally representative sample from France," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/6n8ctn4s591, Sciences Po.
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    Authoritarianism; Poverty; Childhood; Social perception; Dominance; Politics;

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