Traditionalism involves respecting and upholding traditional values, morality, norms, and practices of one’s own social group. It also includes active resistance to changing traditional values, morality, norms, and practices.
Traditionalism is broadly concerned with a focus on the past of one’s own group. Although any group can be the source of traditions, traditionalists most often focus on the past of their own large-scale groups, such as cultural, ethnic, national, and religious groups. Traditionalism can refer to both economic and social conservatism. Psychologists, however, have mostly studied traditionalism in reference to social conservatism, and they have usually focused on individuals who want to preserve social values, morality, norms, and practices. Nonetheless, the term traditionalism may also relate to conservatism in economic activities – especially when these connect to traditional morality (Weber 1930).
Approaches to Traditionalism
Personality and individual difference researchers have studied traditionalism as a personality trait, social attitude, and value. According to a personality trait model by Tellegen, which forms the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (Tellegen and Waller 2008), traditionalism is one of the 11 basic personality traits on which all people differ. Individuals high on this personality trait endorse high moral standards, religious devotion, religious institutions, strict child-rearing practices, positive views about parents, conventionality, good reputation, and oppose free expression, rebelliousness, and selfishness. According to Tellegen, traditionalism, like the other 10 lower-order personality traits, exists as a psychobiological structure that underpins various related behavioral dispositions. Tellegen’s model proposes that three lower-order personality traits, that is, traditionalism, control, and harm avoidance, form a higher-order factor, constraint, which is one of the three major higher-order factors in the model (the other higher-order factors are positive emotionality and negative emotionality). Researchers have related Tellegen’s trait of traditionalism to one of the Big Five personality traits, that is, openness to experience (e.g., Ackerman and Heggestad 1997). Although it is not clear if the personality trait of traditionalism or more precisely its opposite, nontraditionalism, should be a facet of openness to experience, research suggests that openness to experience is the Big Five personality trait most relevant to traditionalism, whereas the other Big Five personality traits do not seem to have much in common with it (Connelly et al. 2014).
Traditionalism has also been widely studied by personality and individual difference researchers as a facet of authoritarianism. Prominent conceptualizations of authoritarianism, such as the authoritarian personality (Adorno et al. 1950) and right-wing authoritarianism (Altemeyer 1996), claim that a major facet of this personality construct, besides facets such as authoritarian submission and aggression, is conventionalism. This facet is defined as rigid acceptance of societal middle-class conventions. It is often included in measures of authoritarianism, such as Adorno et al.’s F-Scale (an example item: “A person who has bad manners, habits, and breeding can hardly expect to get along with decent people”) and Altemeyer’s Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) Scale (an example item: “It may be considered old fashioned by some, but having a normal, proper appearance is still the mark of a gentleman and, especially, a lady”). Researchers have argued that the term conventionalism is inappropriate because the content of items measuring this facet refers to attitudes in favor of traditional, and not present-day, conventions (Duckitt and Bizumic 2013).
Consequently, traditionalism, at least according to certain conceptualizations (Duckitt and Bizumic 2013; Van Hiel et al. 2007), may not be a personality construct, but a social attitude that could be affected by external circumstances. For example, the authoritarianism-conservatism-traditionalism model (Duckitt and Bizumic 2013) assumes that RWA consists of three dimensions: authoritarianism (i.e., attitudes in favor of punitive societal control), conservatism (i.e., attitudes in favor of obedience to societal authorities), and traditionalism (i.e., attitudes in favor of subservience to traditional societal values, morality, norms, and practices). These three social attitudes appear to be caused by the needs for social security and cohesion. Traditionalism itself, according to this model, may increase as a result of threatening societal events making people insecure and unsure regarding traditional values and morality.
Finally, tradition is one of the basic values in Schwartz’s theory of values (Schwartz et al. 2012), and traditionalists are strongly concerned with this value. The most recent refinement of the theory sees tradition as one of the 19 basic human values. According to Schwartz’s theory, values represent motivational goals that exist across situations and that influence people’s attitudes, behaviors, and decision-making. Schwartz proposed that traditional individuals have a major motivational goal to maintain and respect traditions, customs, and ideas of their own culture and religion. The value of tradition is part of broader conservation values, which involve values of conformity to other people, conformity to societal rules, personal security, and security of one’s society. This approach sees traditionalism as a broad and abstract value.
Traditionalism and Negativity Toward Others
Traditional individuals not only accept the status quo of ingroup traditions but also actively resist changes to them. Consequently, they express hostility toward people who challenge traditional values, morality, norms, and practices. Traditionalists do not like and discriminate against ingroup innovators, modernizers, and deviants because these threaten ingroup traditions. Traditionalists are most often sexually conservative: they strongly value marriage, sexual purity, family values, and heterosexual relationships. Thus, they may dislike and discriminate against gays, lesbians, and those promoting sexual freedoms. Additionally, being religious, they often dislike and discriminate against agnostics, atheists, and others who question traditional religions.
Traditionalism is inward-looking and concerned with one’s own group values, morality, norms, and practices, as well as ingroup members perceived as threatening. It, however, has implications for other groups. For example, the widely studied construct of symbolic racism relates to traditionalism. Researchers define symbolic racism as prejudice among White Americans against African-Americans based on perceiving them to violate traditional White American values, such as the work ethic, self-discipline, and obedience (Kinder and Sears 1981). Accordingly, traditionalism may at times predispose people to prejudice toward outgroups perceived to violate traditional values, morality, norms, and practices.
Personality and individual difference researchers have studied traditionalism as a personality trait, social attitude, and value. There is much overlap in these approaches, and they all share a focus on respecting and upholding traditional group values, morality, norms, and practices, and opposing ingroup and outgroup members who challenge or violate them.
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