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Study Tying Conservative Views to Personality Disorders Met With Skepticism

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April 16, 2011: People hold signs in support of the Tea Party during a Tax Day rally in Madison, Wis.Reuters

A new study suggesting conservatives are far more likely to exhibit antisocial personality traits than liberals is drawing skepticism from critics who say the findings are a stretch at best. 

The paper, by University of Tampa professor Marcus Arvan, claims to find "significant" correlations between key antisocial personality traits and bedrock conservative views, like opposition to gay marriage and support for capital punishment. Specifically, the research claims to find elements of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, also described as "deception," among test subjects. 

Now published in the journal Neuroethics, the study does not explicitly state that conservatives are psychos. 

Arvan said repeatedly that more research is needed to follow up on his study, and he noted that many positive personality traits may also correlate with conservative views. 

"It's not to say that those people are certifiably crazy," he said. 

Rather, Arvan claimed to find among conservatives glimmers of the three so-called "dark" antisocial traits he tested for -- and generally did not find signs of those traits among those with liberal views. 

"The results should at least be a bit disturbing in a certain kind of way," Arvan told FoxNews.com. 

But the research has come into question among some would-be subjects of the study. 

"I think I would notice if my members were narcissists," said Russ Romeo, political director for the Florida Federation of College Republicans, who was not a member of the test group. "And I think I would notice if I had some psychopaths running through my chapter." 

Gina Loudon, an Alabama-based Tea Party activist and radio host, examined the study and said it appeared designed to cast conservatives in an unfavorable light. Loudon, who has a doctorate in human development, said the survey questions used by the researcher were also not comprehensive enough to accurately gauge someone's personality traits. 

"It starts off with such a flawed premise," she said. 

A researcher with the Reason Foundation also took issue with Arvan's survey method, noting he recruited subjects online. 

"This kind of methodology can be problematic because it's not clear whether these survey respondents are actually representative of the population they are intended to represent," Emily Ekins, polling director at the Reason Foundation, wrote in an email to FoxNews.com. 

Arvan claimed to find strong ties to the antisocial traits among those who oppose gay marriage, support capital punishment, support indefinite detention without trial for suspected terrorists, support the right to wage war in defiance of U.N. resolutions and support the view that the government should rarely intervene in free markets. 

He said the correlation was strongest on social issues, less so on economic positions. For instance, the study claimed opposition to gay marriage correlated with psychopathy. 

For the project, Arvan got 567 participants to fill out a pair of questionnaires. One of them asked a series of questions about their views on moral and political issues. Another tested whether subjects showed signs of the three antisocial traits. From there, Arvan looked for correlations. 

The study itself also clarified that exhibiting the traits is not necessarily indicative of a mental disorder, nor is it indicative of "morally bad" behavior. The study noted that narcissism can be positive to an extent, since it can "steel people against criticism and lead people to persevere in the face of long odds." 

Arvan declined to expound more broadly on the implications of his research, saying only that the research could raise questions "about the genesis" of some conservative judgments. 

He described himself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, and added, "This raises certain questions to me about my own view." 

If his results are accurate, then Arvan's town is about to be overrun with people who bare these "dark" characteristics -- the Republican National Convention is coming to Tampa next year. 

Ekins, though, suggested the study was limited in scope, and cautioned against using the data to dismiss certain political views as "morally inferior." 

"Surely, there are correlations of attitudes that can be more likely attributed to liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and communitarians. However, Arvan only (considered) a few personality traits of the many out there. It is important to recognize that there are some negative personality traits that correlate more highly with liberals than conservatives and there are other negative personality traits that correlate more highly with conservatives than liberals. The same is true for positive personality traits," she said. "Said simply, it is not that incredibly informative for researchers to select a few negative personality traits, out of the many out there, and evaluate which 'political side' correlates." 

Ashley Anastasi, secretary with the Florida college GOP group and president of the Florida Atlantic University College Republicans, also said her chapter plans to write the author about the findings. She too questioned the accuracy of the data, since the respondents were recruited online. 

Though Arvan's original hypothesis for the study assumed there would be "many" correlations between the "dark" traits and conservative views, Arvan told FoxNews.com he "didn't really go into the study thinking what I would find." 

He said he originally became interested in examining the roots of certain views after noting that, these days, "people end up talking past one another."