Belief System Networks
What is the basic structure of belief systems? Clear answers to this fundamental question are not forthcoming. This is because we typically treat a belief system as a theoretical latent variable that causes people’s responses on attitudes and values relevant to the belief system. This approach cannot assess a system of beliefs because it cannot assess the network of connections between the beliefs – attitudes and values – that make up the system; it collapses across them and the interrelationships are lost. In this talk, I will present new work where I conceptualize and analyze attitudes and values as interactive nodes in a network. With this approach and representative survey data, I examine several important questions in research on political belief systems: (Q1) What is central to belief systems (A1: identities)? (Q2) How many dimensions do belief systems have (A2: substantially more than 2)? (Q3) Are belief systems stable overtime (A3: yes)? (Q4) How does personality connect with belief systems (A4: via ideologies)? (Q5) How does threat connect with belief systems (A5: via many nodes)? (Q6) How do belief systems predict behavior (A6: it depends)? These questions (and preliminary answers) are an initial step towards taking seriously the idea that belief systems are in fact systems.
** Mark Brandt is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Psychology at Tilburg University (The Netherlands)