Strategic Communication and the Integrative Complexity-Ideology Relationship: Meta-Analytic Findings Reveal Differences Between Public Politicians and Private Citizens in Their Use of Simple Rhetoric

Shannon Houck, Lucian Gideon Conway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Research on the relationship between political conservatism and integrative complexity has yielded contradictory results, and little effort has been made to place these mixed results in a theoretical context. The present article considers this issue through a strategic model of language that suggests different psychological processes apply to public politicians versus private citizens. We use a methodologically precise meta-analytic test of the relationship between political ideology and integrative complexity to examine the degree that conservative simplicity can be understood as a function of public versus private samples. Across 35 studies, findings revealed that conservatives are significantly less complex than liberals overall; however, while this effect was significant for public politicians, no relationship emerged for private citizens. Consistent with a strategic model, conservative simplicity was particularly in evidence for elected officials. This theoretical analysis has many consequences for our understanding of psychological theories that help explain the consequences of political ideology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPolitical Psychology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019



  • integrative complexity
  • meta-analysis
  • political ideology
  • political rhetoric
  • strategic communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations

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