Does Violent Protest Backfire? Testing a Theory of Public Reactions to Activist Violence
Brent Simpson, Robb Willer & Matthew Feinberg
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, October 2018
How do people respond to violent political protest? The authors present a theory proposing that the use of violence leads the general public to view a protest group as less reasonable, a perception that reduces identification with the group. This reduced identification in turn reduces public support for the violent group. Furthermore, the authors argue that violence also leads to more support for groups that are perceived as opposing the violent group. The authors test this theory using a large (n = 800) Internet-based survey experiment with a politically diverse sample. Participants responded to an experimental scenario based on recent violent confrontations between white nationalist protesters and antiracist counter-protesters, allowing the authors to study whether violent protest would reduce public support even when used against a widely reviled group. The authors found that the use of violence by an antiracist group against white nationalists led to decreased support for the antiracist group and increased support for the white nationalist group. Furthermore, the results were consistent with the theorized causal process: violence led to perceptions of unreasonableness, which reduced identification with and support for the protest group. Importantly, the results revealed a striking asymmetry: although acts of violence eroded support for an antiracist group, support for white nationalist groups was not reduced by the use of violence, perhaps because the public already perceives these groups as very unreasonable and identifies with them at low levels. Consistent with this interpretation, the authors found that self-identified Republicans, a subset of the sample that reported less extremely negative views of white nationalists, showed reduced support for white nationalists when they engaged in violence.
Elite polarization, party extremity, and affective polarization
Kevin Banda & John Cluverius
Electoral Studies, December 2018, Pages 90-101
Elites in the U.S. have become increasingly polarized over the past several decades. More recently, the degree to which partisans view the opposing party more negatively than their own — a phenomenon called affective, or social, polarization — has increased. How does elite polarization inform affective polarization? We argue that partisans respond to increasing levels of elite polarization by expressing higher levels of affective polarization, i.e. more negative evaluations of the opposing party relative to their own. Motivated reasoning further encourages partisans to blame the opposing party more than their own. Results from surveys collected from 1978 through 2016 provide strong support for our theory. We further find that increasing levels of political interest magnify the relationship between elite and affective polarization. These results produce important implications for the health of democratic systems experiencing high levels of elite polarization.
The Importance of Knowing “What Goes with What”: Reinterpreting the Evidence on Policy Attitude Stability
Sean Freeder, Gabriel Lenz & Shad Turney
Journal of Politics, forthcoming
What share of citizens hold meaningful views about public policy? Despite decades of scholarship, researchers have failed to reach a consensus. Researchers agree that policy opinions in surveys are unstable but disagree about whether that instability is real or just measurement error. In this article, we revisit this debate with a concept neglected in the literature: knowledge of which issue positions “go together” ideologically — or what Philip Converse called knowledge of “what goes with what.” Using surveys spanning decades in the United States and the United Kingdom, we find that individuals hold stable views primarily when they possess this knowledge and agree with their party. These results imply that observed opinion instability arises not primarily from measurement error but from instability in the opinions themselves. We find many US citizens lack knowledge of “what goes with what” and that only about 20%–40% hold stable views on many policy issues.
Forecasting tournaments, epistemic humility and attitude depolarization
Barbara Mellers, Philip Tetlock & Hal Arkes
People often express political opinions in starkly dichotomous terms, such as “Trump will either trigger a ruinous trade war or save U.S. factory workers from disaster.” This mode of communication promotes polarization into ideological in-groups and out-groups. We explore the power of an emerging methodology, forecasting tournaments, to encourage clashing factions to do something odd: to translate their beliefs into nuanced probability judgments and track accuracy over time and questions. In theory, tournaments advance the goals of “deliberative democracy” by incentivizing people to be flexible belief updaters whose views converge in response to facts, thus depolarizing unnecessarily polarized debates. We examine the hypothesis that, in the process of thinking critically about their beliefs, tournament participants become more moderate in their own political attitudes and those they attribute to the other side. We view tournaments as belonging to a broader class of psychological inductions that increase epistemic humility and that include asking people to explore alternative perspectives, probing the depth of their cause-effect understanding and holding them accountable to audiences with difficult-to-guess views.
The Role of Sensation Seeking in Political Violence: An Extension of the Significance Quest Theory
Birga Schumpe et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming
Adventure and excitement have often been invoked to explain why people engage in political violence, yet empirical evidence on the topic has thus far been anecdotal. The present research sought to fill this gap in knowledge by examining the role of sensation seeking in political violence and integrating this concept with Significance Quest Theory (Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, & Orehek, 2009; Kruglanski et al., 2013). Extending prior research on violent extremism, Study 1 found that sensation seeking mediated the relation between meaning in life and willingness to self-sacrifice and support for political violence. Study 2 established temporal precedence of the variables in the mediation model, using a longitudinal design. Studies 3 and 4 experimentally replicated findings of Studies 1 and 2. In Studies 5a and 5b, we found that sensation seeking predicts support for a real life violent activist group. In Studies 6a and 6b, the positive evaluation of a violent activist group by individuals high in sensation seeking was explained by how exciting they perceived the group to be. Finally, Study 7 introduced an intervention targeting the sensation seeking motive by presenting participants with a peaceful (less exciting vs. exciting) activism group. As hypothesized, providing individuals high in sensation seeking with a peaceful yet exciting group mitigated their support for extreme behavior.
Inflammatory Comments Elicit Less Outrage When Made in Anonymous Online Contexts
Curtis Puryear & Joseph Vandello
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming
Digital communities often face difficulties in limiting inflammatory social exchanges. The present studies test one potential obstacle to combating malicious comments online: that characteristics of specific online environments dull emotional reactions to inflammatory speech. Across four studies, results suggest that online contexts, particularly those lacking social information such as names and profile pictures, attenuate negative reactions to malicious behavior relative to face-to-face contexts. Shifting expectations and perceptions of harm may partly account for varying outrage across face-to-face and digital environments.
Does residential sorting explain geographic polarization?
Gregory Martin & Steven Webster
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming
Political preferences in the United States are highly correlated with population density, at national, state, and metropolitan-area scales. Using new data from voter registration records, we assess the extent to which this pattern can be explained by geographic mobility. We find that the revealed preferences of voters who move from one residence to another correlate with partisan affiliation, though voters appear to be sorting on non-political neighborhood attributes that covary with partisan preferences rather than explicitly seeking politically congruent neighbors. But, critically, we demonstrate through a simulation study that the estimated partisan bias in moving choices is on the order of five times too small to sustain the current geographic polarization of preferences. We conclude that location must have some influence on political preference, rather than the other way around, and provide evidence in support of this theory.
Celebrity Opinion Influences Public Acceptance of Human Evolution
Steven Arnocky et al.
Evolutionary Psychology, September 2018
The present research examined the influence of celebrity opinion upon individuals’ acceptance of the theory of evolution. Priming stimuli were developed purveying pro-evolution, anti-evolution, or neutral opinion (Study 1). When paired with a male celebrity or expert source (Study 2), the male celebrity, but not the male expert, influenced undergraduates’ acceptance of evolution. The influence of the male celebrity on acceptance of evolution was replicated in a community sample (Study 3). When paired with a female celebrity source, undergraduates’ acceptance of evolution was similarly influenced (Study 4). Together, these findings extend our understanding of the reach of credible celebrity endorsers beyond consumer behavior to core individual beliefs, such as those surrounding the acceptance of human evolution.
The effect of comment moderation on perceived bias in science news
Sara Yeo et al.
Information, Communication & Society, January 2019, Pages 129-146
Uncivil comments following online news articles about issues of science and technology have been shown to lead to biased interpretations of the news content itself. Using an experiment embedded in a nationally representative survey, we provide evidence that cues about comment moderation ‒ even without any change in the comments themselves ‒ have the potential to alleviate this so-called nasty effect. Participants exposed to uncivil comments that appear in a moderated environment were less likely to perceive bias in the news article itself. Importantly, perceptions of bias among respondents exposed to the uncivil, moderated stimulus were comparable to those of respondents who viewed both moderated and unmoderated civil comments. Our results suggest that visible cues about comment moderation are a potentially valuable endeavor for news organizations, especially in an age of declining profit margins.
When and why do liberals and conservatives think alike? An investigation into need for cognitive closure, the binding moral foundations, and political perception
Conrad Baldner et al.
Social Psychology, forthcoming
Research on moral foundations theory has found that liberals typically favor the individualizing foundations (i.e., concern for the individual) but typically oppose the binding foundations (i.e., concern for the group). We propose that need for cognitive closure (NFC) can explain when liberals will favor the binding foundations. In two studies, we found that liberals in Italy and the United States were more likely to endorse the binding foundations when they had high NFC. Overall, these results suggest that researchers should strive to understand the interaction between individuals’ epistemic goals and their political orientations in order to accurately predict how they will perceive political issues.
Effects of Humor on Intergroup Communication in Intractable Conflicts: Using Humor in an Intergroup Appeal Facilitates Stronger Agreement Between Groups and a Greater Willingness to Compromise
Nimrod Nir & Eran Halperin
Political Psychology, forthcoming
Overcoming sociopsychological barriers within intergroup communications may bring forth new, practical methods for conflict resolution, particularly crucial for groups engulfed by intractable conflict. This article examines the use of humor — an extremely effective technique of persuasive communication — as one potential route whose potency in resolving intractable conflicts has thus far been neglected. In Study 1, Palestinians who read a message from an “Israeli representative” (conveying the Israeli narrative of the conflict) agreed more with the Israeli perspective once three short humorous asides were added to the original statement. When these humorous asides targeted Jewish‐Israelis, Palestinian‐Israeli participants were more willing to compromise on various aspects of the conflict. In Study 2, Jewish‐Israelis who read a message from a “Palestinian representative” were more agreeable to the Palestinian message (portraying the Palestinian narrative) once three short humorous asides were added to the original statement. When these humorous asides were general in nature (but not when they targeted Palestinian‐Israelis), Jewish‐Israeli participants were more willing to compromise on various aspects of this intractable conflict. These findings further demonstrate the power of psychological barriers in intractable conflicts and the potential of humor to overcome them. Implications and limitations of the current research are discussed.
Intergroup social influence on emotion processing in the brain
Lynda Lin, Yang Qu & Eva Telzer
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 October 2018, Pages 10630-10635
Emotions usually occur in a social context; yet little is known about how similar and dissimilar others influence our emotions. In the current study, we examined whether ingroup and outgroup members have differential influence on emotion processing at the behavioral and neural levels. To this end, we recruited 45 participants to rate a series of images displaying people engaged in different emotional contexts. Participants then underwent an fMRI scan where they viewed the same images along with information on how ingroup and outgroup members rated them, and they were asked to rate the images again. We found that participants shifted their emotions to be more in alignment with the ingroup over the outgroup, and that neural regions implicated in positive valuation [ventral striatum (VS) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)], mentalizing [dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), and temporal pole], as well as emotion processing and salience detection (amygdala and insula), linearly tracked this behavior such that the extent of neural activity in these regions paralleled changes in participants’ emotions. Results illustrate the powerful impact that ingroup members have on our emotions.
Sharing the Same Political Ideology Yet Endorsing Different Values: Left- and Right-Wing Political Supporters Are More Heterogeneous Than Moderates
Paul Hanel, Natalia Zarzeczna & Geoffrey Haddock
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming
Members of extreme political groups are usually perceived as more homogeneous than moderates. We investigated whether members of the general public who share the same political ideology would exhibit different levels of heterogeneity in terms of human values across 20 European countries and Israel. We directly compared the variability across moderate-, left-, and right-wing groups. Our findings suggest that the values of more extreme (left-wing or right-wing) supporters are usually more heterogeneous than those with more moderate views. We replicated this finding for politics-related variables such as attitudes toward immigrants and trust in (inter)national institutions. We also found that country-level variables (income, religiosity, and parasite stress level) did not moderate the pattern of value variability. Overall, our results suggest that endorsing the same political ideology is not necessarily associated with sharing the same values, especially in the case of common citizens holding extreme political attitudes.
The Scope of Partisan Influence on Policy Opinion
Political Psychology, forthcoming
Politicians often support policies that diverge from public preferences. How effectively can partisan cues lead public opinion in these settings? Using survey experiments that examine how partisan cues affect support for policies that diverge from the initial views of party supporters, I argue for two important limitations on the scope of partisan influence over public opinion. First, while cues from copartisan politicians produce modest increases in the support policy proposals receive, the effect of policy divergence outstrips the effect of cues, constraining elites’ ability to generate support for proposals at odds with public preferences. Second, while partisan cues increase mass partisans’ support for specific policy proposals, they fail to pull the underlying preferences of party supporters toward divergent elite‐endorsed positions. This offers new insight into the mechanisms behind party‐cues effects and demonstrates a check on the influence of partisan elites in a polarized era.
Political identity, preference, and persuasion
Claire Heeryung Kim et al.
Social Influence, forthcoming
The current research examines how political identity shapes preferences for objects and messages that highlight either equality or hierarchy. We find that liberals show a greater preference for an object associated with less as opposed to more hierarchy, whereas conservatives do not exhibit such a preference (Study 1). We also find that liberals are more persuaded by persuasive appeals that endorse equality rather than hierarchy, whereas conservatives are less sensitive to this distinction (Study 2). Finally, we identify the moderating role of political identity salience: When one’s political identity is made salient, liberals show an increased preference for messages highlighting equality, whereas conservatives become more persuaded by messages highlighting hierarchy (Study 3).
Effect of Threat and Social Identity on Reactions to Ingroup Criticism: Defensiveness, Openness, and a Remedy
Levi Adelman & Nilanjana Dasgupta
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming
Openness to criticism and dissenting opinions is enormously important to group decision-making. Past research has found that people are more persuaded by criticism of their group when it comes from fellow ingroup members rather than outgroup members. But this ingroup advantage is not boundless. Three experiments demonstrate that the ingroup advantage related to openness to criticism is erased when perceivers feel their group is under threat. The results further suggest that the psychological mechanism underlying defensive responses to criticism is attributional — threat elicits greater suspicion of ingroup critics’ motives, which eliminates the ingroup critic’s advantage relative to outgroup critics. A final experiment tests an intervention designed to increase openness to criticism and finds that reminders of the importance of dissent and free speech emerge as an effective remedy to increase the persuasiveness of criticism despite high threat.
Information and Issue Constraints on Party Cues
Dennis Chong & Kevin Mullinix
American Politics Research, forthcoming
Past research has found that citizens will support either side of a policy debate if their party endorses it, regardless of the policy details. Such results cast doubt on the electorate’s ability to direct and constrain public officials. Yet other studies find that people give priority to policy information in their decision-making. We hypothesize that the relative effects of party cues and policy details depend on the degree to which people can identify the ideological direction of a policy. Using a survey experiment, we show that for policies readily classified as liberal or conservative, preferences are less influenced by party cues than by policy details. Public policy information has the greatest impact on preferences relative to party cues when the information establishes the ideological direction of the policy by indicating the values at stake and the groups that will be helped or hurt by the policy. Information therefore is most impactful on policies that are ideologically ambiguous in the absence of policy details.
Rousing the Partisan Combatant: Elite Incivility, Anger, and Antideliberative Attitudes
Political Psychology, forthcoming
The claim that elite political incivility can rouse partisan, antideliberative attitudes has many adherents, but the empirical record demonstrating a relationship is surprisingly limited. Yet the extant research suggests that incivility can stimulate aversive feelings, of the sort that discrete and dimensional theories of emotion predict should induce a partisan, antideliberative mode of citizenship among those exposed. Leveraging two online experiments, I address the questions of whether elite incivility provokes anger, rather than enthusiasm and anxiety, and whether the affective reactions induced by incivility yield the changes in deliberative attitudes that theories of emotion predict. I find that elite incivility, when counterattitudinal, rouses anger, which in turn can provoke an active and combative form of partisan citizenship. Despite claims to the contrary, the link between proattitudinal incivility, anger, and antideliberative attitudes is less clear. The results provide insight into the dynamics of discourse in the digital age, when affective polarization is the norm and elites commonly employ uncivil rhetoric.