People often categorise themselves as either politically conservative or liberal. From a social psychological perspective, we often categorise ourselves and compare ourselves with other people. We like to identify who we are, and we do this by distinguishing ourselves from people who belong to other groups.
Conservatism and liberalism are opposite ends of the political spectrum; in our perception nowadays, they are worlds apart. However, conservatism and liberalism are relative, and sometimes even cultural. For example, people in new generations often refer to themselves as less conservative and more liberal than older generations. Westerners may refer to themselves as less conservative and more liberal than Easterners. Being conservative in the American context might be considered liberal in the Chinese context.
What does it actually mean to be more or less conservative (or liberal)? Is this a difference in cognitive processing? Or a social difference that we have picked up from the society around us?
Protecting vs. Providing Motivation
Liberals and conservatives differ in what motivates them. Studies with Western samples show that political lefties (liberals or progressives) tend to support policies that provide welfare for societies, whereas political conservatives tend to support policies that aim to protect their country from external harm. Such differences are rooted in the psychological distinction between approach and avoidance motivations.
Approach motivation focuses on how we can gain benefits. In general, this motivation seeks to provide well-being by doing good things for ourselves and for others (prosocial behaviours). People with approach motivation are likely to support individual autonomy and social justice.
In contrast, avoidance motivation focuses on avoiding harms, and what we should not do. Generally, this motivation seeks to prevent harm and to stop bad behaviours. People with avoidance motivation are likely to be responsive to threat and support social regulations.
However, this does not mean that people have only one type of these motivations and not the other. We all have some degree of both motives, and all react to changing situations by adjusting our current motives, but may lean towards one side more overall.
More vs. Less Negative Sensitivity
Neurologists and psychologists have found a link between people’s political orientation and sensitivity to negative environments. This is known as the negativity bias. A negativity bias means that humans generally tend to pay more attention to negative things. For example, we are generally quicker at recognising angry faces than happy faces. Even though we all have a negativity bias, the degree of negativity bias may be different from person to person.
Researchers found that people with more conservative thoughts are more responsive to negative environments than their counterparts. These people are more likely to support policies that minimise harmful incidents (e.g., anti-refugees) or promote their country’s stability (e.g., support military enforcement, support local businesses).
In contrast, people with more liberal thoughts are more willing to support policies that provide social welfare (e.g., free access to medical care) or challenge conventional use of power and authority (e.g., rehabilitation of criminals).
It is important to note that the negative bias is evolutionarily beneficial, and everyone has it to a certain degree. People who live in more conflict-ridden and more dangerous environments may show more negative biases compared to people who live in a safer environment.
In summary, conservatism and liberalism are relative; they represent tendencies of thinking and behaviours, rather than absolute, unchanging characteristics. Those tendencies are rooted in individual psychological and physiological differences. However, they are also shaped by the cultural context and responsive to situational forces as well as group norms and leadership. In diverse environments, both conservatism and liberalism can be beneficial to a country.
- Gi Chonu
Rioting occurring after a football match is not an uncommon phenomenon. Longstanding hostility amongst football fan groups is a tradition worldwide. Hooliganism is a term that describes violent behaviour perpetrated by football spectators, and we find the phenomenon occurring across the globe. In extreme circumstances, death can be an outcome of such riots. For example, during Honduras’ 1969 World Cup qualification, 2,100 people died. In Indonesia, the country where I lived previously, hostility between two fan groups occurs between groups from two cities that are close together.
The most contemporary case of violent football riots in Indonesia resulted in the death of Haringga Sirila (23 years old) on 23 September 2018. The young man was a big fan of Persija, a football team of Jakarta. The violent hostility between the two fan groups remains a deep tradition, with seven people from the two groups having died since 2012. This hostility is not an isolated case and similar cases also occur in other cities around the country. However, the question arises: Why do they strike?
One line of work examines violent behaviour perpetrated by a group or a mass as “Amok” (or ‘running amok’): an analysis with historical roots in the Malay tradition.
A study conducted by Manuel L. Saint Martin of the University of Southern California, attributed this kind of mass violence in South East Asia to mental and personality disorders and extreme psychological distress.
Interpreting mass violence as ‘running amok’ is an explanation that points to feelings of frustration and violence as the effect of social or psychological pressure. But this explanation seems inappropriate to explain football fans’ rioting.
So what drives physical violence amongst football fans?
Another type of explanation draws on the psychology of groups. Social psychological research has shown that we have two kinds of identity: personal identity, representing our uniqueness and what distinguishes us from others (I am different from other people), and social identity, usually called a group identity. A social identity allows us to associate and bond with other people (e.g., ‘I am Australian’, or ‘I am a fan of this club’).
How are these personal and social identities related to the violence occurring amongst football fans? A great deal of research is exploring this question. One answer points to the relationship between personal and social identity, a concept called Identity fusion. It is a very deep sense of oneness with a group and its individual members that motivate pro-group behaviours - even personally costly ones.
The feelings of identity fusion are not just being strongly bonded with a group, but it is having deep emotional ties with other group members. These bonds are similar to familial bonds. Familial bonding usually occurs in a narrow context (e.g., with members of our nuclear family), but the concept of fusion can be extended to a larger group such as national group, religious group and of course, a football fan group.
But how can the feeling of oneness lead to intergroup violence?
Work on identity fusion suggests a number of factors facilitate the connection between the sense of oneness and violence.
For example, arousal has been established as a catalyst for those who have strong feelings of oneness with the group to engage in extreme behaviour. An experiment involving 245 students in Spain, showed that in a dodgeball game, stimulating arousal within the group resulted in more extreme behaviour on behalf of his/her group.
A second factor is called the personal agency principle, whereby an individual feels that he/she represents the group and is compelled to act on behalf of the group. Of course, not all pro-group actions are violent! But when people who feel fused with a group feel frustrated or threatened, the sense of being compelled to act even if extreme actions are needed means violence is more of a risk.
The death of a football fan in a riot, as in the case of Haringga, can be explained in this way. In a pre-match situation, the crowds in a stadium can create arousal, increasing the risk of violent behaviour for those whose personal identity is fused to the group, and who experience a sense of personal agency alongside collective threat or frustration.
In addition, previous studies show that shared painful past experience amongst group members may also play a role. Along with our colleagues (Martha Newson, Harvey Whitehouse, and Vici Sofiana Putera), we collected the data from 100 people of two conflicting fan groups in Indonesia (Bandung team and Jakarta team). Our focus was on the extent to which the shared painful experiences with fellow members can be a catalyst for the tendency to engage in violent behaviour on behalf of the group.
We found that the tendency to act extremely is more likely when a person had experienced feelings of oneness with the group, and especially when the members shared a painful past experience. In football rivalries, we know that, the fans of the two teams competing with each other, have shared the painful experience of violence from the other group. When one group’s violence promotes the second group’s fusion, which in turn is linked to their extremism or violence, a vicious cycle is initiated.
What can be done to stop violence among highly fused fans?
Identity fusion seems to rely on very strong ties, that are almost impossible to defuse. So, an “extreme’ approach to preventing violent associated with identity fusion is to dissolve the group itself. But, in most cases, this approach cannot be implemented. A more feasible approach may be changing the norm of the fan groups – i.e., their standards or rules for pro-group action.
Some football fans have norms of supporting hostility and violence. The key may be to change these norms, with the help of the football team itself and the football regulation boards, to promote positive norms. One example would be using the match as a way to raise funds for natural disaster victims around the country, or for children impacted by cancer, is a potential way to slowly and sustainably change the hostile norm associated with the match with a caring norm. The view of the competition is shifted so it is not only about the number of goals scored by the players, but also about the funds collected by the fans. This would strengthen the injunctive norm that football fans contribute positively to society. Similarly, many positive values such as fairness, peace and justice can be clearly seen in good sportsmanship, and if we promote these values, we can help fans groups to also extend these values to their rival teams.
- Susilo Wibisono & Whinda Yustisia
*The article is a version of an article written for and published by The Conversation Indonesia, on Sept 28, 2018.
I’ve written before about different types of domestic abuse. New research shows that when people subscribe to traditional social norms about gender and romance, they may be more vulnerable to such abuse.
How traditional gender norms can promote domestic abuse
Gender norms highlight the expected or typical behaviour of a person based on their gender.
Traditional gender norms hold men as strong, dominant protectors and women as kind, nurturing caregivers. Gender norms don’t consider gender diversity or fluidity. Although such norms seem positive—emphasising chivalry towards women, for example—these ideals are restrictive of both men and women. Women’s perceived competence may be lowered, and men may be less able to express their emotions and vulnerability.
Many people who hold traditional views of gender have loving, equal relationships.
For others, gender norms can promote a power imbalance that may manifest as abuse within relationships.
Research has shown that women who endorse traditional gender norms are more likely to experience intimate partner violence in their romantic relationships. The same is true for people who believe in traditional romantic beliefs and norms.
Why subscribing to romantic norms makes some women vulnerable to abuse
Traditional romantic norms emphasise the importance of being in a relationship and promote the ideals of love at first sight, one true love, and love conquers all.
These ideals are ever present in Western cultures. Even in early childhood, Disney movies and fairy tales promote love at first sight and the power of love to triumph over all obstacles to an unrealistic degree. Similar messages persist through teen and adult romance novels and films.
Contrary to intuition, women who accept such romantic norms are actually more likely to experience abuse within their romantic relationships.
When internalised, romantic norms may encourage women, in particular, to view their romantic relationship’s success or failure as a reflection of their own self-worth. That’s when such norms can become dangerous.
Accepting romantic norms may motivate people to ignore or romanticise the warning signs of an abusive relationship.
Possessiveness and jealousy can be easily reframed as romantic rather than controlling.
Popular media Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, for example, both strongly romanticise controlling behaviours as a sign of passion and commitment. Characters in both series express the desire to restrict the behaviour of their love interest for reasons motivated by jealousy and possessiveness.
But acting on jealousy in this way by controlling who your partner spends time with and when, is a form of abuse.
Where do we go from here?
Differences and complementarity can lead to mutual respect and care. Vulnerability can be a part of intimacy. In contrast, abuse in romantic relationships is typically about control. Traditional gender norms, and idealised romantic norms provide a framework that can be used to justify or romanticise control and power imbalances. As we move forward we need to challenge our understanding of romance and gender. We need to focus on trust and equality as the foundations of healthy romantic relationships.
- Kiara Minto
Why do people do things that harm others?
Socially harmful behaviours, like discrimination and hate speech, are still common in modern society. But where do these behaviours come from?
According to self-determination theory, pro-social behaviours (like tolerance and fairness) come from within, because we have a personal desire to engage in them. In contrast, harmful acts are normally motivated by an external source, such as social pressure to conform.
For example, school bullying may be encouraged by those classmates that intimidate other students. In order to avoid being bullied, and also to become close to the popular children in school, some kids may also start bullying others.
To summarise, helping other people gives us real pleasure and enjoyment, while harming others only brings recognition from others and helps achieve our goals.
Even though discrimination is not truly motivated by our own values and beliefs, from this perspective, is it possible that harmful behaviour can become a part of our identity and represent who we really are?
Discrimination can be a consequence of social norms
One cause of discrimination are the social norms associated with the groups we belong to.
In an attempt to fit into society, we follow the norms of our own groups. These norms, however, are not always oriented to benefitting the interests of people in other groups.
For example, an organisation with racist norms that dictate choosing job candidates that belong to the Caucasian ethnic group rather than choosing based on qualifications, will motivate the recruiter to follow these norms and to discriminate against certain ethnic groups.
We may follow discriminatory norms in order to feel we fit in with our group, or that doing so promotes our group’s values or goals.
When a behaviour is considered normal in groups we belong to, but is actually inconsistent with what we personally believe in, this creates a sense of conflict within our identity.
Compartmentalisation helps us deal with inner conflict
This feeling of contradiction between our values and our situation reflects an underlying resistance to engage in harmful actions.
For example, a recruiter who personally believes that job candidates should be hired based on their merit will feel an internal conflict when following the firm’s discriminatory norm.
In response to inner conflict, we tend to separate the harmful (e.g., discriminatory) behaviour from other life situations and contexts. This is called compartmentalisation.
Going back to the example where Caucasian candidates are preferred when hiring, this would mean that the conflicted recruiter would restrict ethnic discrimination behaviour only to work situations and would not generalise it to other life contexts.
By using this compartmentalisation strategy, the harmful social behaviour is restricted to a particular life context and does not become representative of the entire person. From the self-determination perspective, compartmentalisation also protects one’s identity from negative evaluation.
People do not enjoy discriminating against others
Many people want to believe that human nature is inherently good, and that no one would willingly harm others and feel good about themselves. The results of our studies confirm that people who discriminate do not necessarily enjoy their actions harming others. Rather, they are more likely to feel an internal conflict when discriminating.
On this positive note, we conclude that harmful behaviors are somewhat more difficult to accept as a part of who we are. Although specific life situations may sometimes dictate discriminatory actions, they generally bring less pleasure and enjoyment. Instead, causing harm to others evokes feelings of internal conflict and dissociation, which the majority of us will try to minimise.
- Guest post by Ksenia Sukhanova and Catherine Amiot, Université du Québec à Montréal
Read full article:
Amiot, C. E., Louis, W. R., Bourdeau, S., & Maalouf, O. (2017). Can harmful intergroup behaviors truly represent the self?: The impact of harmful and prosocial normative behaviors on intra-individual conflict and compartmentalization. Self and Identity, 1-29.
Climate change is real, so why the controversy and debate? Often the way science and ideas are communicated affects the response they motivate.
In this interview, I argue climate science communication should be informed by the psychology of persuasion and communication in conflict. I talk through concrete examples of effective and ineffective messaging and the key factors to consider. The ideas I present here are relevant for anyone working in science communication or social change.
Key points include:
Watch the full interview below:
I'd love to hear your feedback. Please leave a comment or a question below and I'll get back to you.
- Winnifred Louis
Eat your five serves of fruit and vegetables! Get your 30 minutes of exercise! Drink responsibly!
There’s no shortage of messages telling us how to be healthy. But do we action them?
Health habits solidify during young adulthood and have knock-on effects for later life. University students may be particularly vulnerable to forming bad habits. Young people are responsible for their diets for the first time, but also under time pressure and economic strain. University students also experience other pressures, such as peer pressure to drink excessively or to engage in other risky behaviours.
So are young people building healthy habits at University?
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Students’ engagement in health behaviours actually declines over the course of their studies. The link between students and excessive drinking is also well-known.
If students are so smart, why do they do so many dumb (unhealthy) things?
When students identify with the student group, they may act in line with the norms of that group. Because student norms tend to favour unhealthy behaviours, students end up engaging in unhealthy behaviours.
In a recent book chapter, we distilled key lessons from social psychology and discussed how these insights could be used to change behaviour.
People engage in behaviours seen to be central or defining of their group
Health behaviours are not simply personal choices but rather reflect habits that are part and parcel of belonging to particular groups. These behaviours can have negative or positive consequences depending on which behaviours have become tied up with group membership. As an example, consider how the central role in the national psyche of the full English breakfast or the meat-laden Australian BBQ determines day-to-day food choices and compare this to the classic Mediterranean diet or the abundance of fresh fish and vegetables in Japan.
Students often describe behaviours with negative implications for health – such as excess alcohol consumption – as ‘normal’ within the university context. Many have expectations about these norms even before they step foot on campus. So, when students are thinking about themselves as a student, being healthy is not at the forefront of their minds – in fact, the opposite is clearly the case.
Efforts to change student behaviour that make student identity salient may backfire because student identity does not promote health behaviour.
Those who want to change student behaviour need to encourage students to see themselves in terms of another identity for which healthy behaviour is expected – such as athletic identities – or make health behaviour more central to what it means to be a student.
Changing group norms is no easy task
If unhealthy behaviours are seen as central to what it means to be a group member – such as students and drinking – group members may be very resistant to attempts to change their behaviour, even if such change would improve their health.
Norms themselves are quite complex. They have both a descriptive element (what is commonly done) and a prescriptive element (what should be done). And these two elements don’t always align. For example, students might approve of more responsible drinking but still go out and binge drink anyway!
When these descriptive and prescriptive elements are in conflict, people tend to go along with what their group actually does, rather than what their group thinks should be done. So, if people try to change one element without paying attention to the other, these efforts may be ineffective or even counterproductive.
If you want to encourage health behaviours, you need to communicate that the group both approves of healthy behaviour and actually engages in that behaviour.
Change agents should try to frame identities and norms in ways that communicate that being a student means being healthy. And work with students on health messages to ensure that these are credible and acceptable.
We believe that bringing a stronger understanding of how social factors shape students’ choices about their health allows us to unlock the full potential of groups so that these become a positive – rather than a negative – force for students’ health behaviours. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress!
- Joanne Smith (Guest blogger and Social Change Lab collaborator)
Read the full article:
Smith, J. R., Louis, W. R., & Tarrant, M. (2017). University students’ social identity and health behaviours. In K. Mavor, M. J. Platow, & B. Bizumic (Eds.), Self and social identity in educational contexts (pp. 159-174). London: Routledge.
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.