Why Threats to Social Identity Lead to Conflict
Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2011
Be it at school, office, the neighborhood or the community people live in, conflicting situations amongst various groups might arise on an almost day to day basis. Today, the prevalence of these intergroup conflicts is on the rise and has resulted in minor disagreements amongst friends to waging full scale wars between countries.
Social psychology research has always maintained that individuals often identify themselves with the social group they belong to and will bond together to defend their identity at all cost. Now, a new study published in the latest issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explains how motivation drives certain groups to behave in a particular manner.
“As a researcher in motivational processes, one thing I have learned is that people’s attitudes and behavior are more often than not driven by latent motivations that they themselves are often not aware of,” says Lile Jia who co-wrote the study along with his colleagues Samuel Karpen and Edward Hirt at Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. In this particular case study, Jia and his colleagues decided to examine if the motivation to regain a strong American group identity was partly behind the powerful opposition to building the Ground Zero Mosque in New York.
Jia and his co-authors believe that contemporary events and controversies evoke strong reactions in people because of the latent motivations that may be present due to current economic concerns and worries. According to Jia, “our case study shows that a threat to the American identity brought about by changes in the political and economic environment influences how Americans respond to the symbolic building on sacred lands by other groups.”
When conducting their research, Jia and his co-authors used a clever cover story developed by social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood. Participants, who were American citizens, read either an article describing a thriving American economy and rising international status or an article depicting a bleak picture of the American economy and a declining international status. The participants who read the article that showcased a downward spiraling American economy and international status considered this piece of information as a threat to their usually positive group identity as an American, as opposed to those who read the article that highlighted America’s positive economic trend. The results go on to demonstrate that the participants who read the article about the decline of the U.S. subsequently reported a greater opposition toward the building plan, were angrier with it, and were more likely to sign a petition against it. This is especially so for Americans who identify strongly with the country.
In the study, Jia and his co-authors state that people typically identify with their social groups along different dimensions; importance, commitment, superiority and deference. “In the context of Ground Zero Mosque, Americans who are loyal to the country on the deference dimension are especially responsive to the threat manipulation,” says Jia who explains that Americans wanted to protect the Ground Zero area from any use that might be construed as disrespectful or inappropriate.
Jia and his colleagues believe this study reemphasizes, following the footsteps of many social psychologists, the importance of motivation in understanding or explaining the reasons behind intergroup conflict. ”Future research can aim at discovering the host of common personal and group level motivations people bring to intergroup conflict. Knowing these various motivations will help us to develop intervention programs to resolve or prevent conflicts from emerging,” concludes Jia.
Related Situationist posts:
- System Justification Theory and Law
- 9/11 Remembered
- “The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?”
- “Legitimate Responses to Illegitimate Acts,”
- “The ‘Turban Effect’,”
- “The Situation of Racial Profiling,”
- “The Situation of Being ‘(un)American’,”
- “Do We Miss Racial Stereotypes Today that Will Be Evident Tomorrow?,”
- “Ideology Shaping Situation of Vice Versa,”
- “Thanksgiving as ‘System Justification.’”
- “Cheering for the Underdog.”
- “A System-Justification Primer,”
- “Barbara Ehrenreich on the Sources of and Problems with Dispositionism,”
- “The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,”
- “John Jost on System Justification Theory,”
- “John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video,”
- “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and
- “The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist.”
To review a collection of posts discussing the situational sources of war:
- Part I and Part II of the series included portions of an article co-authored by Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon, titled “Why Hawks Win.”
- Part III reproduced an op-ed written by Situationist friend Dan Gilbert on July 24, 2006.
- Part IV and Part V in the series contained the two halves of an essay written by Situationist Contributor, Jon Hanson within the week following 9/11.
- Part VI contains an op-ed written by Situationist Contributor John Jost on October 1, 2001, “Legitimate Responses to Illegitimate Acts,” which gives special emphasis to the role of system justification.
- Part VII includes a video entitled “Resisting the Drums of War.” The film was created and narrated by psychologist Roy J. Eidelson, Executive Director of the Solomon Asch Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
To review a larger sample of posts on the causes and consequences of human conflict, click here.
This entry was posted on October 13, 2011 at 12:01 am and is filed under Abstracts, Conflict, Politics, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy. Tagged: Conflict, Ground Zero Mosque, implicit motivations, latent motivations, social identity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.