“EXTREMISM: The Social Psychology of Ideological Polarizationand Commitment” Leslie L. Downing, Ph.D.SUNY - Oneonta, NYDepartment of Psychology Proposed Presentation for the Susan Sutton Smith Prize for Academic Excellence (2004): SUNY Oneonta
BIN LADEN • WE ARE ALL TOO FAMILIAR WITH THE EXTREMES TO WHICH COMMITTED FOLLOWERS OF OSAMA BIN LADEN HAVE GONE - • TO FULFILL HIS VISION OF WAR AGAINST THE INFIDELS.
Radical Muslims Al Queda and Other Radical Muslim Groups not only anticipate a world free of non-Muslim infidels They are committed to doing whatever is necessary to make it happen! ARE SUCH PEOPLE EVIL?
SHOKO ASAHARA Aum Shinrikyo in Japan has tried to hurry the end of the world by release of sarin gas in the Tokyo subway. HIS FOLLOWERS PERSISTED IN OBEYING HIS DIRECTIVES, EVEN WHEN ASKED TO KILL AS MANY TOKYO COMMUTERS AS POSSIBLE.
914 DEAD AT JONESTOWN FOLLOWERS OF JIM JONES SHARED THE BELIEF THAT HE WAS DIVINELY INSPIRED BY GOD, DOING HIS BIDDING EVEN WHEN HE ASKED THEM TO MURDER THEIR OWN BABIES, AND KILL THENSELVES.
CHARLES MANSON Charles Manson was not content to wait for Armageddon. He tried to light the fuse that would bring it about. FOLLOWERS OF CHARLES MANSON PERSISTED IN ACCEPTING HIS DIVINITY EVEN WHEN HE ASKED THEM TO MURDER INNOCENT PEOPLE FOR HIM.
IDEOLOGICALEXTREMITY • IDEOLOGICAL EXTREMITY? THE EXTENT TO WHICH IDEOLOGICAL BELIEFS DEVIATE FROM SOME COLLECTIVELY DEFINED NORM.
EXTREME COMMITMENT TO BEHAVIOR DEFINITION OF COMMITMENT – “THAT WHICH ALLOWS PERSISTENCE IN A LINE OF ACTION IN SPITE OF GOOD REASONS TO DO OTHERWISE.”
Acquiring Extreme Ideology: Polarization and Conversion Processes POLARIZATION: Shift from more moderate or normative beliefs to ones that are more extreme. IDEOLOGICAL CONVERSION:Coming to accept a new ideology that is incompatible with previously held beliefs.
Belief Polarization • RESEARCH AND THEORY • THE RISKY SHIFT (STONER) • BELIEF POLARIZATION (BROWN) • THOUGHT-INDUCED POLARIZATION (TESSER) • (e.g. CAUTION) (e.g. HIGH RISK) • EXTREME MODERATE EXTREME • NEGATIVE POSITIVE • ____ : __<_ : _Y_ : ____ : ____ : ____ : _x_ : __>_ : ____ : ____
ADDITIONAL FACTORS IN POLARIZATION • “GROUPTHINK” (Janis) • Group Cohesiveness and Insularity • INGROUP/OUTGROUP EFFECTS (Downing AND Monaco) • Rigidity of Boundaries • Ingroup Enhancement Bias • Outgroup Disparagement Bias
Outgroup Disparagement Bias DEVALUING OF NON-BELIEVERS “DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE” (Robert Lifton) “We are dust to them!” (Vladimir Putin on Al Queda)
SOCIAL IMPLOSION • WHEN MEMBERS OF COHESIVE GROUPS INTERACT AMONGST THEMSELVES, CONCERNING ISSUES OF ATTITUDE OR BELIEF, WITHOUT THE MODERATING INFLUENCES OF OUTSIDERS, A SHIFT IN THE DIRECTION OF POLARITY OR EXTREMITY IS TO BE EXPECTED.
Ideological Conversion • “Fragile Realities: Conversion and Commitment in Cults and Other Powerful Groups.” (Downing) • Social Psychology: Belief and Commitment in Groups. • Six-Component Model of Ideological Conversion.
STAGE 1 OF THE SIX-COMPONENT MODEL OF IDEOLOGICAL CONVERSION • STAGE 1:Impairment of the Ability of the Original Belief System to Adequately Function. • Component 1:Threat to Functioning of the Original Belief System. • Component 2: Undermining Internal Resources for Coping with Threat. • Component 3: Undermining External Resources for Coping with Threat
STAGE 2 OF THE SIX-COMPONENT MODEL OF IDEOLOGICAL CONVERSION • STAGE 2:Provision of Conditions in Which a New Ideology is Made Available and is Perceived to be Functional. • Component 4: Provision of a New Social Support System. • Component 5: Provision of a New Ideology. • Component 6: Provision of Conditions Supporting Commitment to and Consolidation of the New Ideology
Acquiring Extreme Ideological Commitment • Two Processes: • Process One(Enhancement) • Process Two (Disparaged Alternatives)
Enhancement as the Route to Commitment COMMITMENT BASED UPON INTENSE POSITIVE ORIENTATION TO ONE’S BELIEFS (Theory and Research) • COMMITMENT RESULTING FROM IRREVERSIBLE SACRIFICE OR INVESTMENT. (Dissonance effects) • THE MORE COST, PAIN, OR SUFFERING ONE ENDURES ON BEHALF OF A BELIEF, THE MORE COMMITMENT TO THAT BELIEF WILL RESULT.
Disparagement or Absence of Alternatives as the Route to Commitment Devaluation of external (outgroup based) interpretations. Burned Bridges: Loss of the option of returning to an earlier position.
FINAL THOUGHTS First: • Processes leading to extremes of belief, and those leading to extreme commitment to act upon those beliefs, are not the same.
Secondly: • Polarization flourishes when moderates remain silent.
Thirdly: • Extremes of belief and commitment, are most likely to occur in groups that are physically or psychologically alienated from surrounding cultures.
Therefore • To punish extremists by use of economic and other sanctions may have the effect of further isolating them. • Such a tactic may actually enhance to dangerous levels the polarization that already exists.
Solutions? • Increasepermeability of borders • Reduce isolation • Encourage moderates to be heard • Promote non-zero sum interdependence • Reduce zero-sum structures and thinking
“We are dust to them!” (Vladimir Putin on Al Queda) Super-ordinate goals destroy the zero-sum reasoning that allows others to be characterized as evil, or as without value, or as “Dust.”