Trump supporters have an attitude problem: The psychology of attitude change

In light of the latest scandal to plague Donald Trump (if you haven’t seen the video, it’s here), non-Trump supporters right now are wondering how people can actually continue to support this man. Prominent Republicans, including RNC chairman Reince Priebus, have publicly denounced Trump’s recent comments about “grabbing a woman’s pussy.” To them, I ask, what took so long? To his existing supporters, I ask, how can you continue to support him?

But I know how they can.

hard-way-easy-wat

Attitude change is a tricky thing. Attitudes are comprised of an ABC of sorts: varying amounts of affective (based on emotions and values), behavioral (based on people’s observations of their behavior toward something), and cognitive (based on thoughts or beliefs) components. And trying to change a person’s attitude requires knowing which components make up that attitude. Attitude change is more likely when persuasive messages match the attitude type [1]. In other words, attempting to change a person’s cognitive-based attitude is more likely to be successful when the message appeals to a person’s rational thought and logic. Similarly, using an emotional appeal to a person with an affective-based attitude is likely to be more persuasive. The catch here is that emotions are, well, emotional and inherently non-objective. So, in the case of fear-based attitudes, which characterizes most of Trump’s supporters, trying to change their minds by too much fear is also ineffective. Fear-based change messages that are too strong backfire and lead the target person (or persons, in this case) to become overwhelmed, tune out, and lose the ability to think rationally about the topic at hand [2] [3].

20151210_edcartoon_640px_1449787495799_28217634_ver1-0_640_480-trumpWhich is why well-intentioned Clinton supporters or progressives who use cognitive-based attitudes fail to persuade Trump supporters. It’s why progressives who resort to fear, as in “Trump will start a nuclear war!” (could he? It’s possible), come up against a brick wall with Trump supporters. For many of them, their support of Trump is not cognitively-based, so that appeal won’t work. It’s why telling them Donald Trump is flat out lying to them A LOT doesn’t mean a thing. And fear-based appeals come on too strong and too intense–likely because Trump opponents are legitimately terrified of a Trump presidency given his incompetence and xenophobia, racism, misogyny, etc.–so those certainly don’t work, either.

Something else is likely going on here: the inoculation effect. Attitude inoculation acts in essentially the same way as vaccines and other inoculations: “attitude inoculation is making people immune to attempts to change their attitudes by initially exposing them to small doses of the arguments against their position”[4]. Does that sound familiar? Trump supporters have been exposed to “attacks” on him and questions about his character, his integrity, his competence since he first announced his candidacy and in the process offended millions of Latinos throughout the country. And each successive “attack” on Trump (note how I’m using quotations because these attacks are, nearly without exception, justified and truthful revelations) is actually strengthening “Support Trump” attitudes.

This, of course, is not true without exception. Certainly there have been Trump supporters who no longer supported him after successive gaffes, especially after this latest one. By and large, however, Trump has maintained a steady percentage of Americans who stand by him (about 32%), seemingly no matter what; this support has been even higher among certain demographics. How else can that be explained than by decades of research on attitude change?

party-crasher-trumpOf course, the presidency is much higher stakes than a typical attitude change situation.
Additional factors are at play, like the crumbling and divided GOP, who can’t decide what to do with Trump. This latest might finally be the blow that pressures Trump to withdraw (although he claims there is “zero chance I’ll quit”). If he does, however, he’ll do so to the dismay and sadness of his ever-present fearful supporters.

 

 


[1] Shavitt. (1990). The role of attitude objects in attitude function. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 26, 124-148.

[2] Janis & Feshbach. (1953). Effects of fear-arousing communications. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49, 78-92.

[3] Liberman & Chaiken. (1992). Defensive processing of personally relevant health messages. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18, 669-679.

[4] Aronson, Wilson, & Akert. (2013). Attitudes and attitude change. In Social Psychology (164-195) (8th ed.).

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White Privilege at the voting booth: How pervasive is white privilege?

36749-white-privilege-does-not-mean-a-white-person-has-money-but-refers-to

Image from Quote Addicts

In 1988, Peggy McIntosh wrote a famous piece called, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”1 In the essay, she discusses how belonging to advantaged groups, like white people or men, contributes to the ways that we navigate and perceive our worlds. She makes a stirring point about how easy it is to recognize racism, but that we often have a difficult time seeing how we may be advantaged due to the existence of that racism. You don’t not need to be engaging in racist behavior, using racial epithets or endorsing the bigotries of others in order to be advantaged by societal attitudes. The sad thing, McIntosh points out, is that people who are oppressive in their societal roles are often unaware that they are occupying roles at all.

For instance, people don’t readily recognize that they are more likely to hire white people over people of color, but research shows that this is indeed the case.2 When researchers sent out identical resumes, but with black or white sounding names, people with white sounding names received 50% more interview requests.2 White people are often convinced that anti-white sentiment is actually becoming a bigger problem than anti-black bias, and that attempts to decrease racism are a “zero-sum game” that increases bias towards whites.3 And that’s pretty damn troubling, y’all. As Jen pointed out last week, implicit bias against black people, and black men in particular, results in a larger number of escalated police encounters. While white people are becoming increasingly concerned about being blamed for the problems of minorities, black people are literally worried about being killed in the middle of the day during a routine traffic stop.

As per usual, arguments that equate racism and “reverse racism”* present a false equivalence: there is no systematic disadvantage to being white. White people are armed with our invisible knapsack of privilege. We dominate accounts of history, we see images that look like ourselves everywhere and we can be assured that when things don’t go our way, it is likely not because we’re white. Peggy McIntosh so eloquently hits on the subtlety of privilege in her essay, so I will borrow some of her words. “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed,” “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is,” “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group,” “I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race,” and  “I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.”

What McIntosh is tapping into here is how unrecognizable the receipt of privilege is. We are not aware that it is happening unless we attempt to be aware of it. We enjoy these invisible privileges, and resent others for suggesting that we have such privileges at all. Even within the context of our presidential election, we have one candidate who is recognizing the disadvantages that black citizens are experiencing on all levels of the legal system, and we have another suggesting that a racist, unconstitutional policy should be widely implemented in order to restore “law and order” to our cities.

For some, the solution is this simple. Black neighborhoods are more violent, therefore black people are more violent, therefore we need to police them with more vigor. For others, there is recognition that the problems in black neighborhoods have much to do with the lack of white privilege. Lack of access to quality education, lack of exposure to suitable role models, lack of mentorship from non-family members, lack of networking contacts in hiring positions, lack of parental free-time to help with home education…You could go on for days. The fact is that there is a flip side to implicit bias, and it’s this kind of implicit inflation. There’s a famous saying, “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” Sometimes, we simply can’t take credit for everything that we have. We didn’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Sometimes, we received some of those things simply because we are white, or we at least had easier access to them because we have racial privilege. And make no mistake, there are plenty of kinds of privilege. Class, male, and heterosexual privilege all exist as well. People who are advantaged in one domain are not necessarily advantaged in all domains.

In election years in particular, it’s important to recognize where our thinking may suggest that we have a narrow perspective on the issue. Barack and Michelle Obama have recently talked about how third-party votes in this election are votes for Donald Trump. People who disagree have taken to online forums declaring that they are simply voting their conscience, and not violating their own sense of integrity. Well, the next president will choose at least 2 Supreme Court justices, will have access to the nuclear codes and has the ability to set women’s, minority and LGBT rights back by several years. But at least you can tuck your integrity into your invisible knapsack.

*In quotes, because it doesn’t exist. Anti-white bias, prejudice or discrimination, sure, but not racism, due to a lack of systematic disadvantage due to being white.

  1. McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Race, class, and gender in the United States: An integrated study4, 165-169.
  2. Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. The American Economic Review94(4), 991-1013.
  3. Norton, M. I., & Sommers, S. R. (2011). Whites see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing. Perspectives on Psychological Science6(3), 215-218.

 

The problem with seeing black men as bad dudes

1_Year_Commemoration_of_the_Murder_of_Michael_Brown,_the_Ferguson_Rebellion,_&_the_Black_Lives_Matter_uprising._(20426285322).jpg

One year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. Barclays Center, Brooklyn.

Today is September 21, 2016. Keith Scott is the latest black man to be shot and killed by the police. Scott was killed on September 20, 2016, in Charlotte, NC. Terence Crutcher was killed the day before on September 19, 2016, in Tulsa, OK. These men are just the last two to make the news.

Most of these men are unarmed. All of them are black. In fact, black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police. For Scott’s and Crutcher’s deaths, police officers justified their decision to shoot by claiming that the individual posed an “imminent deadly threat” (in the case of Scott) or used factors such as the man’s appearance, “That looks like a bad dude, too,” (in the case of Crutcher) to warrant further investigation.

I shouldn’t say claim. I’m sure the officers really believed they were under imminent threat or that Crutcher really was a bad dude. And that’s exactly the problem. Their minds made a split second survival decision to protect themselves and do what they swore to do as a police officer. They made that decision while operating on high alert, unknowingly under the influence of their implicit biases. Those split-second decisions are not the cause, but rather, the symptom of a larger graver issue. Of institutional racism and prejudice that has been with America since before its founding. Many of you reading this already know and accept this. For those of you who don’t, please keep reading.

These split second decisions are killing black people, especially men. If you can stomach it, watch the footage of Philando Castile’s shooting. The officer doesn’t even seem to realize that he’s shot Castille. He’s still standing there at the window in shock, cursing. The actual decision to shoot and the aftermath all seemed to happen so fast. Situations like that are why implicit racial stereotyping and lack of awareness of how to de-bias are so deadly.

We’ve covered implicit bias on SocialPsyQ before when discussing last year’s triple homicide in Chapel Hill, NC, but never in the context of police shootings. As a refresher, implicit biases are automatic (i.e., below the surface of consciousness; not being aware of it) stereotypes or prejudices that people hold, almost always without being aware of them.1 Social psychologists have been studying implicit biases and their effects on behavior and society for years. These biases are deeply ingrained and automatic and yet may still guide our actions and behavior.2 As one researcher said, “the characteristic in question (skin color, age, sexual orientation) operates so quickly…that people have no time to deliberate. It is for this reason that people are often surprised to find that they show implicit bias” (Jolls & Sunstein, 2006, p. 975).

 In a 2011 study, Kahn and Davies found that the more stereotypically black a person looked (e.g., darker skin, broader nose, fuller lips) compared to a less stereotypically black person or white person, the stronger a participant’s implicit bias was in a split-second “shoot/don’t shoot” situation. In other words, participants were more likely to shoot people the “blacker” they looked. And not only were they more likely to shoot them, they were also quicker to make the decision to do so, because of the stronger implicit bias.

In a similar 2006 study, Correll, Urland, and Ito found that participants (98% of whom were not black) playing a video game “shot armed black targets more quickly than armed white targets and decided not to shoot unarmed white targets more quickly than unarmed black targets.” This biased behavior pattern was especially true for participants who had reported a stronger association between violence and black people. The findings of these studies, conducted in lab settings, are a disturbing and sickening parallel to what is literally happening across America.

The shootings are the worst escalation of this implicit bias, but there are many other seemingly milder situations of black people being stopped by police and treated suspiciously or unfairly compared to non-black people. Consider this: compared to a white person stopped for a seatbelt violation, a black person is 176% more likely to have their vehicle searched. The Open Data Policing table below shows that, except for driving while impaired, black people are more likely than white people to have their vehicle searched for any violation. Did I mention this is real data from 2015 stops within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police’s jurisdiction?

openDatapolicing.png

2015 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Search by Stop-Cause: Black vs. white. Open Data Policing NC.

 And for those of you reading this who still want to resist these stats and claim that officers are shooting white people, too, I say, yes, you’re right. Police officers are shooting and killing white people (and other people of color, for that matter), but these situations, though unfortunate and not excusable, are generally proportionate to the number of white people in the U.S. In other words, the stats on those situations don’t point to white people being singled out, whereas they do for situations of black people being killed. Terence Crutcher was having car trouble when he was approached by police. The threshold for perceiving a white man as “posing a deadly and imminent threat” is substantially higher than perceiving a black man as such, as Kahn and Davies and Correll and colleagues found. Consider Dylann Roof, the white terrorist who killed 9 black people attending bible study in Charleston last summer. Not only was he arrested alive, he was given a bulletproof vest for protection. The hypocritical double standard is nearly laughable if the consequences weren’t so grave.

You might also want to say that the police overall aren’t bad people, they’re trying to do their jobs. Or, there are just a few bad apples. Again, I agree with you. There are probably a few bad apples, and I don’t even necessarily believe those are the ones who have committed these fatal shootings. And I would agree that most police officers aren’t bad people.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s not just about the actions of an individual police officer (although they do need to be held accountable).

Here’s another thing: making a terrible decision under pressure doesn’t make you a bad person. How you respond to and accept responsibility for that decision is another story.

These shootings represent a heightened state of racial tension in this country. They represent implicit racism that is so deeply deeply ingrained in the American psyche and the justice system that many don’t even recognize it as such. White people continue to try and make justifications and rationalize these killings. Why? Stop. It’s over. You’re wrong. Nothing you say changes the fact that 194 black people (in 2016 ALONE) are dead.

What is there to do? Some police departments are considering implicit bias training, but using these trainings as a one size fits all isn’t necessarily a good idea. Instead, Destiny Peery, a law professor at Northwestern University, urges comprehensive multi-pronged approaches like Campaign Zero, which are likely to be more effective in protecting against bias.

It’s a start.

Black lives matter, y’all. Say it and do something about it. I’m talking to you, fellow white people. Are you going to stand by? Educate yourself, regardless of your profession. We all hold implicit biases. We’re still accountable for them. We don’t have to be beholden to them.

_________

If you’re a white person interested in offering your support and solidarity in the wake of the recent shootings, consider looking up your local Standing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter. Or take an anti-racist training, like this one or this one.

1 – Devine (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 5-18.

2 – Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner (2002). Implicit and explicit prejudice and interracial interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 62-68.

3 – Kahn & Davies. (2011). Differentially dangerous? Phenotypic racial stereotypicality increases implicit bias among ingroup and outgroup members. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 14, 569-580.

4 – Correll, Urland, & Ito. (2006). Event-related potentials and the decision to shoot: The role of threat perception and cognitive control. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 120-128.

5 – Jolls & Sunstein. (2006). The law of implicit bias. Faculty Scholarship Series, Yale Law School. Paper 1824. http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/fss_papers/1824/

 

Pernicious personalities: The real threat of narcissistic leadership

trump

Image from The Independent

Personality traits are often somewhat ambiguous. While it’s good to be agreeable, it’s not good to be TOO agreeable. While it’s good to be conscientious, you can be so conscientious that you never eat that piece of cake or splurge on that great meal. But narcissism, having an overinflated view of the self that leads to a sense of entitlement, self-centeredness and superiority, is pretty clear cut. Narcissism is bad for everyone. Being a narcissist comes with no real long term advantages, though short term advantages might be present. In fact, narcissism is such a bad quality that it’s considered part of the “dark triad” of personality traits, which also includes Machiavellianism (being very manipulative) and psychopathy (being callous and lacking empathy).1 Narcissism is not simply having high self-esteem, it is having a grandiose sense of self that is not grounded in reality.

That description might as well be a description of Donald Trump, former reality star and gold enthusiast and current candidate for the Presidency of the United States. When Donald Trump equates his personal success with the sacrifices of a gold star family, or when he talks about how he alone can fix the problems we face (after all, he knows more about ISIS than the generals and he could deal with thorny issues like illegal immigration and health care during his first 100 days in office), he is displaying a classic example of the narcissistic personality. So why do we care?

Well, psychologists have not only studied how narcissism affects individuals, they have also studied how narcissistic leaders affect their constituency. Jerrold Post has suggested that narcissistic leaders have impaired judgment and decision making.2 Because narcissists tend to think they know best, they are less likely to take criticism or advice from others. This is obviously a terrible leadership quality, as narcissistic leaders are more likely to make uninformed decisions, or to go forward with decisions even once contrary information has come to light. Because narcissists have a grandiose view of themselves, they are more likely to be overly optimistic about the efficacy of their beliefs.2 This problem is compounded by the narcissistic tendency to surround oneself with people who agree with the narcissist.3 In the case of the narcissist, the “best people” to surround himself with are the people who agree with him.

But the problems don’t stop there. Betty Glad finds that narcissistic leaders have an easier time rising to power than they do in actually wielding it.3 Narcissists are charismatic, so it is not surprising that narcissism may sometimes help someone get into a position of power.3 But Glad finds that once that power is attained, narcissists run into some serious problems.3 Oftentimes, narcissists have very bad ideas that cannot be enacted when they don’t have power. But once they do, they are less in touch with reality, more likely to display erratic behavior, have difficulty attaining goals and ultimately become paranoid and defensive.3 And when you surround yourself with people who agree with you, this leads to the perfect storm of malignant narcissistic leadership: Someone who thinks too highly of themselves and their own ideas, running essentially unchecked.

There is one more quality of narcissistic leaders that makes them incredibly dangerous: They have superego deficiencies.3 In other words, narcissistic leaders don’t have a very well developed conscience. The very thing that prompts restraint in our actions, that encourages us to think about how our actions affect others, that tells us to put the brakes on when our ideas are out of control…this basic sense of restraint and morality that children develop early on in life is largely missing from narcissistic leaders. So the next time Donald Trump asks why we can’t use nuclear weapons or vows to deport 11 million people, take him seriously. He has demonstrated that he isn’t a man who can really conceive of the consequences of his actions. But we know better. You cannot declare bankruptcy to get out of nuclear war.

 

  1. Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of research in personality36(6), 556-563.
  1. Post, J.M. (1993). Current concepts of the narcissistic personality: Implications for Political Psychology. Political Psychology, 14(1), 99-121.
  1. Glad, B. (2002). Why tyrants go too far: Malignant narcissism and absolute power. Political Psychology23(1), 1-37.

 

 

Brock Turner and the Masculine Identity: Perpetuating Rape Culture through Rape Myths

Brock Turner

Image from NY Daily News

On Friday, convicted rapist Brock Turner was released from jail after serving only 3 months of an incredibly lenient 6 month prison sentence for his rape of a woman attending a party. On January 18, 2015, two men witnessed Turner raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and held him until police arrived. Aaron Persky, the judge in the Turner case, decided to give Turner a light sentence, considering that a prison sentence would have a “severe impact” on the rapist (arguably the entire point of a prison sentence…). The case was widely regarded as evidence that rape is not taken seriously in legal proceedings, and that men still have difficulty understanding the significance of sexual assault. While Turner must register as a sex offender, he got the equivalent of a legal slap on the wrist for violently assaulting another person. As a woman, I am angry. But as a psychologist, I am unsurprised. Social psychologists have long known how juror perceptions of rape victims, as well as ideas regarding masculine identities, contribute to cases like Turner’s.

 

Sociologists and psychologists have explored the existence of “rape myths,” or complicated societal beliefs that essentially assert that women are “asking for it.”1 Acceptance of rape myths contributes to rape culture, and casts blame onto the victims of sexual crimes rather than onto the perpetrators. These rape myths are embraced so wholeheartedly that they are often seen in convicted rapists’ speech about their crime.2 Men who have been convicted of rape are more likely to see their crime as ambiguous, such that they believe there is room to interpret their crime as consensual sex.2 A man’s feelings about masculine gender roles also predicts his comfort with sexually coercive behavior, demonstrating that the more that men buy into toxic beliefs about masculinity, the more likely they are to engage in sexual assault.3 While rapists are usually men, rape is still perpetrated by a minority of men, and the men who commit the crime are often seen as social pariahs.4 Indeed, it appears that sex offenders have their own unique qualities. For instance, sex offenders are more likely to lack empathy, or the ability to identify with the experiences and emotions of others, which may contribute to their criminal attitudes.5 This may also explain why some men are comfortable with sexually coercive behavior, while many men are clearly not.

 

Unfortunately, rape victims must also face a biased court system, as the people involved in legal sentencing are likely swayed by their own perceptions of the victim’s behavior. Those perceptions, unbeknownst to jurors, are often created in part by the very rape myths that contributed to the assault in the first place. There is evidence, for instance, that rape victims that were intoxicated at the time of their assaults are less likely to be seen as credible and are more likely to be seen as deserving of rape by jurors.6 Mock jurors were also more likely to have negative evaluations of rape victims when the victim bought the drinks, as opposed to when the perpetrator bought the drinks, something that contributed to feelings of perpetrator guilt.7 This effect is similar to the finding that victims who willingly ingest substances are seen as “more to blame” than victims who ingested substances unwillingly.8 Interestingly enough, it is often a tactic for the rapist to use their own level of intoxication to excuse their actions, suggesting that they would have behaved differently if they had been sober. Research does support this to some degree, finding that the amount of alcohol ingested is positively related to the seriousness of the assault committed.9 Ironically, research also suggests that some men, particularly men who endorse rape myths, are more likely to buy women alcohol as a way of procuring sexual access through intoxication.10

 

Luckily, there are few people who commit these heinous acts, and, to some degree, they can be recognized by their personality traits. The “macho personality” is composed of characteristics like seeing violence as masculine and dangerous situations as thrilling. Men who possess these specific macho traits are more likely to behave violently and gravitate towards violence.11 It’s important to remember that no amount of alcohol can force someone to commit a violent act, even if Brock Turner’s friends and family think differently. It’s also important to consider the bigger picture: how ideas about masculinity and biased perceptions of victims contribute to both the formation of rapists and the perpetuation of rape culture. Rather than focusing on drinking on college campuses, we need to work to dispel rape myths that equate intoxication with sexual invitation.

 

  1. Payne, D.L., Lonsway, K.A., & Fitzgerald, L.F. (1999). Rape myth acceptance: Exploration of its structure and its measurement using the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale. Journal of Research in Personality, 33, 27-68.

 

  1. Lea, S. & Auburn, T. (2002). Feminism & Psychology: “The social construction of rape in the talk of a convicted rapist.” Women and Language, 25(2), 58.

 

  1. Truman, D.M., Tokar, D.M., & Fischer, A.R. (1996). Dimensions of masculinity: Relations to date rape supportive attitudes and sexual aggression in dating situations. Journal of Counseling and Development, 74(6), 555.

 

  1. Lee, P.C. (2003). Reason, rape and angst in behavioral studies. Science, 301(5631), 313.

 

  1. Marshall, W.L., Hudson, S.M., Jones, R., & Fernandez, Y.M. (1995). Empathy in sex offenders. Clinical Psychology Review, 15(2), 99-113.

 

  1. Wenger, A.A. & Bornstein, B.H. (2006). The Effects of victim’s substance use and relationship closeness on mock jurors’ judgments in an acquaintance rape case. Sex Roles, 54(7-8), 547-555.

 

  1. Lynch, K.R., Wasarhaley, N.E., Golding, J.M., & Simcic, T. (2013). Who bought the drinks? Juror Perceptions of intoxication in a rape trial. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(16), 3205-3222.

 

  1. Stewert, D.N. & Jacquin, K.M. (2010). Juror perceptions in a rape trial: Examining the complainant’s ingestion of chemical substances prior to sexual assault. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatmen,t & Trauma, 19(8), 853-874.

 

  1. Abbey, A., Clinton-Sherrod, A.M., McAusian, P., Zawacki, T., & Buck, P.O. (2003). The relationships between the quantity of alcohol consumed and the severity of sexual assaults committed by college men. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18(7), 813-833.

 

  1. Sanchez-Romero, M. (2010). Alcohol use as a strategy for obtaining nonconsensual sexual relations: Incidence in Spanish university students and relation to rape myths acceptance. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 13(2), 864-874.

 

  1. Zaitchik, MC. & Mosher, D.L. (1993). Criminal justice implications of the Macho personality constellation. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 20(3), 227-239.

 

Belief superiority, guns, and faulty data: A recipe for frustration

I’ve been seeing a lot of memes, conversations, and sarcastic comments online lately about gun control, especially with Obama’s latest executive order. The content is usually somewhere along the lines of “We should prohibit guns like we prohibit drugs, because no one does drugs anymore, right?” Which is supposed to be funny and point out the blatant “idiocy” of how making something illegal doesn’t stop people from using it. Get it?

Here’s where I get frustrated. Because do I really have to go into the difference between illegal and regulated and point out that no one is making it illegal for Americans to arm themselves? Do I have to state the fact that expanding regulations would ensure that people with violent backgrounds can’t purchase a gun at a gun show without a proper background check? Or that closing loopholes and supporting inter-state communication about gun sales and background checks would make it more difficult for someone to buy a gun in one state from a pawn shop and use it to commit a shooting in another state?

Never mind the fact that the argument not to do something because some people will try to do it anyway is a weak one.

Some pro-gun/anti-regulation advocates have cited a study recently released by the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) as evidence that expanding background checks to include private transfers of guns won’t prevent mass shootings. The study claims that the frequency of mass shootings actually increases in states with background checks on private transfers, thus negating the need for expanded gun regulations as an effective means of protection.

In addition to this study’s fundamental error of conflating correlation with causation and ignoring missing data, it should be noted that the founder of the CPRC is gun researcher Dr. John Lott. His research, including additional work conducted by the CPRC, has come under scrutiny before and has largely been discredited. It’s not surprising that this study was not published in an academic peer-reviewed journal. Although the peer review process admittedly has its own glitches, it’s still the gold standard for ensuring that published studies are rigorous, impactful, and contain plausible conclusions. Hence, my reluctance to give credence to this particular study that many in the anti-regulation gun crowd are using as a rallying cry.

What’s happening with the gun debate and other polemical issues is something beyond people clinging to discredited data or researchers like Lott drawing conclusions that favor their beliefs. A recent NYTimes editorial talks about the extreme perspective on gun control taken by many of the current Republican presidential candidates, labeling them the “hear-nothing gun crowd,” aka the anti-regulation folks, who essentially refuse to engage in meaningful debate or even conversation about gun control. In fact, Ted Cruz preempted Obama’s public announcement about the gun regulation executive order by publicly condemning it before the specifics had been released; other Republican candidates responded in suit.

Aside from an obvious display of highly partisan politics (business as usual on the Hill), research on belief superiority1 may explain the playing field here. Belief superiority describes people who have more strongly held (“extreme”) beliefs who see these beliefs as superior to others’. This tendency seems to hold true regardless of direction (i.e., far-right or far-left viewpoints), although the issues may vary for self-identified liberals and conservatives. In a 2013 study of more than 500 participants published in Psych Science, those who identified as very conservative or very liberal on a particular issue were significantly more likely to agree that their beliefs are superior. Moderates or “neutral” participants were more open-minded and willing to consider beliefs that didn’t align perfectly with their own.

From Feeling superior is a bipartisan issue: Extremity (not direction) of political views predicts perceived belief superiority. Psychological Science, 2013

These findings suggest that all of us, regardless of political ideology, are a bit biased at times. Combined with misinterpreted data, such as Lott’s skewed conclusions, rigid beliefs can produce counterproductive and immoveable perspectives.

So, take this for what you will: is the new executive gun order an attack on the Second Amendment, regardless of what the empirical evidence suggests? Are anti-regulation advocates just using it as another opportunity to espouse the same viewpoints, essentially hearing nothing? Don’t take the rhetoric and snide remarks about Obama’s “pointless” new gun regulations at face value. Consider the way belief superiority works and recognize that the more strongly held beliefs about guns people have, the less likely they may be open to alternative viewpoints. And also recognize this: guns aren’t being made illegal. These new regulations are likely to have a positive impact. Isn’t it worth trying?

 


 

1 – Toner, K., Leary, M.R., Asher, M.W., & Jongman-Sereno, K.P. (2013). Feeling superior is a bipartisan issue: Extremity (not direction) of political views predicts perceived belief superiority. Psychological Science, 0956797613494848.

 

Racism and the Charleston Church Shooting: Strategies to Confront Prejudice

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Image from CNN

As details have surfaced about the Charleston church shooting, we now know that 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire during a prayer circle and killed 9 people in what can almost certainly be called a hate crime. Roof’s racist beliefs are well-established based on reports from his roommate and acquaintances, as well as the patches on his jacket and reports of what he said at the time of the shooting. Even though Roof told multiple people that he planned some sort of massacre, no one appears to have alerted the authorities, or his family.

I have seen a lot of debate today about whether or not these people had a legal obligation to report this hate speech, and I can’t speak to that. But as a human being, I believe we all have an ethical obligation to speak up if we hear someone planning violence toward another person or group of people. In addition, I believe we have a social obligation to attempt to address any kind of expressed prejudice with that person directly. Social influence is powerful, and we can harness findings from the psychology literature to help us confront prejudice in our everyday lives. Here are some strategies:

1. Express that you don’t share the person’s views– Consensus is a persuasive thing. It’s been demonstrated time and again that people are swayed by the opinions of others. Solomon Asch’s famous experiments on conformity showed that people will agree with an incorrect answer to a simple judgment if the group is unanimous, and Stanley Milgram’s experiments about obedience were conducted in part to address how German soldiers were convinced to commit unspeakable atrocities during World War II.1,2

Part of the reason Asch’s participants purposefully chose the wrong answer, and German soldiers went along with    Hitler’s evil plans, is because of established social norms and social pressures. Muzafer Sherif contended that social norms become internalized through life experience, and this can work to either challenge or enforce prejudice depending on one’s social environment.3 But, it’s important to voice your disagreement, whether or not cultural norms in your area allow for this prejudice. There’s something called the false consensus effect, which shows that people tend to believe that others agree with them.4,5 Don’t let this person think their words are acceptable by staying silent.

2. Make that prejudice more immediate for them– Milgram found that participants were more likely to defy the experimenter when told to continue to administer increasing levels of electric shocks to another person when the immediacy of the victim increased.6 Only 34% of people defied the experimenter when the victim was in another room, while 60% of people defied the experimenter when the victim was in the same room.6 Find a way to make that prejudice more salient for the person as a way of confronting it, whether it be pointing out that one of their favorite musicians is a member of the group they’re marginalizing, or challenging them to think about how they would feel if someone expressed similar views about a group they identify with.

3. Confront the prejudice-Many effective ways of decreasing prejudice have to do with exposure to members of the marginalized group. Findings on mere exposure suggest that just being exposed to something can increase liking of it.7 Indeed, researchers have found that merely being exposed to people of other races can increase liking of that racial group.8 The large body of research on the contact hypothesis supports this as well, with people having increasingly less bias toward marginalized groups as contact with group members increased.9 An added benefit of this approach is that familiarly can help to interrupt automatic attitudes toward a marginalized group, like stereotyping.10

Confronting prejudice should be done with care to the marginalized group, especially if you believe the person may pose a threat to that group. If you believe that may be the case, you will want to start by confronting their prejudice from afar. For instance, you could do something as small as highlight people from the marginalized group that defy stereotypes the person has, or share some information about the history of the person’s bias and its deleterious effects. Someone who has already expressed violent desires toward the group is automatically someone who poses a threat to the group.

Join us at SocialPsyQ by confronting prejudice in your community by educating yourselves and others. We can only succeed in bringing about real change if we establish new social norms, and challenge one another to grow. We have the power to show others that their beliefs are not universal or objectively superior by confronting them one-on-one. We also have the power to help potential victims of hate crimes. When you see something, say something. Helping to change a mind could help to save a life.

  1. Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: I. A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological monographs: General and applied, 70(9), 1.
  2. Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371.
  3. Sherif, M. (1936). The psychology of social norms.
  4. Mullen, B., Atkins, J. L., Champion, D. S., Edwards, C., Hardy, D., Story, J. E., & Vanderklok, M. (1985). The false consensus effect: A meta-analysis of 115 hypothesis tests. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 21(3), 262-283.
  5. Ross, L., Greene, D., & House, P. (1977). The “false consensus effect”: An egocentric bias in social perception and attribution processes. Journal of experimental social psychology, 13(3), 279-301.
  6. Milgram, S. (1965). Some conditions of obedience and disobedience to authority. Human relations, 18(1), 57-76.
  7. Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9(2p2), 1.
  8. Zebrowitz, L. A., White, B., & Wieneke, K. (2008). Mere exposure and racial prejudice: Exposure to other-race faces increases liking for strangers of that race. Social cognition, 26(3), 259.
  9. Sigelman, L., & Welch, S. (1993). The contact hypothesis revisited: Black-white interaction and positive racial attitudes. Social forces, 781-795.
  10. Quinn, K. A., Mason, M. F., & Macrae, C. N. (2009). Familiarity and person construal: Individuating knowledge moderates the automaticity of category activation. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39(5), 852-861