By Meredith Terry (Duke University)
Your ankle has been bothering you for weeks. Each step you take is painful, and when you think about your injury, you become frustrated and upset. Your friends and loved ones have encouraged you to make an appointment with your doctor and to rest and ice your ankle, but you keep resisting. You have been listening to that voice in your head—the voice that says, “Tough it out. It’ll get better. Only wimps go to the doctor or whine about their aches and pains.”
A relatively new concept helps to explain why some people are more prone to call their doctors when ill or injured and explain why some people cope better with the negative emotions that arise when they are ill or injured. That concept is Self-compassion.
Self-compassion (Neff, 2003) involves treating oneself with kindness and compassion when things are not going well or when times are tough. In addition to being kinder to themselves, self-compassionate people recognize that difficulties are a part of life, and they don’t feel isolated or alone in dealing with their problems. Self-compassionate people get less caught up in intense negative emotions during difficult times and are less likely to ignore or push away their feelings and, instead, they think about their troubles with a sense of emotional balance. Social psychological research has demonstrated self-compassion can provide a buffer against feelings of homesickness and depression (Terry, Leary, & Mehta, 2013) and minimize the negative emotions that often result from failure, rejection, or embarrassment (Leary, Tate, Adams, Allen, & Hancock).
Our interest was in whether self-compassion was related to people’s health-related emotions, thoughts, and behaviors both during times of illness and injury and during times of wellness. In a series of four studies (Terry, Leary, Mehta, & Henderson, 2013), we investigated several interrelated aspects of health-related emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Using both healthy participants and participants who were currently ill or injured, we explored whether self-compassion predicts emotional reactions to health problems, thoughts about one’s health, and what people do when they might need medical attention. Our results provide several conclusions about the relationship between self-compassion and health-related emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
First, regardless of whether people are healthy or sick, those who are higher in self-compassion experience less anxiety, less depression, and less self-blame about their health. Among people who are ill or injured, self-compassionate people feel less sad, less embarrassed, and less weak when thinking about their illnesses or injuries—a statistical relationship that remains even when accounting for other predictors of health-experiences, such as illness severity, health anxiety, and the value people place on their health.
Second, people who are higher in self-compassion perceive their illnesses and injuries as less disruptive to their lives than people low in self-compassion. Importantly, people high in self-compassion see their illnesses and injuries as equally serious or severe as people low in self-compassion, but they perceive that their illnesses interfere less in their personal, professional, and social lives.
Third, self-compassion predicts health-promoting behaviors. Self-compassionate people report that they would call a doctor sooner when faced with a variety of illnesses and injuries (such as a possibly broken ankle, symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease, or a persistent headache). Individual differences in people, such as health-related anxiety, hypochondriasis, and self-regulatory strength (our ability to control our behavior or force ourselves to do unpleasant tasks) can explain why some people are more prone to call the doctor when faced with illnesses or injuries, but, in our study, self-compassion predicted calling the doctor even accounting for these factors. Self-compassion remained a significant predictor of calling the doctor even when accounting for illness cognitions (such as people’s ratings of how severe the illnesses and injuries would be or how guilty they would feel if they had each illness or injury). Finally, among those who were currently ill or injured, more self-compassionate participants reported that they tried harder to follow doctors’ or other health professionals’ recommendations. When it came to their health, self-compassionate people took better care of themselves.
Many people struggle with making medical decision and with coping with their emotions during times of illness. These findings suggest that approaching illnesses and injuries with self-compassion may help to buffer people against negative emotions, disruptive cognitions, and health-damaging behaviors. Just as treating others with compassion helps them deal with their problems, extending self-compassion to ourselves when we are sick or injured helps us cope with illnesses and injuries and behave in ways that promote better health.
Meredith Terry is a Research Scientist at Duke University. Her primary research interest involves how people think about and evaluate themselves and the implications of their self-related thoughts and self-evaluations for health outcomes.
Leary, M. R., Tate, E. B., Adams, C. E., Allen, A. B., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: The implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 887-904.
Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-102.
Terry, M. L., Leary, M. R., & Mehta, S. (2013). Self-compassion as a buffer against homesickness, depression, and dissatisfaction in the transition to college. Self and Identity, 12, 278-290.
Terry, M. L., Leary, M. R., Mehta, S. & Henderson, K. (2013). Self-compassion as a buffer against homesickness, depression, and dissatisfaction in the transition to college. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 911-926.
Image Credit: Used with permission of Meredith Terry; all rights reserved.
By Anna Baumert, Anna Halmburger, & Manfred Schmitt (University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany)
The news media is quick to report shocking stories of unresponsive bystanders who fail to act to prevent crimes, but what about the many heroic persons who take action to prevent the violation of moral values? Tales of apathetic bystanders are countered by stories from everyday life of people who spontaneously confront a thief, a bully, or a vandal despite risking own harm. This variance in reactions to witnessed norm violations raises the question: Who will intervene and show moral courage?
Some researchers, to answer this question, interview people asking about such personal characteristics as anxiety in social situations, empathy, feelings of responsibility for social issues, and self-assuredness when facing problems. In these studies, people are also asked in hypothetical scenarios whether they would intervene against the described norm violation (e.g. Chaurand & Brauer, 2008; Greitemeyer, Fischer, Kastenmüller, & Frey, 2006). As researchers of the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany, we have questioned that the results of these studies can tell us about behavior in real situations when facing a perpetrator.
For this reason, we confronted our participants with a theft during a psychological study, ostensibly on learning and emotion, and observed their reactions (Baumert, Halmburger, & Schmitt, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2013). A week prior to the theft, participants responded to a personality questionnaire. Results revealed that neither the individual level of anxiety, empathy, feelings of responsibility, or self-assuredness predicted the reactions to the theft. Only one personal characteristic proved to be relevant in the theft situation: Persons who had reported to react with strong emotions when facing an injustice (persons high on justice sensitivity; Schmitt, Baumert, Gollwitzer, & Maes, Social Justice Research, 2010) were more likely to protest and stop the thief. Interestingly, this tendency was particularly pronounced for those persons who had claimed to have negative feelings in cases when they benefited from an injustice. We propose the interpretation that these persons react spontaneously when faced with a transgressor in order to prevent own feelings of guilt that might result when letting a crime happen.
In conclusion, for witnesses of crimes it does not matter whether they are generally anxious or rather feel self-assured, or whether they easily empathize with potential victims and feel responsible for other’s problems. These characteristics do not seem to hamper or to facilitate the spontaneous courageous intervention against the transgression. What really matters in a crime situation is whether the injustice that is committed is experienced as aversive by the witness. If the bystander is sensitive to injustice and thus emotionally aroused, this reaction will provide the fuel necessary to take action and stop the norm violation.
Finally, we wanted to know whether it was really necessary to confront our participants with an alleged theft in the laboratory or whether we could have found the same results by means of hypothetical scenarios. Therefore, we repeated our study with the only difference that the theft was not actually realized but described to the participants. The results were strikingly different. When responding to the theft scenario, the participants’ anxiety, empathy, feelings of social responsibility, and self-assuredness did matter, but their justice sensitivity did not predict their responses. This difference suggests that findings from scenario studies cannot be generalized for the understanding of real moral courage. Moreover, when comparing the studies, it resulted that participants in the scenario study clearly overestimated the likelihood of their moral courage. In this study, all participants indicated that they would intervene against the theft at least to some degree. By contrast, when the theft was actually realized, only 29% of the participants addressed the theft and protested.
The study results have important practical implications. First, for researchers it becomes clear that it is necessary not to take the easy route but to make the effort and observe real behavior when investigating moral courage. Second and most importantly, the finding that the individual justice sensitivity, and not other characteristics, is relevant for the behavior of bystander of norm violation can be employed for trainings of moral courage. Evidently, personal characteristics cannot easily be changed. However, first attempts have been made to sensitize persons for potential injustices in ambiguous situations. When a norm transgression is witnessed, the situation is seldom unambiguous but bystanders can interpret the situation in various ways. Fostering the sensitivity that potentially an injustice might be committed may be a key to enhance moral courage.
Anna Baumert is an assistant professor for personality and assessment at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany. She investigates social information processing and its role in shaping individual differences in moral emotions and justice-related behavior. She currently receives funding for research projects on justice sensitivity and political trust.
Anna Halmburger is a phD student and research scientist in two projects on justice-related reactions toward norm violations and political trust. She investigates how moral emotions and moral motives influence retaliation-intentions and justice-related behavior.
Manfred Schmitt is full professor of psychology and teaches Personality and Psychological Assessment. His current research interests include emotion dispositions, individual differences in justice sensitivity, personality and information processing, nonlinear person x situation – interactions, and objective personality assessment.
Baumert, A., Halmburger, A., & Schmitt, M. (2013). Interventions against norm violations: Dispositional determinants of self-reported and real moral courage. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. DOI: 10.1177/0146167213490032.
Chaurand, N. & Brauer, M. (2008). What determines social control? People’s reactions to counternormative behaviors in urban environments. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 1689-1715.
Greitemeyer, T., Fischer, P., Kastenmüller, A., & Frey, D. (2006). Civil courage and helping behaviour: Differences and similarities. European Psychologist, 11, 90-98.
Schmitt, M., Baumert, A., Gollwitzer, M., & Maes, J. (2010). The Justice Sensitivity Inventory: Factorial validity, location in the personality facet space, demographic pattern, and normative data. Social Justice Research, 23, 211-238.
Image Credit: Used with permission of Anna Baumert; all rights reserved.
By Michael Dufner (University of Leipzig)
The ancient Greek myth describes Narcissus as a handsome young man who was so fond of himself, he even fell in love with his own reflection. Yet, according to the myth, Narcissus amazed not only himself, but also “legions of lusty men and bevies of girls” (Ovid, 2004). This classical notion of narcissistic appeal was picked up by psychoanalytic and social psychological theory. Also in today’s movies and television shows one can find plenty of examples for narcissistic individuals who are highly attractive. In fact, there are guidebooks (e.g., Campbell, 2005) and web-pages (e.g., http://www.xojane.com/sex/narcissists-should-come-with-warning-labels) especially created to give advice to women who feel attracted to a narcissist. Yet, is it really true that there is an irresistible charm to narcissism?
Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by an unrealistically positive self-view, a strong self-focus, a sense of entitlement to special treatment, and a lack of regard for others. Unlike narcissistic personality disorder, the personality trait narcissism is not pathological and can be found to a greater or lesser extent in everyday people. We conducted three studies to test whether persons high in narcissism are indeed appealing to members of the opposite sex (Dufner, Rauthmann, Czarna, & Denissen, 2013).
In a first study, we presented heterosexual participants a narcissism questionnaire that had ostensibly been filled out by an opposite-sex person. In one condition, the answers in the questionnaire were highly narcissistic. The bogus person had agreed with statements, such as “If I ruled the world, it would be a much better place”. In a second condition, the answers in the questionnaire were more modest. Our findings showed that if participants had seen the questionnaire version with the highly narcissistic answers, they rated the fictitious person as sexier than if they had seen the questionnaire entailing the modest responses. Hence, even though participants knew nothing else about the other person except that he or she is narcissistic, they nevertheless felt attracted.
In a second study, we assessed participants’ narcissism level with a questionnaire and then asked their close friends about their dating success in real life. Specifically, the friends judged the extent to which members of the opposite sex felt attracted to the target person. The results were again very clear: The more narcissistic participants were, the more attractive to opposite-sex persons they were deemed by their friends.
In a final field study, we tested how successful narcissists are in approaching potential dating partners on the street. Sixty-one heterosexual men volunteered to approach 25 women each in a downtown area of a large German city. The men asked the women for contact information, such as a telephone number or an e-mail address, and their task was to gather contact information from as many women as possible. The findings showed that narcissistic received far more pieces of contact information than more modest men and were also rated as more appealing by the approached women.
Using a statistical technique called mediational analysis, we were able to reveal two likely reasons for narcissists’ dating success. The first reason is physical attractiveness. Narcissists put much effort in choosing fashionable clothes and make-up, and typically have fancy haircuts. Thereby they manage to increase their physical attractiveness, and physical attractiveness is—of course—appealing to dating partners. The second reason is social boldness. Narcissists show little signs of inhibition and shyness when they interact with opposite-sex persons, and this self-confident appearance makes a positive impression on their interaction partners.
In all then, our findings indicate that there is a truth behind the ancient Greek myth. At least in the short-run, many people can’t resist, but feel attracted to narcissists. One practical implication of our research is that care should be taken if a dating partner seems too fond of him- or herself. Even though narcissists are appealing at first sight, they make terrible romantic partners in the long run (Campbell & Foster, 2002).
Michael Dufner is a lecturer at the University of Leipzig, Germany. His research interest focuses on motivated self-perception, costs and benefits of illusory self-perception, and individual differences in motive dispositions.
Campbell, W. K. (2005). When you love a man who loves himself: How to deal with a one-way relationship. Chicago, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca.
Campbell, W. K., & Foster, C. A. (2002). Narcissism and commitment in romantic relationships: An investment model analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 484-495.
Dufner, M., Rauthmann, J. F., Czarna, A. Z., & Denissen, J. J. A. (2013). Are narcissists sexy? Zeroing in on the link between narcissism and short-term mate appeal. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 870-882.
Ovid. (2004). Metamorphoses (D. Raeburn, Trans.). London, England: Penguin Classics (Original work published ca. 8 b.c.e.).
Image Credit: Based on the painting Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1849–1917). This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.In other jurisdictions, re-use of this content may be restricted.
By Jonathan W. Kunstman (Miami University) and Brenda Major (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Race-relations in America are complex. The ongoing movement for racial equality has succeeded in reducing many forms of discrimination and racists are increasingly looked down upon in the United States. As a result, many White Americans fear appearing prejudiced. Although the desire to avoid appearing prejudiced can reduce discrimination, it also complicates everyday interracial interactions. When the specter of appearing racist looms over interracial interactions, how do minority-group members decide whether Whites are being genuinely friendly or merely trying to avoid the appearance of prejudice? Moreover, what are the consequences when minority-group members believe Whites are motivated primarily by the latter and not the former?
Research in social psychology suggests that positive responses from Whites toward racial minorities can be hard to decipher. Contemporary racism is covert, subtle, and more likely to occur privately behind closed doors than in public (e.g., Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner, 2002; Plant & Devine, 2001). Moreover, prejudiced Whites sometimes use positive overtures to hide their biases from minority-group members. As a result, Whites’ public responses may not always match their private racial attitudes. Not surprisingly, minority-group members may sometimes doubt the authenticity of positive overtures from Whites.
Furthermore, several studies indicate that minorities sometimes react negatively to positive evaluations from Whites. For example, across a series of studies, praise from White evaluators reduced the self-esteem of minority participants (Crocker, Voelkel, Testa, & Major, 1991; Hoyt, Aguilar, Kaiser, Blascovich, & Lee, 2007; see also Mendes, Major, McCoy, & Blascovich, 2008). What could explain this paradoxical finding that positive feedback from White peers sometimes makes members of racial and ethnic minorities feel worse about themselves?
We believe part of the answer relates to minority-group members’ beliefs about Whites’ motives for egalitarian behavior. Whereas some minorities may believe Whites are motivated to be nice to them because of personal desires to be egalitarian, others may believe Whites are motivated primarily because they want to appear egalitarian to others (For more on Whites’ motives, see Plant & Devine, 1998; Kunstman, Plant, Zielaskowski, & LaCosse, 2013). We hypothesized that minorities’ beliefs about these distinct motives would shape how they perceived positive treatment from Whites. To investigate this hypothesis, we first developed a measure of minorities’ beliefs about Whites’ motives for egalitarian behavior (Major, Sawyer, & Kunstman, 2013). Named the Perceived Motives for Avoiding Prejudice scale (PMAP), the measure used two subscales to assess minorities’ distinct perceptions of Whites’ personal (internal) and social (external) motives to avoid prejudice.
When validating PMAP, we found that minority-group members (mostly Latino/as) varied widely in their perceptions of Whites’ motives. Some thought Whites cared only about how they appeared to others; some believed Whites were motivated primarily by personal egalitarian beliefs. Still others believed Whites’ were motivated by both motivations or by neither. We also discovered that on average, minority respondents in our college samples believed Whites were more motivated by personal beliefs than social concerns. Thus, it appears that most minority-group members believe Whites legitimately want to be egalitarian. Moreover, it is worth noting that PMAP was only modestly related to concerns and past experiences with White racism. Hence, beliefs that Whites’ are motivated to avoid appearing prejudiced are distinct from past experiences of discrimination from Whites.
We next used PMAP to predict how Latino/a students evaluated an interracial interaction. They read that a White college student (Rebecca) evaluated an essay written by an African American classmate (Lisa). The essay was intentionally designed to be of dubious quality. Nonetheless, participants learned that Rebecca gave Lisa a glowing review and told her she thought the essay deserved an “A”. As we expected, participants’ beliefs about Whites’ motives affected how they viewed Rebecca’s feedback. The more participants believed Whites’ were motivated by social concerns with appearing prejudiced, the less authentic they perceived the feedback and the less favorably they evaluated Lisa’s essay. Thus, suspicion of Whites’ motives led participants to dismiss Rebecca’s feedback and discredit Lisa’s work.
In a follow-up study, we also manipulated Lisa’s ostensible ethnicity. Half the participants believed Lisa was Latina, the other half believed she was White. We again measured Latino/a participants’ beliefs about Whites’ motives prior to the experiment. As in our first study, we found that participants’ beliefs played an important role in how they responded. When they thought Lisa was Latina, the more participants believed Whites’ were motivated primarily by social concerns with appearing prejudiced, the less authentic they saw Rebecca’s feedback and the more negatively they evaluated Lisa’s essay. Moreover, perceptions that Rebecca’s feedback was inauthentic mediated the effect of minorities’ beliefs about Whites’ motives on ratings of Lisa’s essay. Among minorities suspicious of Whites’ motives, the less authentic they saw Rebecca’s feedback, the worse they evaluated Lisa’s essay (See Figure 1). Importantly, these effects disappeared when Lisa was believed to be White. When minority-group members suspect positive responses from Whites are motivated purely by social concerns, not only do they doubt the authenticity of Whites’ praise, but they also respond more negatively to the work of ethnic ingroup members.
Collectively, this research suggests that minorities’ beliefs about Whites’ motives play an important role in shaping their perceptions of interracial interactions. Although overall, minority-group members seem to give Whites the benefit of the doubt and believe personal desires to be egalitarian outweigh social concerns with appearing prejudiced; there is considerable variability in these beliefs. For minority-group members who think Whites are driven purely by a desire to avoid looking prejudiced, positive overtures from Whites may—paradoxically–have negative effects on intergroup relations.
Brenda Major is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work focuses on social stigma, the psychological justification of inequality, and the antecedents and consequences of perceived discrimination and unfair treatment. Current research projects examine the impact of organizational diversity initiatives on perceptions of fairness and acceptance of inequality within organizations, and the impact of perceived ethnic, gender, and weight-based discrimination on physiological stress responses, health behaviors, and interpersonal relationships.
Crocker, J., Voelkl, K., Testa, M., & Major, B. (1991). Social stigma: The affective consequences of attributional ambiguity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 218-228.
Dovidio, J.F., Kawakami, K., & Gaertner, S.L. (2002). Implicit and explicit prejudice and interracial interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 62-68.
Hoyt, C.L., Aguilar, L., Kaiser, C.R., Blascovich, J., & Lee, K. (2007). The self-protective and undermining effects of attributional ambiguity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 884-893.
Kunstman, J. W., Plant, E. A., & LaCosse, J. Zielaskowski, K. (2013). Feeling in with the outgroup: Need fulfillment and the internalization of motivation to respond without prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 443-457.
Major, B., Sawyer, P., & Kunstman, J. W. (2013). Minority Perceptions of Whites’ Motives for Responding without Prejudice: The Perceived Internal and External Motivation to Avoid Prejudice Scales. Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 401-414.
Mendes, W.B., Major, B., McCoy, S., & Blascovich, J. (2008). How attributional ambiguity shapes physiological and emotional responses to social rejection and acceptance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 278-291.
Plant, E.A., & Devine, P.G. (1998). Internal and external motivation to respond without prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 811-832.
Plant, E.A., & Devine, P.G. (2001). Responses to other-imposed pro-Black pressure: Acceptance or backlash? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 37, 486-501.
By Amy B. Brunell (The Ohio State University at Mansfield) and Gregory D. Webster (University of Florida)
The question “Why do people fall in love?” may be one of life’s great mysteries, but what of that closely related, if less romantic, question–Why do people have sex? Is sex motivated only by a desire for physical pleasure or are people’s sexual motives more complex, mixing together the expression of love, pleasing one’s partner, and enhancing the relationship’s intimacy?
We investigated these key questions (Brunell & Webster, 2013) by examining people’s motivations for having sex and whether their motivation for sex was related to their psychological well-being (e.g., their self-esteem and satisfaction with life) and their relationship satisfaction with their partners. We used Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) as a lens to understand sexual motivation. According to Self-Determination Theory, people can be motivated to behave in ways that they themselves choose, or they can be motivated to behave because of the pressure they experience from others. When applied to sexual behavior, two examples of self-determined behavior are a) having sex with your partner because you find sex to be pleasurable, and b) because you want to share an intimate experience with your partner. On the other hand, sexual behavior would be considered less self-determined when you act out of personal obligation or when you have sex even when you don’t feel like it to make your partner happy.
In general, Self-Determination Theory predicts that we experience a host of benefits when we behave out of free choice rather than pressure. For example, we are better able to meet our psychological needs (such as intimacy and connectedness with others) and feel good about ourselves (Knee, Lonsbary, Canevello, & Patrick, 2005; Ryan & Deci, 2002). When our needs are fulfilled, we also have better relationships (Patrick, Knee, Canavello, & Lonsbary, 2007). Likewise, when the behavior concerns our relationships, our more self-determined behaviors are linked to greater happiness in the relationship (Blais, Sabourin, Boucher, & Vallerand, 1990).
As part of our research on sexual behavior, we conducted three studies. In the first study, participants involved in dating relationships completed questionnaires about their sexual motivation in general, how they felt about themselves, and how they felt about the quality of their relationship. In the second study, participants were asked to keep diaries of their sexual interactions and to report why they engaged in the sexual interactions, and how they felt about themselves and their relationship. In the third study, both partners from a dating couple were each asked to complete a diary every day, which included questions about how they felt about themselves and their relationship; couples also reported their sexual interactions when they occurred. Across these three studies, we found a pattern: self-determined sexual motivation was directly linked to getting one’s psychological needs met, which in turn were positively associated with improved psychological well-being and better relationship satisfaction. Results from the third study showed that self-determined sexual motivation enhanced how people felt about themselves and their relationships, even on days when one did not have sex! Results from the third study also showed that when the men were more self-determined in their sexual motivation, the women felt better about their relationship, probably because the men’s interest in sex was a sign to them that their relationship was on track. These results, taken together, indicate that our sexual experiences are important and have potential consequences for how we feel about ourselves and our relationships with our romantic partners.
Amy B. Brunell is a social psychologist at the Ohio State University at Mansfield. She investigates intimacy and satisfaction in dating relationships as well as narcissism in social context.
Gregory D. Webster (Ph.D., Colorado, 2006) is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida; he has authored or coauthored over 60 articles and chapters. Webster’s brief autobiography can be found in the American Psychologist (2006) and his Social Psychology Network website is http://webster.socialpsychology.org.
Blais, M.R., Sabourin, S., Boucher, C., & Vallerand, R.J. (1990). Toward a motivational model of couple happiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1021-1031.
Brunell, A. B., & Webster, G. D. (2013). Self-determination and sexual experience in dating relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 970-987.
Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.
Knee, C.R., Lonsbary, C., Canevello, A. & Patrick, H. (2005). Self-determination and conflict in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 997-1009.
Patrick, H., Knee, C.R., Canevello, A., & Lonsbary, C. (2007). The role of need fulfillment in relationship functioning and well-being: A self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 434-457.
Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2002). An overview of Self-Determination Theory: An organismic dialectical perspective. In E.L. Deci & R.M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of Self-Determination Research (pp. 3-33). Rochester: University of Rochester Press.
By Angela T. Maitner (American University of Sharjah) and Roger Giner-Sorolla (University of Kent, Canterbury)
On August 2, 2013, the U.S. Department of State issued an unprecedented global alert, warning citizens of “the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.” Available information suggested that “al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond” (U.S. Department of State, 2013). President Obama later reinforced the alert in a statement to U.S. military forces: “Even as we decimated the al Qaeda leadership that attacked us on 9/11, al Qaeda affiliates and like-minded extremists still threaten our homeland” (Cohen, 2013).
The month after the alert (September of 2013) al Shabab launched a deadly siege in a Nairobi mall. The New York Times reported that the attack represented a “direct threat” to the U.S. (Kulish & Gettleman, 2013). Although political scientists took issue with this analysis (Walt, 2013), the headline alone highlights how any global incident can serve as a reminder of the treat of attack from ideological sources.
Research shows that the lingering threat of terrorism has specific and predictable effects on individuals’ feelings and actions. Changes in the National Terror Threat level, for example, have been linked to support for national leadership (Willer, 2004), while publicizing a specific, imminent threat increases concerns with homeland security (Willer & Adams, 2008).
Terrorism also elicits strong emotional reactions, including anger and fear (see Skitka, Bauman, & Mullen, 2004). Our own research, published recently in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, investigated how perceptions of a threatening group’s power and the justness of their goals impact individuals’ emotional responses (Giner-Sorolla & Maitner, 2013). One study asked British students to read information from the British Home Secretary and MI5 about the growing threat of terrorism against British interests, then measured participants reactions to terrorists groups who varied in levels of malicious intent and access to resources. A second study investigated a nationally representative sample of American residents’ reactions to descriptions of threatening groups, whose intent and power once again varied. Across both studies, results showed that the more powerful a group was perceived, the more fear participants felt. Independently, the more unjust the groups’ actions were perceived, the more anger participants felt. In other words, whether participants felt anger, fear, or both depended on the way they perceived a threatening group’s power and morality.
Predicting emotional reactions to terrorist threat is important because emotions influence both personal action and support for national policy. Thus we also investigated how manipulations of threatening groups’ power and justness, and the anger and fear individuals felt in response to terrorist threat impacted their intentions. In these studies we investigated individuals’ desires to not only attack or avoid terrorist groups, but to engage in negotiation.
Governments have only recently begun negotiating with terrorist groups, essentially bringing these ideological, non-state actors into the political fold. Recently, for example, Western governments have courted meetings with Taliban leadership stationed in Doha (Latifi, 2013). Just this weekend, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution aimed at eliminating chemical weapons in Syria after the use of sarin nerve gas (presumably by the national government) left over 1000 people dead (Walsh and Labott, 2013). The resolution, a diplomatic solution, seems to have at least temporarily silenced President Obama’s wildly unpopular plan to respond more aggressively.
Our research showed that perceptions of justice influenced individuals’ desires to negotiate with a threatening group. When a threatening group was described as having no malicious intent toward one’s nation, then people were significantly more supportive of negotiation. When a threatening group was described as having malicious intent toward one’s nation, at least partially in response to exploitation by one’s country, participants also report more desire to negotiate, compared to when the threatening group harbors malicious intent that wasn’t provoked. In other words, when a threatening group is perceived as lacking a moral compass, a minimal requirement to ensure follow-through on a diplomatic agreement, individuals support an alternative response. Obama’s hesitation to reach a diplomatic solution in Syria, for example, may indicate his cabinet’s lack of faith in the Syrian regime to comply with negotiated commitments.
We also found that the extent to which participants felt anger was positively associated with desire to harm and avoid the terrorist group. Fear, was likewise positively associated with desires to harm and avoid the terrorist group, but unlike anger, it was also associated with negotiation intentions. The more fearful participants felt, the more they wanted to attack, avoid, and negotiate with threatening groups. Thus it was negotiation intentions that differentiated clearly between anger and fear. When individuals feel afraid, negotiation is once again considered a viable preventative option.
Terrorism and other forms of threat from non-state actors are a growing global concern. However it isn’t only terrorist acts that have a deep global impact. Constant reminders of the potential for attack also have a deep psychological impact that directs popular support for global policy. Understanding those emotional reactions, as well as the appraisals which underlie them, is critical to understanding popular reactions to national policies ostensibly designed to keep people safe.
Angela Maitner is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the American University of Sharjah, with an honorary research appointment at University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research investigates the role of emotion in intergroup relations, broadly defined, exploring reactions to terrorism, insult, and discrimination. She is a passionate believer in the need to study intergroup relations around the globe, taking inspiration from current events.
Roger Giner-Sorolla is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent, Canterbury. He is the author of a book from Psychology Press, “Judging Passions: Moral Emotions in Persons and Groups,” as well as numerous articles in high impact psychology journals and volumes. His favorite emotions – to study, if not to feel – are anger, disgust, shame, and guilt. Among other topics, he has published work on the role of emotions in apologies (shame works better than guilt) and the responsiveness of different moral emotions to logical argument (disgust is less reasonable than anger). A more recent publishing topic for Professor Giner-Sorolla is reform in the methodology and reporting of psychological research, supported by his membership of the Center of Open Science.
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