Identity fusion and the psychology of political extremism

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2007

Authors

Seyle, Daniel Conor

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Abstract

Past research in the psychology of extremism has argued that extremism is a psychological state characterized by a perception that the group is absolutely correct, endowed with moral authority, and threatened or opposed by some active group or entity working against the ingroup. There has been little research which has focused on what psychological processes may underlie this state. It is proposed in this dissertation that extremism is an outgrowth of identity fusion, a state in which the personal and social levels of the self-concept become closely aligned so that they may not be activated independently of each other. Identity fusion is theorized to follow from self-verification motives interacting with salient social identities, so that when people need verification for the way they see themselves and a group which provides such verification is activated, fusion may result. Three studies were conducted to examine different aspects of the identity fusion-extremism link. In Study 1, experimenters manipulated the need for selfverification motives and the social context to determine if self-verification predicted the development of fusion with a verifying, salient group. This study found little evidence of this link. Study 2 used counterattitudinal messages to assess the link between fusion and absolutist patterns of thinking. Fused participants were found to show significantly more emotional response to and rejection of counterattidudinal messages, in line predictions. Finally, Study 3 examined the behavioral and linguistic correlates of fusion and found some evidence that fusion predicted self-reported behaviors in line with political extremism and patterns of language use which emphasized the personal self.

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