The dual nature of identity fusion : a unifying force or a source of division?

Martel, Francois Alexis
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Identity plays a key role in determining what matters to people and what they are willing to fight for. Identity fusion, an extreme form of identification where one's personal self is unified with an abstraction (a group, cause, or other individual), predicts extreme behaviors in defense of the target of fusion. In the face of a perceived threat to one's fused group, fused individuals often react harshly against the source of the threat, such as by endorsing violence against outgroups. However, identity fusion does not necessitate hostility toward outgroups. Indeed, some work suggests that in the absence of threat, fused individuals can be benign towards outgroup members. The demarcation between when fusion might have prosocial outcomes for the larger society as opposed to antisocial outcomes against perceived outgroup members is in need of further exploration, especially in the highly divided modern American political landscape. Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation is to further investigate the nature of identity fusion and when fusion might have a unifying influence as opposed to a divisive one. Across four lines of research, the current work examined (1) whether identity fusion is a more potent predictor of extreme behaviors in the political sphere than rival constructs such as moral convictions or sacred values (Chapter 2), (2) whether fusion with a partisan identity such as a political party positively predicts extreme behaviors that could potentially increase the power of the partisan group, but may be detrimental to the larger society (Chapters 3-5), and (3) whether fusion with a superordinate group such as one's nation or even all of humanity negatively predicts behaviors that may harm the larger society, even if such behaviors might myopically benefit one's political party. Findings from Chapter 2 provide evidence that identity fusion is the strongest predictor of extreme behavior on behalf of a political cause. Findings from Chapters 3-5 show that fusion with a political party or candidate positively predicts support for authoritarian actions against the opposing party, while fusion with the US negatively predicts the same authoritarianism. In Chapter 5, writing about a patriotic memory increased fusion with the US among Republicans, and fusion with the US marginally interacted with the patriotic prime manipulation to predict decreased support for authoritarianism among both Republicans and Democrats. Taken together, these findings shed valuable insight into the dual nature of identity fusion as both a unifying force and a source of division.