Stewart, B. D., Gulzaib, F., & Morris, D. S. M. (2019). Bridging political divides: Perceived threat and uncertainty avoidance help explain the relationship between political ideology and immigrant attitudes within diverse intergroup contexts. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(1236), 1-18. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01236
Background & Theory
This article explores the divide in politics, specifically between liberals and conservatives, and evaluates the roles of perceived-threat and uncertainty-avoidance. The authors suppose that these two factors are part of the divide between liberals and conservatives, and can help us understand where to bridge the political gaps.
Stewart, Gulzaib, and Morris in “Bridging political divides: Perceived threat and uncertainty avoidance help explain the relationship between political ideology and immigrant attitudes within diverse intergroup contexts” (2019), seek to address the following questions:
- What is the role of perceived-threat and uncertainty-avoidance as related to political orientation?
- Is this different between liberals and conservatives?
The authors conducted 3 studies, as listed below.
Study 1: Study 1 primarily aimed to look at conservatism vs. liberalism as it relates to uncertainty-avoidance and perceived-threat, and especially how this relates to attitudes and immigration. 206 participants took part in this study, all from the U.S. (and no immigrants since this was part of the purpose of the study), and the study was fully conducted online. All participants were above age 18, and the majority of participants were white males, with 25.7% of all participants identifying as conservative. The survey primarily asked questions to which participants were to rate themselves, consisting of 7 tasks, mostly focused on perceived-threat, uncertainty-avoidance, attitudes, physical harm/threat analysis, and additional questions, with questions regarding immigration strewn throughout. The data then underwent statistical analysis.
Study 2: Study 2’s main purpose was to rather than just focus on attitudes toward immigrants, measure this toward unspecified groups as well. Study 2 included 308 participants, all from the U.S. and no immigrants. All participants were above age 18, the majority of whom were white, but about half male/half female and only 22.1% conservative. There were similarities to Study 1, but this time rather than questions on immigrants, the questions were about any outgroup, and the tasks focused primarily on the perceived threat of outgroups and negative attitudes. The data then underwent statistical analysis.
Study 3: Study 3 returned to the methodology of Study 1, looking at immigrants opposed to unspecified outgroups, but this time also included the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP) and looked at both implicit and explicit attitudes. Study 3 included 331 participants, again in a fully online study and all U.S. citizens with no immigrants. All were again above age 18 and spanned a large age range, the majority of whom were white, roughly half male/half female, and only 20.8% conservative. Study 3 had similarities to Study 1 and Study 2 and had participants answer questions about the same areas, but now also with the AMP. The data then underwent statistical analysis.
Overall, the results showed that conservatives do tend to have greater concern for perceived-threat and uncertainty-avoidance, both of which in this case, resulted in greater negative attitudes toward immigration than liberals did. Uncertainty-avoidance and perceived-threat were both mediators for the relationship between political orientation and negative attitudes. Liberals were also shown to be more likely to help immigrants, which shows that negative attitudes can have an impact on those in the outgroup. The Uncertainty-Threat Model was assessed to be most accurate.
Study 1: Study 1 showed that, based on political orientation and questions regarding immigration in light of perceived-threat and uncertainty-avoidance, that liberals tend to have more positive attitudes toward immigrants and also are more likely to help them than conservatives. There is a linear relationship between political orientation and both perceived-threat and uncertainty-avoidance.
Study 2: Study 2 showed that liberals again were more likely to have more positive attitudes toward immigrants and a greater willingness to help them in comparison to conservatives. Also shown again is that uncertainty-avoidance and perceived-threat are mediators in the relationship between political orientation and negative attitudes.
Study 3: Study 3 showed that there were more negative attitudes related to explicit vs. implicit measures, and that political orientation was negatively associated with explicit attitudes, explicit negative attitudes, and negative implicit attitudes. Uncertainty-avoidance and perceived-threat were again mediators for political orientation and negative attitudes (perceived-threat was the larger mediator).
What This Means
- Given that perceived-threat and uncertainty-avoidance play a large role in political leanings, understanding this can be very beneficial to everyone, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. As this study implies, the issue may rather lie with how people respond to threat, and less of specific discrimination, etc.
- If all sides could better understand and validate the others’ genuine concerns or fear, those issues could be better addressed and thus put both sides at greater ease and come to a general understanding on policies and issues.
- A larger lesson for conflict resolution in general is understanding the “other” and validating their feelings/concerns. This can often lead to perspective sharing and a better ability at conflict resolution.
For consultants: As many in this field are aware, perspective taking is an invaluable tool. It really can make all the difference in a conflict by helping all parties understand each other and the path forward.
For everyone: Try to understand your own reaction to threats and the underlying issues at hand. Try to then also understand how those at the other end might feel and what issues might matter to them. This can be helpful in preventing and/or resolving conflict.