Complementing Individualism with The Social Identity Approach

The case of individuals`  moral conviction

Psychology has recently shown renewed interest in the domain of morality – like emotion a realm traditionally governed by the individual self. Whereas recent theorizing has started on universal elements of, and processes associated with, morality (see (Haidt, 2007, for a review; for earlier perspectives see (Bandura, 2000.; (Kohlberg, 1984; for an intercultural perspective, see (Triandis & Suh, 2002), others have developed theoretical accounts of  moral conviction: The extent to which individuals hold beliefs on an issue that they subjectively deem to be "absolutely true" (Skitka, Bauman, & Sargis, 2005; (Turiel, 2002). Theory and research suggests extremely negative responses to threats to individuals`  moral conviction (Skitka et al., 2005; (Tetlock, 2002)). The general line of thought is that because individuals` convictions are strong and absolute individual attitudes, threats to their conviction threaten the very core of who they are (i.e., their individual self). Thus, one could become enraged because others mock the Qur’an, or one could become enraged because those who mock the Qur’an aim to restrict others` freedom of speech. As a consequence, their responses will be as extreme as their conviction (e.g., attacking those who mock sacred values).

From an outside perspective such extreme acts or responses are of course typically condemned, and perhaps as a consequence perceived as irrational, impulsive, and unreasonable. Similarly, extremists are often viewed as individuals who are so determined that they cannot be reasoned with, and hence they must be either crazy, or dangerous (e.g., terrorists). If this sounds familiar to you, then I might remind you that this sounds quite akin to how LeBon (1895) looked down upon the masses crowding together, and from which he concluded that these individuals must have lost everything what made them rationally human. From the perspective of the  social identity approach, however, we should beware of such reductionism and consider the possibility that what might appear to be a madman (e.g., a terrorist) might in fact be a group member attempting to achieve group goals. Please note that this line of thought does not legitimize or excuse extremist actions --- it is simply to understand them better, so that ultimately such actions can be prevented.

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