Complementing Individualism with The Social Identity Approach

Now, this is a good example of where the complementarity of the  social identity approach becomes theoretically important and socially consequential. From a reductionist individualism perspective, the strong, extreme, and "universal" elements associated with individuals`  moral conviction makes them highly resistant to change, and hence to any social influence. After all, there is little point in talking to a terrorist when we assume he or she has made up his or her mind and is willing to die for it. Or, alternatively, why talk to Muslims if you believe such individuals to be inherently evil? If we assume this individual to be thus, it will be hard to have any effect on him or her. However, we can also consider viewing individuals`  moral conviction as something that is not necessarily based in the individual self, but in the  group self. For example, my response to `Fitna` may derive from my Dutch rather than my personal  moral conviction regarding freedom of speech. If this can be the case, then the social identityapproach suggests that social influence is possible: Namely when it comes from fellow group members. It follows that when the group does not (or no longer) support individuals` group-based  moral conviction, negative responses to moral threat should be reduced.

This prediction was recently borne out in two experiments in which Dutch non-Muslim participants were asked to respond to the alleged foundation of a new political party for Muslims in the Netherlands (Van Zomeren, 2008). Before the experiment, participants` filled out measures of their individual  moral conviction (i.e., their personal opinion), and their collective  moral conviction (i.e., as a Dutchman in this case) on a moral issue (freedom of speech in the first study, and abortion in the second study). Subsequently, participants read a description of the new party`s statement against freedom of speech, and abortion, and they read that a representative survey among the non-Muslim Dutch in the Netherlands disagreed with this statement. However, the level of support was manipulated such that the group validated individuals` collective  moral conviction (i.e., a 95 % support condition), or that it did not validate their conviction (i.e., a 65 % support condition). Did this group norm manage to influence the responses to the political party among those with collective convictions? Results suggested an affirmative answer: Their negative responses to this party decreased when group support was lower. Put differently, when  moral conviction was viewed as collective, group norms influenced how those with collective convictions responded to moral threats. Note that these results are difficult to explain from an individualist perspective, which would not predict social influence effects at all.

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