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Overall, I am interested in the role of social identities and emotions for understanding political behavior. My research focuses on these factors to explain radical right support, affective polarization, and prosocial behavior. Moreover, I am also interested in the fundamental goodness of human beings: what makes them feel well, when do people behave prosocially, how can we all be a bit nicer to each other? Below are a few examples of what I do but first my dissertation abstract:
My dissertation in 148 words:
This dissertation promotes the relevance of identities and emotions in explaining individuals’ engagement in radical right support and affective polarization. I advance previous evidence on how identities and emotions drive political behavior into specifying that these factors shape individuals’ perception of and reaction to societal developments. The five papers constituting this dissertation develop and examine novel theories of how identities and emotions alter and amplify the perceived meaning of current societal developments, motivating radical right support and affective polarization. I treat these two behaviors as manifestations of radical political behavior, which I conceptualize as a larger trend in individual-level political behavior that risks undermining social cohesion and democratic norms. Understanding radical political behavior as the result of individuals’ identity- and emotion-shaped perceptions of societal developments implies thatpurely rational approaches to understanding this phenomenon are limited. Moreover, identity or emotion-based interventions may be more effective in reducing it.
The Role of Self-Disclosure for Bridging Partisan Divides
To combat rising polarization, scholars studied ways to make opponents feel more connected to one another. We explore one underlying mechanism increasing connectedness, suggesting that people feel more connected to opponents who self-disclose (i.e., share personal or sensitive information). We argue that sharing experiences often more powerfully promotes pro-social attitudes (respect and willingness to interact) than facts because they are more self-disclosing. In Studies 1a and 1b, we find that experiences are more self-disclosing than facts, breeding connectedness and prosocial attitudes. In Study 2, we directly test the role of self-disclosure and find that sharing experiences most effectively drive connectedness and pro-social attitudes if self-disclosure is high. Study 3 communicates facts (a key tenant for healthy democracies) through self-disclosure and finds that even facts bridge divides when they appear self-disclosing.
Cultural factors of radical right support
My dissertation focuses on cultural explanations to populist radical right support. In various papers, I examine how subjective experiences of being culturally disadvantaged motivates endorsement of this ideology. In one paper, I use representative panel data from the Netherlands to study how different contents of nostalgia predict support for Dutch radical right parties. In another paper, I examine the social inclusion argument outlined above among white identifiers in the US, testing whether lacking uniqueness could explain perceptions of social exclusion, which then predict Trump support.
What affect exactly is polarized in affective polarization? In this project, I argue that individuals may be motivated to sustain and even drive affective polarization to reach the identity goals of group distinctiveness and superiority (Brewer, 1991; Jetten et al., 1997; Tajfel, 1982). Again using the qualitative interview data with German radical right voters, I study how individuals use emotion narratives to consolidate a distance between ingroups and outgroups.
Together with Byron Adams from the University of Amsterdam, we theorize and examine conditions under which even majorities may feel excluded from society. Specifically, we test Optimal Distinctiveness Theory (Brewer, 1991), which argues that individuals rely on two identity needs to feel socially included: They need to belong to the larger group and simultaneously need to remain unique (i.e., feel appreciated, respected) with whatever is making them different.
I also examine the theory in semi-structured interviews with German radical right voters, testing if they feel excluded from society because they subjectively lack uniqueness as majority subgroups (whites, men, heterosexuals), despite their firm belonging to German superordinate society.
The Effect of Compassion on Perceived Responsibility
What emotions help us to overcome crises? In this joint project with Jacob Sohlberg, we examine how compassion can lead individuals to assign responsibility to politicians, authorities, and individuals during the Covid-19 pandemic. Compassion is relatively simple to learn, meaning that compassion can serve as a tool for individuals to take responsibility in challenging times.