New research from Poland has found a link between antisocial tendencies and support for group violence. The study, which has been published in the scientific journal Personality and Individual Differences, suggests that people who lack consideration for others’ wellbeing are more prone to political radicalization.
The authors of the study conducted the research to bridge findings from two different areas of psychology.
“Social psychological research on collective action shows us the importance of group identification, perceived injustice or group efficacy in willingness to engage in actions on behalf of one’s group,” said study author Tomasz Besta of the University of Gdansk.
“Personality psychology and clinical psychology informs us on the role of antisocial personality and thrill seeking in joining violent groups and the use of violence as a mean to obtain one’s goals.”
“But dispositional factors related to antisocial and aggressive behaviors are not often included in the research on violent collective action, although antisocial tendencies have been linked to variables important for understanding social behaviors, such prejudice, perceived intergroup threats, dehumanization, and support of political issues,” Tomasz explained.
“For me, the attempts to integrate those perspectives in one research line are very interesting, as they help to more fully understand the motivation to accept, support, and join violent group actions.”
For their study, the researchers recruited 877 participants from various universities and colleges in Poland and had them complete the Triarchical Measure of Psychopathy, which assesses boldness, meanness, and disinhibition through separate targeted measures. The participants were also asked about their views on engaging in non-violent and violent collective actions on behalf of their country, on behalf of right-wing groups, and on behalf of left-wing groups.
The researchers found no evidence that psychopathic personality traits were associated with support for moderate non-violent collective actions, such as attending a demonstration.
But Besta and his colleagues found that some of the psychopathic traits were linked to support for group violence and radical group actions. “This link emerged even when we accounted for the strength of identification with a group,” he noted.
“Meanness — understood as callousness, cold-heartedness, low empathy — was related to acceptance of violent social change” on behalf of one’s country, on behalf of right-wing groups, and on behalf of left-wing groups, Besta explained. “Disinhibition — understood as weak impulse control — was related to support for collective violent actions only for the right-wing group, and willingness to fight for group members.”
“What is also interesting is the interplay between disinhibition and group identification when it comes to support violence on behalf of right-wing groups. Among weak identifiers, there was no relationship between disinhibition and support for violent actions, but this link became significant when strong identifiers were considered.”
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“I consider this study as a preliminary examination of the relation of antisocial traits and support for violent actions. We conducted this research in one country only, so now we plan to do more cross-cultural studies,” Besta said.
“Previous studies pointed to group norms and values as factors linked to the decision to use radical means. Therefore, the interplay between group norms and individual differences should be explored in future research.”
“Moreover, we did not survey activists engaged in a fight for one’s group or the cause, but diverse samples of undergraduate students. It is an obvious caveat, and we are planning to conduct more research among non-students and members of various social organizations,” Besta noted.
The findings provide some new insights into personality traits associated with political radicalization. However, the results should not be misunderstood as suggesting that psychopathic traits are the sole cause of political violence.
“I would like to stress that our results do not mean that people who choose violent action on behalf of one group are always antisocial or display traits like disinhibition. Violent collective actions are very often chosen for reasons not linked to individual predispositions,” Besta explained.
“Those factors include structural discrimination, perceived lack of one’s significance, violation of one’s sacred values, shift in the group’s norms, strategic goals of the social and political organizations, and so on.”
“All we can say is that people who display traits like disinhibition or low level of empathy tend to be stronger supporters of violent group actions on behalf of political groups than those who have better impulse control, are less prone to Machiavellian behavior, and are more other-oriented,” Besta added. “And that we did not find such a link when moderate non-violent collective actions were examined.”
The study, “Radicalisation and individual differences: Disinhibition, boldness and meanness as predictors of support for radical collective action“, was authored by Tomasz Besta, Beata Pastwa-Wojciechowska, Michał Jaśkiewicz, Andrzej Piotrowski, and Marcin Szulc.