Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Fusion with political leaders predicts willingness to persecute immigrants and political opponents

Abstract

From the 2016 US presidential election and into 2019, we demonstrate that a visceral feeling of oneness (that is, psychological fusion) with a political leader can fuel partisans’ willingness to actively participate in political violence. In studies 1 and 2, fusion with Donald Trump predicted Republicans’ willingness to violently persecute Muslims (over and above other established predictors). In study 3, relative deprivation increased fusion with Trump and, subsequently, willingness to violently challenge election results. In study 4, fusion with Trump increased after his election and predicted immigrant persecution over time. Further revealing its independent effects, this fusion with Trump predicted a willingness to persecute Iranians (independent of identification with him, study 5); a willingness to persecute immigrants (study 6); and a willingness to personally protect the US border from an immigrant caravan (study 7), even over and above fusion with the group of Trump’s followers. These findings echo past political movements and suggest critical future research.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Response distributions and boxplots for the effects of the experimental condition on the dependent variables in study 3 (N= 301).
Fig. 2: Mediation model in study 3 (N= 301).
Fig. 3: Response distributions and boxplots for fusion with Trump and the Republicans over time in study 4 (N= 490).
Fig. 4: The fitted, autoregressive model in study 4 (N= 194).

Data availability

The data for all studies presented in this research can be anonymously obtained at https://osf.io/mn273/?view_only=8d17df0542ac4f03b6673b5a3b039bca. Please note that text written to open-ended prompts (that is, the experimental manipulation) in Study 3 has been deleted to warrant participants’ anonymity. The responses are available upon request.

References

  1. 1.

    Greene, S. Understanding party identification: A social identity approach. Polit. Psychol. 20, 393–403 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Hawkins, C. B. & Nosek, B. A. Motivated independence? Implicit party identity predicts political judgments among self-proclaimed independents. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 38, 1437–1452 (2012).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Simon, B. & Klandermans, B. Politicized collective identity: A social psychological analysis. Am. Psychol. 56, 319–331 (2001).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Swann, W. B. & Buhrmester, M. D. Identity fusion. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 24, 52–57 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Gómez, Á. et al. On the nature of identity fusion: Insights into the construct and a new measure. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 100, 918–933 (2011).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Fredman, L. A., Bastian, B. & Swann, W. B. God or country? Fusion with Judaism predicts desire for retaliation following Palestinian stabbing Intifada. Soc. Psychol. Personal Sci. 8, 882–887 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Kunst, J. R. et al. Engaging in extreme activism in support of others’ political struggles: The role of politically motivated fusion with out-groups. PLoS One 13, e0190639 (2018).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Hogg, M. A., Terry, D. J. & White, K. M. A tale of two theories: A critical comparison of identity theory with social identity theory. Soc. Psychol. Q. 58, 255–269 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Tajfel, H. & Turner, J. C. in Psychology of Intergroup Relations (eds Worchel, S. & Austin, W.) 7–24 (Nelson-Hall, 1986).

  10. 10.

    Kark, R., Shamir, B. & Chen, G. The two faces of transformational leadership: Empowerment and dependency. J. Appl. Psychol. 88, 246–255 (2003).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Steffens, N. K., Schuh, S. C., Haslam, S. A., Pérez, A. & Dick, R. ‘Of the group’ and ‘for the group’: How followership is shaped by leaders’ prototypicality and group identification. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 45, 180–190 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Swann, W. B., Gómez, Á., Seyle, D. C., Morales, J. F. & Huici, C. Identity fusion: The interplay of personal and social identities in extreme group behavior. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 96, 995–1011 (2009).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Swann, W. B., Jetten, J., Gómez, Á., Whitehouse, H. & Bastian, B. When group membership gets personal: A theory of identity fusion. Psychol. Rev. 119, 441–456 (2012).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Aron, A. & Aron, E. N. Love and the Expansion of Self: Understanding Attraction and Satisfaction (Hemisphere Publishing Corp, 1986).

  15. 15.

    Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Tudor, M. & Nelson, G. Close relationships as including other in the self. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 60, 241–253 (1991).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Aron, A. et al. Including others in the self. Eur. Rev. Soc. Psychol. 15, 101–132 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Gardner, W. L. & Avolio, B. J. The charismatic relationship: A dramaturgical perspective. Acad. Manage. Rev. 23, 32–58 (1998).

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Dansereau, F., Seitz, S. R., Chiu, C.-Y., Shaughnessy, B. & Yammarino, F. J. What makes leadership, leadership? Using self-expansion theory to integrate traditional and contemporary approaches. Leadersh. Q. 24, 798–821 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Besta, T., Jaśkiewicz, M., Kosakowska-Berezecka, N., Lawendowski, R. & Zawadzka, A. M. What do I gain from joining crowds? Does self-expansion help to explain the relationship between identity fusion, group efficacy and collective action? Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 48, O152–O167 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Besta, T., Mattingly, B. & Błażek, M. When membership gives strength to act: Inclusion of the group into the self and feeling of personal agency. J. Soc. Psychol. 156, 56–73 (2016).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Vázquez, A., Gómez, Á., Ordoñana, J. R., Swann, W. B. & Whitehouse, H. Sharing genes fosters identity fusion and altruism. Self Identity 16, 684–702 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Agnew, C. R., Van Lange, P. A. M., Rusbult, C. E. & Langston, C. A. Cognitive interdependence: Commitment and the mental representation of close relationships. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 74, 939–954 (1998).

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    De Cremer, D., Tyler, T. R. & den Ouden, N. Managing cooperation via procedural fairness: The mediating influence of self-other merging. J. Econ. Psychol. 26, 393–406 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Weber, M. Politics as a Vocation (Duncker & Humblot, 1919).

  25. 25.

    Howell, J. M. & Shamir, B. The role of followers in the charismatic leadership process: Relationships and their consequences. Acad. Manage. Rev. 30, 96–112 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D. & Platow, M. J. The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence and Power (Psychology Press, 2010).

  27. 27.

    Ashforth, B. E., Schinoff, B. S. & Rogers, K. M. “I identify with her,” “I identify with him”: Unpacking the dynamics of personal identification in organizations. Acad. Manage. Rev. 41, 28–60 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Gino, F. & Galinsky, A. D. Vicarious dishonesty: When psychological closeness creates distance from one’s moral compass. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 119, 15–26 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Levin, M. “‘No Blame?’ ABC News finds 36 cases invoking ‘Trump’ in connection with violence, threats, alleged assaults.” ABC News https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/blame-abc-news-finds-17-cases-invoking-trump/story?id=58912889 (accessed 4 November 2018).

  30. 30.

    Reicher, S., Haslam, S. A. & Rath, R. Making a virtue of evil: A five-step social identity model of the development of collective hate. Soc. Personal. Psychol. Compass 2, 1313–1344 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Reicher, S. D., Haslam, S. A. & Smith, J. R. Working toward the experimenter: Reconceptualizing obedience within the milgram paradigm as identification-based followership. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 7, 315–324 (2012).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Haslam, S. A. & Reicher, S. D. Contesting the “nature” of conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo’s studies really show. PLoS Biol. 10, e1001426 (2012).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D. & Van Bavel, J. J. Rethinking the “nature” of brutality: Uncovering the role of identity leadership in the Stanford Prison Experiment. Preprint at PsyArXiv https://psyarxiv.com/b7crx/ (2018).

  34. 34.

    Haslam, S. A. & Reicher, S. D. 50 years of “obedience to authority”: From blind conformity to engaged followership. Annu. Rev. Law Soc. Sci. 13, 59–78 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Bierman, N. “Here are the places where Donald Trump and the Republican Party disagree.” Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-gop-positions-20160720-snap-htmlstory.html (20 July 2016).

  36. 36.

    An examination of the 2016 electorate, based on validated voters. Pew Research Center http://www.people-press.org/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/ (2018).

  37. 37.

    Known Offender’s Race and Ethnicity by Bias Motivation (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2017); https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2017/tables/table-5.xls

  38. 38.

    Altemeyer, B. The Authoritarian Specter (Harvard Univ. Press, 1996).

  39. 39.

    Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M. & Malle, B. F. Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 67, 741–763 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Ho, A. K. et al. The nature of social dominance orientation: Theorizing and measuring preferences for intergroup inequality using the new SDO7 scale. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 109, 1003–1028 (2015).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Kunst, J. R., Fischer, R., Sidanius, J. & Thomsen, L. Preferences for group dominance track and mediate the effects of macro-level social inequality and violence across societies. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 5407–5412 (2017).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Thomsen, L., Green, E. G. T. & Sidanius, J. We will hunt them down: How social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism fuel ethnic persecution of immigrants in fundamentally different ways. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 44, 1455–1464 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Feldman, S. & Stenner, K. Perceived threat and authoritarianism. Polit. Psychol. 18, 741–770 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Guimond, S. & Dubé-Simard, L. Relative deprivation theory and the Quebec nationalist movement: The cognition–emotion distinction and the personal–group deprivation issue. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 44, 526–535 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Pettigrew, T. F. In pursuit of three theories: authoritarianism, relative deprivation, and intergroup contact. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 67, 1–21 (2016).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    de Figueiredo, R. J. P. & Weingast, B. R. in Civil Wars, Insecurity, and Intervention (eds Walter, B., & Snyder, J.) 261–302 (Columbia Univ. Press, 1999).

  47. 47.

    Mertus, J. A. Legitimizing the use of force in Kosovo. Ethics Int. Aff. 15, 133–150 (2001).

    Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Richardson, J. M. & Sen, S. Ethnic Conflict and Economic Development: A Policy Oriented Analysis Ethnic Studies Report; 85–108 (School of International Service, American University, 1997).

  49. 49.

    Greitemeyer, T. & Sagioglou, C. Subjective socioeconomic status causes aggression: A test of the theory of social deprivation. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 111, 178–194 (2016).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Morgan, S. L. Status threat, material interests, and the 2016 presidential vote. Socius 4, 2378023118788217 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Mutz, D. C. Status threat, not economic hardship, explains the 2016 presidential vote. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 115, E4330–E4339 (2018).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Aron, A., Aron, E. N. & Norman, C. in Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Interpersonal Processes (eds Fletcher, G. & Clark, M.) 478–501 (Blackwell, 2001).

  53. 53.

    Jong, J., Whitehouse, H., Kavanagh, C. & Lane, J. Shared negative experiences lead to identity fusion via personal reflection. PLoS One 10, e0145611 (2015).

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Whitehouse, H. et al. The evolution of extreme cooperation via shared dysphoric experiences. Sci. Rep. 7, 44292 (2017).

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Whitehouse, H. Dying for the group: Towards a general theory of extreme self-sacrifice. Behav. Brain Sci. 41, e192 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Vázquez, A., Gómez, Á. & Swann, W. B. Do historic threats to the group diminish identity fusion and its correlates? Self Identity 16, 480–503 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Hayes, A. F. Introduction to Mediation, Moderation, and Conditional ProcessAnalysis: A Regression-Based Approach (Guilford Press, 2013).

  58. 58.

    Garcia, F. “Department of Justice to investigate ‘alarming’ trend of hate crimes following Donald Trump election.” Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/hate-crimes-donald-trump-election-department-justice-attorney-loretta-lynch-jeff-sessions-a7425701.html (18 November 2016).

  59. 59.

    Kapitány, R., Kavanagh, C., Buhrmester, M., Newson, M. & Whitehouse, H. Ritual, identity fusion, and the inauguration of President Trump: A pseudo-experiment of ritual modes theory. Self and Identity 18, 1–31 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Misch, A., Fergusson, G. & Dunham, Y. Temporal dynamics of partisan identity fusion and prosociality during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Self Identity 15, 531–548 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Bem, D. J. in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 1st edn, Vol. 6 (ed. Berkowitz, L.) 1–62 (Academic Press, 1972).

  62. 62.

    “Transcript: Donald Trump expounds on his foreign policy views.” New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/us/politics/donald-trump-transcript.html (26 March 2016).

  63. 63.

    Smith, S. Trump supporters differ from other GOP voters on foreign policy, immigration issues. Pew Research Center Fact Tank http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/05/11/trump-supporters-differ-from-other-gop-voters-on-foreign-policy-immigration-issues/ (2016).

  64. 64.

    Oliphant, J. B. The Iraq War continues to divide the U.S. public, 15 years after it began. Pew Research Center Fact Tank https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/19/iraq-war-continues-to-divide-u-s-public-15-years-after-it-began/ (2018).

  65. 65.

    “2020 Presidential candidates: Donald Trump on the issues.” On the Issues http://www.ontheissues.org/Donald_Trump.htm (accessed 30 October 2018).

  66. 66.

    Tomlinson, L. “Some 5,200 US troops deploying to southern border in response to migrant caravan.” Fox News https://www.foxnews.com/politics/5000-troops-deploying-to-us-mexico-border-in-response-to-migrant-caravan (29 October 2018).

  67. 67.

    Touchberry, R. “Donald Trump has continued to attack the political opponents that one of his supporters targeted with pipe bombs.” Newsweek https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-continues-attack-critics-mail-bombs-1190881 (10 October 2018).

  68. 68.

    Ballhaus, R. & Salama, V. “Trump condemns violence after pipe bombs sent to Democrats, CNN.” Wall Street Journal https://www.wsj.com/articles/democrats-criticize-trumps-past-rhetoric-on-violence-after-bomb-scares-1540419853 (24 October 2018).

  69. 69.

    Bartov, O. Defining enemies, making victims: Germans, Jews, and the Holocaust. Am. Hist. Rev. 103, 771–816 (1998).

    Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Van Hiel, A., Duriez, B. & Kossowska, M. The presence of left-wing authoritarianism in Western Europe and its relationship with conservative ideology. Polit. Psychol. 27, 769–793 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Leese, D. Mao Cult: Rhetoric and Ritual in China’s Cultural Revolution (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011).

  72. 72.

    Heller, K. Personality Cults in Stalinism (V&R Unipress, 2004).

  73. 73.

    Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T. & Gosling, S. D. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: A new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 6, 3–5 (2011).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Hauser, D. & Schwarz, N. Attentive Turkers: MTurk participants perform better on online attention checks than do subject pool participants. Behav. Res. Methods 48, 400–407 (2016).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    McDonald, M. M., Navarrete, C. D. & Van Vugt, M. Evolution and the psychology of intergroup conflict: the male warrior hypothesis. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B 367, 670–679 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  76. 76.

    Vugt, M. V., de Cremer, D. & Janssen, D. P. Gender differences in cooperation and competition: The male-warrior hypothesis. Psychol. Sci. 18, 19–23 (2007).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    Swann, W. B. et al. What makes a group worth dying for? Identity fusion fosters perception of familial ties, promoting self-sacrifice. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 106, 912–926 (2014).

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Ellemers, N., Kortekaas, P. & Ouwerkerk, J. W. Self-categorisation, commitment to the group and group self-esteem as related but distinct aspects of social identity. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 29, 371–389 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    Mael, F. A. & Tetrick, L. E. Identifying organizational identification. Educ. Psychol. Meas. 52, 813–824 (1992).

    Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Greene, S. Social identity theory and party identification. Soc. Sci. Q. 85, 136–153 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  81. 81.

    Huddy, L., Mason, L. & Aarøe, L. Expressive partisanship: Campaign involvement, political emotion, and partisan identity. Am. Political Sci. Rev. 109, 1–17 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Zakrisson, I. Construction of a short version of the right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale. Pers. Individ. Dif. 39, 863–872 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  83. 83.

    Wang, J. & Wang, X. Structural Equation Modeling (John Wiley & Sons, 2012).

  84. 84.

    Tanaka, J. S. “How big is big enough?”: Sample size and goodness of fit in structural equation models with latent variables. Child Dev. 58, 134–146 (1987).

    Google Scholar 

  85. 85.

    Stop taking the kids, 66 percent of U.S. voters say, Quinnipiac University national poll finds; Support for dreamers is 79 percent. Quinnipiac University Poll https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2550 (2018).

Download references

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank E. Ikizer for her help with Study 2. L.T. was supported by grant no. 0602-01839B from the National Independent Research Fund Denmark and L.T. and J.R.K. by grant no. 231157/F10 from the National Norwegian Research Council. Study 2 was funded by internal grants to J.F.D. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

All authors designed the research. J.R.K. collected and analyzed the data, created figures and tables and drafted a first version of the manuscript. J.F.D. and L.T. provided critical revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jonas R. Kunst.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information: Primary Handling Editor: Aisha Bradshaw.

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–21, Figures 1–3, Results, Methods, and References.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kunst, J.R., Dovidio, J.F. & Thomsen, L. Fusion with political leaders predicts willingness to persecute immigrants and political opponents. Nat Hum Behav 3, 1180–1189 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0708-1

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links