Study on Black Lives Matter protests provides insight into link between coalition membership and morale elevation

New research sheds light on the role of coalition affiliation in shaping emotional responses to intergroup conflict. The findings, published in Royal Society Open Scienceindicate that political orientation modulates whether people feel inspired and uplifted after watching video of large-scale protests demanding racial equity in policing.

The authors behind the new study sought to investigate how coalition affiliation influenced experiences of moral elevation in the context of a prominent and politically divisive social conflict in the United States: the Black Lives Matters movement.

“The 2020 protests against racial bias in policing were the largest political protests in US history,” explained study author Colin Holbrook, associate professor of cognitive and information sciences at the University of California, Merced.

“These ‘Back the Blue’ protests and counter-protests provided a real opportunity to study the role of an emotion formerly associated with cooperation, prosociality, love and helpfulness in the context of group conflict. While charitable donations and similar acts of kindness are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of helping, conflict should also stir emotions that motivate efforts to work together to help one’s side prevail.

Researchers conducted two separate studies in 2020 while BLM protests were taking place across the United States. The studies included 2172 US adults, who were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk.

In Study 1, they recruited participants from an online platform and showed them videos depicting BLM protesters or neutral scenes. After watching the videos, participants were asked to report their emotions and their preferences regarding increasing or decreasing police funding. The researchers were specifically interested in a feeling called “elevation,” which is a positive emotion that inspires people to be more cooperative and helpful. They used a scale to measure participants’ elevation levels.

“Elevation is an emotion that has only recently been named in English, but research has proven to be a real and distinct emotion, just as happiness, pride, anger, admiration, disgust, fear or gratitude are distinct emotions,” explained Holbrook. . “Feelings of upliftment are inspired when we see people performing selfless acts for others. Elevation involves bodily feelings like goosebumps, feelings of warmth and tears, as well as a desire to be a more helpful and generous person.”

The researchers also collected information about participants’ political orientation and their perceptions of the police as prosocial cooperative partners. They used a self-report measure in which participants indicated their agreement or disagreement with various policy issues. In addition, demographic information such as age, gender and race was collected.

In Study 2, researchers followed a similar procedure, but added an additional video depicting “Back the Blue” (BtB) protesters, who support the police. They wanted to see how this video would elicit uplift and affect participants’ preferences for police funding. The same measures and questionnaires from Study 1 were used in Study 2.

The researchers found that participants’ political orientation influenced whether they experienced moral uplift while watching a video of large-scale protests for racial equality or a counter-protest video. Conservatives experienced uplift in response to the BtB video, while liberals experienced uplift in response to the BLM video.

Furthermore, the state of elevation experienced by participants in response to the videos was associated with their preferences regarding police funding. The elevation evoked by the BLM video was related to a preference to reduce police funding, whereas the elevation evoked by the BtB video was related to a preference to increase police funding. These findings indicate that people’s political attitudes and coalition affiliation influence their emotional responses and preferences regarding the allocation of funds for policing and social services.

“We found that conservatives felt uplifted when watching anti-BLM counter-protests, progressives felt uplifted when watching BLM protests, and that uplifted feelings predicted a desire to increase or decrease police funding, depending on which side the participants were,” said Holbrook. PsyPost. “These results show that the same actions or policies can be experienced as morally and emotionally moving, in opposite directions, depending on our group biases.”

“Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Enemies that we can intuitively perceive as driven by hate may be driven by prosocial feelings and emotions. Understanding their feelings and moral motivations can be helpful when negotiating with – or even strategizing against – members of opposing groups.”

The researchers argue that the interactions between coalitional attitudes and state elevation observed in this study are likely to be even more pronounced in contexts of overtly violent intergroup conflict. They also suggest that elevation and other positive emotions can contribute to a socio-emotional feedback loop that makes commitment difficult and increases conflict, as these feelings can reinforce the perception of the group’s own struggle as morally fair and discourage openness to negotiation.

“Our conflict, cooperation, and elevation model applies to all conflicts and should be tested in other contexts, including active wars,” Holbrook said. “Our work also talks about the role of advertising in framing someone’s side as morally righteous. The ability to inspire upliftment among other emotions on behalf of one’s side can be critical to mobilizing cooperation and winning social conflicts. Individuals who do not perceive their side’s cause as morally justified may be less willing to cooperate and less susceptible to emotional manipulation by leaders or the media.

The study, “Coalition Shapes Moral Uplift: Evidence from the Black Lives Matter Protest and Counterprotest Movements,” was written by Colin Holbrook, Daniel MT Fessler, Adam Maxwell Sparks, Devin L. Johnson, Theodore Samore, and Lawrence I .Reed.

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