Below you can find project overviews for some other lines of research that I am currently preparing for publication.
Ruisch, B. C. & Ferguson, M. J. Negativity bias and the genesis of punitiveness.
[overview and working paper coming soon]
Ruisch, B. C., Anderson, R. A., & Krosch, A. R. Are there ideological differences in intergroup bias? Liberal-Conservative (a)symmetries in minimal groups cognition and behavior.
[Working paper coming soon]
Abstract/Project Overview: Tensions between the political right and left have been growing in recent years, with the ideological divide now ranking as one of the most acrimonious social divisions in modern society. The depth and intransigence of this divide has led to numerous competing theories regarding the psychological forces that shape political ideology. One increasingly popular perspective is that ideological divisions center largely on orientations towards different social groups. According to this account, conservatives tend to be generally more oriented towards protecting and benefitting their social “ingroups” – that is, the social groups to which they themselves belong (e.g., racial/ethnic, national, and religious groups) – and to exhibit relatively greater discrimination and aggression towards social “outgroups” (social groups to which they do not belong). However, support for this hypothesis has been mixed: although some researchers have reliably found that conservatives exhibit greater prejudice towards a range of social outgroups, other researchers have found that liberals and conservatives exhibit equal degrees of intergroup bias.
In this work, we consider possible reasons for this conflicting evidence and posit a potential way forward. We argue that examining attitudes towards real-world groups – the methodological approach that has so far been favored by both sides of this debate – will necessarily fall short of answering the ultimate question of whether there are general ideological asymmetries in intergroup bias. Drawing on research from social identity theory, we take a different approach to testing this question. We conducted a series of studies using different variations of the minimal groups paradigm in order to systematically test for ideological differences in intergroup social cognition. We find evidence that political conservatives tend to feel greater identification with their social groups – although we also find that this greater identification does not necessarily translate into behavioral manifestations of intergroup bias. Further, we find that ideological extremity also independently predicts ingroup favoritism, with more ideologically extreme individuals exhibiting greater intergroup bias. Given the liberal skew of most psychological research samples, these findings suggest a possible reason why some past work has failed to find ideological differences in ingroup favoritism: because ideological extremity and liberalism are often confounded in these samples, which can “cancel out” the relationship between conservatism and intergroup bias. We discuss the implications of these results for leading theories regarding the nature of the left-right ideological divide.
Ruisch, B. C. The politics of the slippery slope: Ideological differences in logical reasoning and argumentation.
Abstract/Project Overview: In this work, I have been examining ideological differences in argumentation and logical reasoning, particularly regarding the use of “slippery slope” logic – the belief that one ambiguously negative action will cause a chain of increasingly negative downstream outcomes. Analyzing tweets from members of congress and a sample of more than 1 million Twitter users, I find that political conservatives – both laypeople and elites – are more likely to use slippery slope arguments in political communication. In a series of experimental studies, I find that this is more than a simple rhetorical strategy: more conservative individuals (a) rate slippery slope arguments to be more logical and (b) estimate a higher probability that these negative chains of events will actually occur, both at the societal level (e.g., that relaxing ordinances on lawn care will lead people to neglect other forms of upkeep, and eventually to a decline in quality of life) and at the individual level (e.g., that relaxing one’s diet to have a single cookie today will increase the probability of having multiple cookies tomorrow, and eventually to substantial weight gain).
Importantly, however, I find that these differences do not result from ideological differences in logical reasoning style or ability; rather, they stem from conflicting views of human nature. Conservatives have a more pessimistic view of human nature, which serves as the causal “engine” that propels these anticipated chains of negative events (leading them to believe, e.g., that a relaxation of restrictions will embolden subsequent bad behavior). In ongoing work, I am investigating whether these ideological asymmetries in slippery slope thinking can explain some of the ideological conflict over certain political issues – particularly those that are viewed as “watershed” changes that might lead to further changes downstream (e.g., transgender rights; relaxing of abortion laws).
Ruisch, B. C. The psychological toll of the culture wars: The effects of asymmetric intergroup conflict on psychological motivations and support for extrajudicial political action.
In this research, I am investigating how the (perceived) intergroup dynamics of the “culture wars” differentially impact liberals’ and conservatives’ psychological motivations and cognitive style. Consistent with past work, I find that both liberals and conservatives perceive a strong conflict with the opposing ideological group, and seek to advance their group’s relative position within that conflict. However, I find that people – both liberals and conservatives alike – generally perceive that liberals have the upper hand in this conflict: people see society as becoming more liberal over time, and believe that the number of political conservatives is dwindling. This gives rise to a sense of existential threat among conservatives, who express greater concern about the continued existence of their ideological ingroup. This sense of threat, in turn, motivates conservatives to express greater support for extreme action to advance the position of their political group, such as extrajudicial and obstructionist political actions. Further, I find evidence that this perceived existential threat may also impact more basic forms of cognition among conservatives, heightening need for cognitive closure and sensitivity to threat. These findings challenge theoretical models that have argued for a unidirectional relationship between psychological motivations and political ideology. While past work has shown that needs for safety and certainty can shape a person’s ideology, I find that a person’s ideology can also shape these same psychological needs. This work suggests that some of the apparent psychological differences between those of opposing ideologies may actually stem from more basic social cognitive processes related to intergroup conflict that are common to both liberals and conservatives.