The suppression-incongruence model of extremism: Investigating extremism through a new lens

Tetreault, Christie
Introduction: Psychological and experimental research is increasingly contributing to our understanding of extremism. This thesis presents and investigates a potentially promising avenue of research in the area of extremism—a suppression-incongruence model that may contribute to the understanding of relevant processes that lead to extremist thought and behavior. The model amalgamates and expands upon existing models, integrating dispositional, cognitive, and behavioral facets, as well as other individual differences, to explicate the pathways to extremism. In the suppression-incongruence model, suppression and incongruence are bidirectional, meaning suppression of one’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs (TFBs), emotions, or behaviors can lead to incongruence, and incongruence between one’s TFBs, emotions, or behaviors can lead to suppression. The model hypothesizes that the longer one is then in the suppression-incongruence state, the more extreme the TFBs, emotions, or behaviors become. Ultimately, when the suppressed or incongruent TFBs, emotions, or behaviors are eventually “released,” a rebound effect arises, potentially leading to a more extreme response. Aim: The primary aim of this thesis was to examine different aspects of the suppressionincongruence model with various forms of extremism: hacktivism (a portmanteau of hacking and activism), state-sponsored extremism (SSE), and (proclivity for) extreme cognitions. Objectives: The overall objective of the program of research is to better understand the processes or pathways to radicalization and extremism. Each empirical study had its own objective. The objective in Study 1 was to investigate if pre-existing beliefs influenced participants’ bystander support for extremist behavior that aligned with those pre-existing beliefs. Ultimately, are individuals willing to support a group’s cause they already agree with regardless of the methods that the group uses (i.e., does the end justify the means)? This study was designed to assess whether or not pre-existing beliefs that aligned with the hacktivists would facilitate moral connectedness to the actors in the vignette. This moral connectedness then could predict greater willingness to provide financial support for the hacktivists’ cause. In Study 2, the main objective was to test if participants who were asked to suppress or express their opinions about the eco-hacktivism article from Study 1 would experience an increase or decrease in rebound effects. For Study 3, the objective was to examine dispositional traits as predictors for sympathies towards violent and non-violent forms of SSE. Scoring higher on the dispositional traits that were investigated (the Dark Tetrad—Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, sadism—and right-wing authoritarianism) has also been theorized to be associated with regular behavioral suppression and an increased proclivity for antisociality. This study would allow examination of this suppression aspect of the suppression-incongruence model. The objective for the last study, Study 4, was to examine how suppression and cognitive rigidity predicted a proclivity for extreme cognitions. This would allow both protective and risk factors for having a propensity for more extreme cognitions to be examined. In terms of the suppressionincongruence model, this would investigate cognitive suppression predicting more cognitive extremism. The studies, taken together, test different facets and aspects of the suppressionincongruence model of extremism to better understand susceptibilities and pathways to radicalization and extremism. Methods: In Study 1, an online cross-sectional study was conducted (N = 350) to investigate if hacktivists could garner bystander support. The study included an eco-hacktivism vignette and two morality scales. The vignette included three actors (the hacktivists themselves, their spokesperson, and a supportive social media commentator). Two morality scales were developed: one that probed moral judgement relating to the hacktivists and the other probed moral judgement relating to the spokesperson and social media commentator. Pre-existing beliefs on the importance of the environment and moral connectivity to these three actors were examined for their predictive power towards a willingness to donate to a crowdfunding campaign in support of the hacktivists. Using the hacktivism vignette from Study 1, in Study 2, participants (N = 158) were randomly assigned to three conditions to examine if they would experience rebound effects following instructions to suppress (Condition 1) or express (Condition 2) their TFBs about the hacktivism article. There was a control condition (Condition 3) where participants were given no instructions relating to expression/suppression of their TFBs. The rebound effects, both objective (number of intrusive thoughts) and subjective (positive and negative affect pre- and post-test) effects were analyzed for group differences. In Study 3 (N = 398), an online cross-sectional study examined how scoring higher on specific dispositional traits (Dark Tetrad and right-wing authoritarianism) that have been theorized to use suppression predicted a willingness to support four forms of SSE. In Study 4 (N = 1,249), a final online cross-sectional study was conducted to predict conspiracy mentality (i.e., proclivity for extreme cognitions) through traits and dispositional traits that theoretically increased cognitive rigidity and incongruence. The traits were suppression, sense of self, and critical thinking, and the dispositional traits were the Dark Tetrad, right-wing authoritarianism, and collective narcissism. An exploratory theoretical model was developed, and the factor structure was assessed before testing the causal model. Results: Findings from Study 1 suggest that different facets of moral connectedness to the three actors in the hacktivism vignette (Moral altruism with the hacktivists; Moral social connectivity with the spokesperson; and Moral behavioral intention with the social media commentator) predicted a willingness to contribute to the hacktivists’ cause. Pre-existing beliefs that aligned with the hacktivists’ cause were mediated by moral connectivity to the hacktivists and their spokesperson (i.e., Moral altruism and Moral social connectivity mediated the relationship between pre-existing beliefs and willingness to donate to the hacktivists’ cause). However, moral connectedness to the supportive social media commentator (Moral behavioral intention) did not mediate the relationship between pre-existing beliefs and the willingness to donate. The model explained 41% of the variance of willingness to donate to a crowdfunding campaign to support the hacktivists. The results from Study 2 suggest that regular suppression use was significantly associated with more negative and less positive affect. However, the experimental manipulation was not successful and did not lead to the hypothesized interaction effects between suppression and expression on the number of intrusive thoughts and affect changes (i.e., there were no significant group differences). The findings from Study 3 showed that scoring higher on the dark personality traits predicted more bystander support for varying forms of SSE. Contradictory to the hypothesis, suppression was not a significant predictor for most forms of SSE. Higher scores on some of the dark personality traits (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism but not narcissism nor right-wing authoritarianism) were associated with higher everyday suppression use. The explained variances ranged from approximately 7% to 20% depending on the form of SSE. In Study 4, a proclivity for extreme cognitions (i.e., conspiracy mentality) was significantly predicted by higher suppression use, collective narcissism, right-wing authoritarianism (authority/order), and critical thinking (engagement) scores. However, scores on the Dark Tetrad traits, right-wing authoritarianism (morality), and sense of self were non-significant predictors. The model explained 20% of the variance in proclivity for extreme cognitions. Conclusion: These four studies taken together provide evidence in support of the suppressionincongruence model of extremism. In Study 1, moral connectedness to different actors in the hacktivism vignette influenced bystander support for the hacktivists’ cause. As moral connectedness for the hacktivists and their spokesperson mediated the relationship between preexisting beliefs on environmental pollution and the willingness to donate, participants could be engaging in moral suppression. The moral suppression could indicate participants were suppressing morality to stay congruent with their pre-existing beliefs to the detriment of objective morality (i.e., hacking is amoral), resulting in a prediction of more bystander support for the extreme behavior. This suppression-to-congruence facet had not been anticipated. Compared to previous research, the higher ecologically valid design investigating how hacktivism works in the real world provides insight into facets that predict bystander support for this form of extremism. For Study 2, there was further support found for the suppressionincongruence model with suppression being associated with more negative affect. This association may indicate a “bottling” up of emotions that could result in a stronger release of them subsequently. As this was one of the first studies in this area to be conducted online, there were many lessons learned on how better to implement this experimental design in future studies. Study 3’s results highlight that triggering of a dispositional trait may elicit bystander support for extremist behavior. The results of this study suggest that once triggered, the proclivity for antisociality and sensitivity to incongruence could become important in predicting more bystander support for SSE, thus providing support for the suppression-incongruence model. The results from Study 4 suggest that a trigger may also be important in cognitive rigidity predicting a proclivity for extreme cognitions. Suppression was a significant predictor for the proclivity for extreme cognitions, and this adds further support to the suppression-incongruence model that suppression can predict more extremism. With higher critical thinking (engagement) predicting more proclivity for extreme cognitions, this could indicate that participants may be suppressing (or not utilizing) their critical thinking in order to maintain their pre-existing beliefs that align with the extreme cognition measure. This could be similar to Study 1’s findings where there is a suppression-congruence facet to more extremism. Implications and Future Research: From a theoretical perspective, the suppressionincongruence model of extremism is supported, in part, by the empirical research of this thesis. From Study 1, based on the findings, moral connectedness to extremist actors may be a factor that impacts moral suppression and disengagement, which allows individuals to suspend their ethical standards, leading to more (support of) extremist behavior. This could be investigated in future research to get a better understanding of how different facets of moral connectedness influence suppressing one’s moral compass to show susceptibility to radicalization and extremism. In Study 3, scoring higher on some of the dark personality traits (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism) was associated with an increased use of suppression. This had been theorized but not previously explored in research, and these results may have implications for interventions that can be explored further. The suppression-incongruence model and findings from this thesis add to the evidence base that could assist in developing community-based interventions to take a pre-emptive approach to minimizing susceptibility to extremism. Future research should investigate the causality of the suppression-incongruence model to investigate which facets influence which pathways to radicalization and bystander support for and engagement in extremism.
NUI Galway
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland