[Proposal] “They are feeling conflicted”: Can expression of bivalent mixed emotions stop extreme outgroup members seeming “less human”?

A. Overview of Research

When dehumanisation is at work, people reserve the “human essence” only for themselves. Dehumanised groups are generally perceived as hostile and incompetent (i.e., extreme outgroups) and often elicit the emotion of disgust (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002), which in turn facilitates social exclusion. For example, individuals with substance use disorders (e.g., drug addicts) have been described as “junkies”. Being excluded from society may then be internalised into feelings of shame and guilt, which “feed” extreme outgroup members’ desire to keep carrying out behaviour that is frowned upon by society to alleviate the negative feelings (e.g., drug addicts continue using drugs; for a review, see Matthews, Dwyer, & Snoek, 2017). Breaking this “loop” is necessary for promoting social integration of these extreme outgroup members, and our proposed research will contribute to existing efforts in achieving this.

Although people typically think that other animals can feel primary emotions too (e.g., anger, pleasure), it is widely believed that only humans are capable of experiencing complex emotional episodes (for a review, see Demoulin et al., 2004). Prati and Giner-Sorolla (2018) showed that one type of these complex emotional episodes is feeling both positive and negative primary emotions simultaneously (e.g., happiness and sadness), which requires advanced cognitive capabilities of evaluating the same event from different perspectives and integrating conflicting feelings (Labouvie-Vief, 2015). Their results showed that simply presenting people with written information about an outgroup expressing these bivalent mixed emotions led to less dehumanisation than when the outgroup’s mixed emotions shared the same valence (univalent mixed emotions; i.e., both positive or both negative).

Despite the novelty of Prati and Giner-Sorolla’s (2018) study, its results raise additional important questions that my proposed research aims to address:

  1. Do the reported effects of emotional complexity on dehumanisation extend to extreme outgroup members (specifically drug addicts) who are generally viewed as “the lowest of the low” across cultures?
  2. Are the effects strong enough to influence participants’ actual behaviours towards the extreme outgroup (e.g., sharing an endowment with them) in addition to the dehumanising attitudes measured previously?

B. Methodology

B.1. Design

The study will manipulate the type of mixed emotions expressed by extreme outgroup members (bivalent vs. univalent) in a two-level design. The bivalent condition will have two sub-conditions, each specifying a bivalent emotional pair (“excitement and fear” and “anger and happiness”). Similarly, the univalent condition will have two sub-conditions: One presenting a positive emotional pair (“excitement and happiness”) and the other a negative emotional pair (“fear and anger”). Despite the four conditions in total, my key analysis will compare the bivalent and univalent mixed emotions conditions.

B.2. Procedure

Participants will first be asked to rate how much they feel affiliated with individuals with drug addiction and their personal experience of drug-taking. Then, they will be randomly assigned to the bivalent or univalent condition and then asked to read the following cover story (adapted from Prati & Giner-Sorolla, 2018) on drug addicts:

“Around 269 million people used drugs worldwide in 2018, which is 30% more than in 2009, while over 35 million people suffer from drug use disorders, according to the latest World Drug Report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2020.
In order to increase knowledge about this population, BBC interviewers spent several days getting to know a group of drug addicts.
During an interview about public efforts to help drug users reintegrate into society, the group members expressed at the same time [emotional pair].”

After reading the cover story, participants will respond to questions measuring their levels of dehumanisation of drug addicts in terms of UH emotions, liking, social distance, and generosity. A post-manipulation measure of affiliation will also be administered. Then, participants will be thanked and debriefed.

B.3. Measures

B.3.1. Uniquely human (UH) emotions.

UH (or “secondary”) emotions are one of the most widely studied characteristics of the human essence (Leyens et al., 2000) because they require a complex mind—a view of the self in the past or in the future—which is absent in other animals (for a review, see Demoulin et al., 2004). We will ask participants to rate how much they think that drug addicts possess the ability to experience UH emotions compared to the average human population. We expect that a higher mean score will be observed in the bivalent than univalent condition.

B.3.2. Liking.

Participants will also rate their feelings about drug addicts. We expect that the bivalent condition will elicit greater liking towards the outgroup members than the univalent condition.

B.3.3. Social distance.

Participants will indicate their closest degree of intimacy towards drug addicts by responding to Bogardus’s (1933) social distance scale. A lower rating indicates lower social distance between participants and the drug addicts, which we expect to observe in the bivalent condition.

B.3.4. Generosity.

Participants will be endowed an amount of money as a bonus payment of £10 for their contribution to the proposed research. They will be allowed to reserve the full amount for themselves or, if they wish, they can give part of the endowment to local drug addicts who are setting up support groups for themselves. Our prediction is that more money will be allocated to the drug addicts in the bivalent condition.

C. Sample Size

Effect sizes in Prati and Giner-Sorolla’s (2018) study were around .60. Using G*Power’s two-tailed independent t-test with power=95% and alpha=.05, a total sample of 140 (70 per condition) will be needed to detect d = .61.

D. Study Costs

Baseline payment (for a 15-minute study): £2 x 140 = £280 + £93.33 (service fee) + £18.67 (VAT) = £392
Bonus payment: £10 (maximum) x 140 = £1,400 + £466.67 (service fee) + £93.33 (VAT) = £1,960
Total: £2,352

E. Preregistration and Publication

This study has been pre-registered at the Open Science Foundation (OSF): https://osf.io/a9pfm. Once the study is complete and peer-reviewed, we will publish fully de-identified data, analysis code and study materials on OSF through the ‘Gold’ Open Access route.

F. References

  • Bogardus, E. S. (1933). A social distance scale. Sociology & Social Research, 17, 265–271.
  • Demoulin, S., Leyens, J. P., Paladino, M. P., Rodriguez‐Torres, R., Rodriguez‐Perez, A., & Dovidio, J. (2004). Dimensions of “uniquely” and “non‐uniquely” human emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 18(1), 71-96.
  • Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(6), 878-902.
  • Labouvie-Vief, G. (2015). Integrating emotions and cognition throughout the lifespan. New York, NY: Springer.
  • Leyens, J. P., Paladino, P. M., Rodriguez-Torres, R., Vaes, J., Demoulin, S., Rodriguez-Perez, A., & Gaunt, R. (2000). The emotional side of prejudice: The attribution of secondary emotions to ingroups and outgroups. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4(2), 186-197.
  • Matthews, S., Dwyer, R., & Snoek, A. (2017). Stigma and self-stigma in addiction. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 14(2), 275-286.
  • Prati, F., & Giner-Sorolla, R. (2018). Perceiving mixed valence emotions reduces intergroup dehumanisation. Cognition and Emotion, 32(5), 1018-1031.
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2020, June 25). UNODC World Drug Report 2020: Global drug use rising; while COVID-19 has far reaching impact on global drug markets. UNODC World Drug Report 2020: Global drug use rising; while COVID-19 has far reaching impact on global drug markets

Thank you for reading! We welcome your comments. Vote for this proposal if you like it :loudspeaker: