The assumption underlying our work is that human judgment and behavior are goal driven and dynamic. The behaviors that people engage in depend on several cognitive and motivational factors, including the saliency and desirability of different goals, the number of available means, and the presence of alternative goals.
The traditional approaches to understanding radicalization have been mainly conceptual rather than empirical and focused predominantly on religious extremism. By contrast, our research investigates the process of radicalization across the ideological spectrum (religious, right and left-leaning movements) to understand how people think, feel and behave when they hear and follow the drumbeat of extremism.
We investigate these issues using the Theory of Ideological Obsession (Philosophical Transactions B, Bélanger, 2021). This framework posits that radicalization is an addiction to an ideology; it is an obsession to a belief system stoked by the loss of personal significance that triggers a set of sociocognitive mechanisms leaving individuals prone to engaging in ideological violence. A recent meta-analysis comparing 101 risk factors showed that ideological obsession is one of the best predictors of violent extremism (Wolfowicz et al., 2021).
Ideologically obsessed individuals are ego-defensive and easily threatened by information challenging their belief system. Their ideological obsession chronically conflicts with other life domains, which in turn produces goal-shielding and facilitates the use of self-defeating, counterfinal behaviors and the dehumanization of outgroup members. These processes are accelerated by people joining networks of like-minded individuals who support ideological violence and provide a sense of camaraderie and meaning. Reversing the radicalization process involves restoring people’s sense of personal significance through better self-regulatory strategies to attain a richer, more satisfying and better-balanced life.
Bélanger, J.J. (2021). The Sociocognitive Processes of Ideological Obsession: Review and Policy Implications. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Bélanger, J.J., Schumpe, B.M., *Nisa, C.F., & Moyano, M. (2020). When Counter-Messaging Backfires: The Role of Obsessive Passion in Psychological Reactance. Motivation Science.
Bélanger, J.J., Robbins, B.G., Muhammad, H., Moyano, M., Nisa, C.F., & Schumpe, B.M., Blaya, M. (2020). Supporting Political Violence: The Role of Ideological Passion and Social Network. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations.
Bélanger, J.J., Schumpe, B.M., Nociti, N., Moyano, M., Dandeneau, S., Chamberland, P-E., & Vallerand, R.J. (2019). Passion and Moral Disengagement: Different Pathways to Political Activism. Journal of Personality.
Environmental sustainability consists of creating and maintaining the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support the needs of present and future generations. One fundamental question that our research address is what are the effective behavioral interventions to promote environmental behaviors. Our lab recently conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (3,000,000+ observations) to promote household action on climate change. This led to three papers in Nature Communications (2019, 2020a, 2020b). This work shows that social norms and choice architecture (nudges) are the most promising interventions for behavior change.
In our latest paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS; in press), we propose that attachment style is crucial for understanding sustainability because anthropogenic climate change is inherently a communal phenomenon requiring collective behavioral change. Five studies were conducted (totalizing 145,000+ data points): a U.S. national representative survey, three experiments and a preregistered field intervention, reporting multiple outcomes such as monetary donations to environmental groups and food waste (in kilograms). The key takeaway is that attachment security influences how much people care about and accept climate change via increased empathy for humanity. Connecting this to our work on radicalization, we show that attachment can help bypass the resistance of politically-conservative individuals to mitigate climate change – a finding relevant to increasing support for environmental policies.
*Nisa, C.F., Bélanger, J.J., *Schumpe, B.M., Sasin, E. (in press). Secure human attachment can promote support for climate change mitigation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
*Nisa, C.F., Sasin, E.M., *Schumpe, B.M., Faller, D.G., & Bélanger, J.J. (2020). Reply to “Alternative estimation of meta-analysis of behavioural interventions to promote household action on climate change yields different conclusions.” Nature Communications.
*Nisa, C.F., Bélanger, J.J., *Schumpe, B.M., & Faller, D.G. (2020). Reply to “A reexamination on how behavioral interventions can promote household action to limit climate change.” Nature Communications.
*Nisa, C. F., Bélanger, J. J., & Schumpe, B. M. (2020). On solid ground: Secure attachment promotes place attachment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 70, 101463.
*Nisa, C.F., Bélanger, J.J., *Schumpe, B.M., & Faller, D.G. (2019). Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials Testing Behavioural Interventions to Promote Household Action on Climate Change. Nature Communications.