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Engaging in extreme activism in support of others' political struggles: The role of politically motivated fusion with out-groups

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Humans are a coalitional, parochial species. Yet, extreme actions of solidarity are sometimes taken for distant or unrelated groups. What motivates people to become solidary with groups to which they do not belong originally? Here, we demonstrate that such distant solidarity can occur when the perceived treatment of an out-group clashes with one’s political beliefs (e.g., for Leftists, oppressive occupation of the out-group) and that it is driven by fusion (or a feeling of oneness) with distant others with whom one does not share any common social category such as nationality, ethnicity or religion. In Study 1, being politically Leftist predicted European-Americans’ willingness to engage in extreme protest on behalf of Palestinians, which was mediated by fusion with the out-group. Next, in Study 2, we examined whether this pattern was moderated by out-group type. Here, Norwegian Leftists fused more with Palestinians (i.e., a group that, in the Norwegian context, is perceived to be occupied in an asymmetrical conflict) rather than Kurds (i.e., a group for which this perception is less salient). In Study 3, we experimentally tested the underlying mechanism by framing the Kurdish conflict in terms of an asymmetrical occupation (vs. symmetrical war or control conditions) and found that this increased Leftist European-Americans’ fusion with Kurds. Finally, in Study 4, we used a unique sample of non-Kurdish aspiring foreign fighters who were in the process of joining the Kurdish militia YPG. Here, fusion with the out-group predicted a greater likelihood to join and support the Kurdish forces in their fight against ISIS, insofar as respondents experienced that their political orientation morally compelled them to do so (Study 4). Together, our findings suggest that politically motivated fusion with out-groups underpins the extreme solidary action people may take on behalf of distant out-groups. Implications for future theory and research are discussed.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
Engaging in extreme activism in support of
others’ political struggles: The role of
politically motivated fusion with out-groups
Jonas R. Kunst
1,2,3
*, Beverly Boos
1‡
, Sasha Y. Kimel
4‡
, Milan Obaidi
5‡
, Maor Shani
6‡
,
Lotte Thomsen
1,3
1Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, 2Center for Research on Extremism,
University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway, 3Department of Political Science, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark,
4Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America,
5Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, 6Jacobs University Bremen, Bremen,
Germany
‡ These authors are shared second authors on this work.
*j.r.kunst@psykologi.uio.no
Abstract
Humans are a coalitional, parochial species. Yet, extreme actions of solidarity are some-
times taken for distant or unrelated groups. What motivates people to become solidary with
groups to which they do not belong originally? Here, we demonstrate that such distant soli-
darity can occur when the perceived treatment of an out-group clashes with one’s political
beliefs (e.g., for Leftists, oppressive occupation of the out-group) and that it is driven by
fusion (or a feeling of oneness) with distant others with whom one does not share any com-
mon social category such as nationality, ethnicity or religion. In Study 1, being politically Left-
ist predicted European-Americans’ willingness to engage in extreme protest on behalf of
Palestinians, which was mediated by fusion with the out-group. Next, in Study 2, we exam-
ined whether this pattern was moderated by out-group type. Here, Norwegian Leftists fused
more with Palestinians (i.e., a group that, in the Norwegian context, is perceived to be occu-
pied in an asymmetrical conflict) rather than Kurds (i.e., a group for which this perception is
less salient). In Study 3, we experimentally tested the underlying mechanism by framing the
Kurdish conflict in terms of an asymmetrical occupation (vs. symmetrical war or control con-
ditions) and found that this increased Leftist European-Americans’ fusion with Kurds.
Finally, in Study 4, we used a unique sample of non-Kurdish aspiring foreign fighters who
were in the process of joining the Kurdish militia YPG. Here, fusion with the out-group pre-
dicted a greater likelihood to join and support the Kurdish forces in their fight against ISIS,
insofar as respondents experienced that their political orientation morally compelled them to
do so (Study 4). Together, our findings suggest that politically motivated fusion with out-
groups underpins the extreme solidary action people may take on behalf of distant out-
groups. Implications for future theory and research are discussed.
PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639 January 5, 2018 1 / 30
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OPEN ACCESS
Citation: Kunst JR, Boos B, Kimel SY, Obaidi M,
Shani M, Thomsen L (2018) Engaging in extreme
activism in support of others’ political struggles:
The role of politically motivated fusion with out-
groups. PLoS ONE 13(1): e0190639. https://doi.
org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639
Editor: Brock Bastian, University of Melbourne,
AUSTRALIA
Received: May 19, 2017
Accepted: December 18, 2017
Published: January 5, 2018
Copyright: ©2018 Kunst et al. This is an open
access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author and source are credited.
Data Availability Statement: All data files are
available from the Open Science Framework (OSF)
database (https://osf.io/q3vay/).
Funding: This work was funded by University of
Oslo stipends (to JRK) and by Early Career
Research Group Leader Awards 0602-01839B
from the Danish Research Council and 231157/F10
from the Norwegian Research Council (to LT).
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
Background
“I have left my family and a comfortable life in Britain to risk suffering the most horrific death
at the hands of IS.I’ve got a grenade in my pocket and I’llblow myself up and take them with
me."- Macer Gifford, White British citizen who joined the Kurds’ fight against ISIS [1]
“When I come back from Palestine,I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty
for not being here,but I can channel that into more work.Coming here is one of the better
things I’ve ever done.Rachel Corrie, a White American activist who was killed in the Gaza
Strip while trying to block an Israeli armored bulldozer [2]
It has been estimated that up to 35 thousand individuals from across Europe and the United
States volunteered as soldiers in the Spanish Civil War against dictator Francisco Franco [3,4].
What these foreign fighters had in common was a willingness to risk their lives for an ethnic
and national group that they did not belong to, joining them in a lethal armed conflict in
which they were not originally involved. As presented in the above quotes, such extreme and
risky support for the political struggles of out-groups can also be observed today. For instance,
it has been estimated that several hundred foreign fighters have voluntarily joined the Kurdish
YPG forces (“People’s Defense Units”) in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
(ISIS) [5]. Similarly, numerous Western activists, such as Rachel Corrie, have risked their lives
or even died supporting the rights of Palestinians. What drives such people to engage in this
type of extreme solidary behavior to support out-groups in political conflicts?
A host of studies has shown that a feeling of “oneness” with the in-group predicts extreme
behavior on their behalf [69]. While previous research has found that this phenomenon can
occur even with larger, abstract groups to which one belongs (e.g., one’s religious or national
group) [7,10], it is an open question if the psychological role of fusion processes is so funda-
mental and flexible that solidary actions on behalf of groups one does not initially belong to
will also be motivated by it (but see [11] for a potential exception within the gender domain).
That is, when people come to engage in extreme solidarity on behalf of out-groups of which
they are not a priori members, is this also driven by perceptions that they are “one” with them
and, if so, what are the conditions under which this occurs? Addressing this question is also
addressing the possibility of social change: It is blatantly the case across cultural history that
sometimes people and groups do join new alliances on behalf of which they may risk their
lives, even if nationhood, ethnicity and religion are categories to which people are especially
deeply fused today. Building on previous work on the relationship between extreme group
behavior, identity fusion, and sacred values [1215], here we predict that people are especially
likely to fuse with a distant group if the way it is treated clashes with one’s fundamental ideo-
logical and political beliefs [12].
The potential role of fusion with out-groups in extreme solidary action
Distinct from normative social action (e.g., joining peaceful protests), extreme or non-norma-
tive social action often involves confrontations with militarized police or armed forces. Gener-
ally, people are more willing to engage in this kind of risky, self-sacrificing, and potentially
life-threatening behavior for people with whom they share close relational ties [6,16] or a com-
mon dysphoric and negative past [17,18]. According to the theory of identity fusion [7], such
extreme group behavior occurs because people experience being ‘one’ or fused with a group
and, thus, perceive an overlap between their personal selves and their group. Support for this
prediction has been observed on various measures of extreme support for one’s own group,
Extreme activism for others: The role of fusion with out-groups
PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639 January 5, 2018 2 / 30
including a willingness to fight and die for others, self-sacrifice in the trolley dilemma, and
joining of revolutionary battalions and resistance movements [7,9,10,16,1923].
Although similar to social identity, identity fusion is conceptualized as a distinct construct.
As Hogg et al. [24] put it, in terms of social identity “the basic idea is that a social category
(e.g., nationality, political affiliation, sports team) into which one falls, and to which one feels
one belongs, provides a definition of who one is” (p. 259). Hence, different to personal identi-
ties, social identity refers to the part of the self-concept that is defined by membership in social
groups [25]. In contrast to social identity, identity fusion denotes a state where individuals
experience a visceral feeling of overlap between their personal and social selves [7]. In other
words, they become one with the group. Moreover, although various subcomponents of social
identity are conceptually similar to identity fusion at first glance (e.g., in-group homogeneity,
solidarity), these are also conceptualized in distinct ways from what is the case in formulations
of identity fusion. For instance, while the solidarity dimension of social identity involves feel-
ing “a bond with,” “solidarity with” or “committed to” the in-group [26], one’s personal self
and social identity are thought to still remain independent. By contrast, identity fusion
involves feeling “immersed” or “one” with the group [20], such that the boundaries between
both identities become permeable, allowing them to fuse to one [7].
Previous work on identity fusion highlights that people are likely to fuse with a group espe-
cially when they perceive other group members as kin [6,27]. Hence, unsurprisingly, identity
fusion is common for smaller groups in which group members in fact have strong face-to-face
or even genetic relational ties (e.g., siblings, friends [28]). Yet, research suggests that people
also tend to project such kinship-like processes to larger groups [9,27,29], for instance ethnic
groups with which one may perceive a shared essence or bloodline. Arguably, as a result of
these “fictive kin” perceptions [29], identify fusion can also be observed within more abstract
higher-order groups, or imagined communities [30], for which actual genetic relatedness or
even personal relations between most members is low such as cultural and national groups–
processes that may generalize even to political and gender groups [8,11,31,32]. Indeed, it has
been suggested that people may show such “extended fusion” based on various abstractions
such as a common political cause or ideology, in some sense treating people as if they were kin
even when they have had no, or little, actual connection or face-to-face contact with other
group members [7].
In short, a key insight of fusion theory is that the communality felt with larger, abstract
groups is not simply the result of arbitrary social construction and communication, but shaped
by the evolved logic of altruism directed towards kin ([33]; see also [34] for a similar analysis).
This proclivity to recruit and apply kinship-like fusion processes, even at high levels of abstrac-
tion with groups that are not defined in terms of any shared biological essence, point to the
fundamental importance of fusion-processes in navigating intergroup relations and conflicts.
However, in previous demonstrations of extended fusion, participants’ ethnicity was often
nested within, overlapped or substantially covaried with the abstract higher-order group in
question (e.g., native Spaniards fusing with Spain; Israeli Jews fusing with Judaism; ethnic
Poles fusing with the Polish national group or their religion in a country where the vast major-
ity of Catholics are native Poles; [16,21,22,32,35]). Because ethnicity, religion and nationality
often co-occur and are conceptually intertwined [3638], this suggests that some perceptions
of shared ancestry or biological essence might already be present in cases of extended fusion
with national or religious groups for instance, or at least that the ambiguity of such groups
lends itself readily for the extension of kinship-like processes driven by perceptions of shared
essence and ancestry. Hence, a stronger test of the fundamental role of psychological fusion
processes for extended solidarity would be if they also account for solidary extreme action for
Extreme activism for others: The role of fusion with out-groups
PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639 January 5, 2018 3 / 30
out-groups that appear to share no factual kinship, bloodline or biological essence with
oneself.
Of course, in some sense the idea of fusing with an out-group is paradoxical: If you become
one and part with a group, surely it must now be your in-group? This line of argument refers
to the outcome of fusion processes, but it does not address if and why people come to fuse with
new groups that they are not initially part of in the first place (in contrast to their own national,
ethnic and often religious groups). Because ethnic, religious and national groups may be per-
ceived to share biological ancestry, here we test if fusion processes also underpin solidarity
with ethnic out-groups. If this is the case, it would suggest that kin-like perceptions of oneness
underpin solidarity even with groups that one does clearly not share any kin-like common bio-
logical ancestry or essence with. This in turn would suggest that fusion processes of perceived
oneness, although possibly ultimately rooted in biological kin altruism, flexibly underpin the
formation and joining of new groups that occur in social change.
Hence, while individuals likely come to perceive the out-group as their in-group after fusing
with it, when we focus on fusion with ethnic out-groups in the present studies, we refer to the
process that makes it possible to fuse with a group that initially constituted–and from an out-
sider’s perspective still may be considered as–an out-group. An average person who is White
American or Norwegian has no Palestinian or Kurdish ancestors and, thus, is likely to perceive
neither as their racial/ethnic in-group. Yet, as we aim to demonstrate, Norwegians and White
Americans may come to feel fused with Palestinians or Kurds. The present research investi-
gates a process that motivates such fusion with out-groups across ethnic boundaries. To ensure
that we indeed assess fusion across ethnic groups, we ask participants to indicate their ethnic
group membership in each study. Moreover, to rule out the possibility that fusion with the
out-group is simply due to perceptions of shared values with the out-group, we test and control
for such a potential confound in one study.
The present research
In four studies, we investigated antecedents of fusing with outgroups and its impact on
extreme solidary support. Based on recent research suggesting that individuals’ fusion with
groups may be motivated by a desire to protect sacred values [12,14], we predicted that people
would fuse especially strongly with out-groups whose treatment is perceived to clash ideologi-
cally with one’s own core political views. Hence, because the oppression of groups in asymmet-
ric conflicts via occupying powers stands in sharp disagreement with Leftist political ideology
[3941], Leftists would be expected to fuse with oppressed out-groups, motivating them to act
on their behalf. While the term “Leftist” is a broad construct, the general left-right continuum
is the primary way to describe and categorize political beliefs in many, if not most, parts of the
world [42,43]. Yet, despite this universality, the specific ideological content associated with
this dimension varies between contexts [39,44]. However, at least in liberal societies such as
those of Western Europe and North America, from which most of our participants were
recruited, being Leftist typically involves a concern for harm being done against others and
equality for all [39,45,46]. Against this background, we tested the specific prediction that Left-
ists should fuse in particular to out-groups that are perceived to be violently oppressed, using a
variety of populations and out-groups, and correlational and experimental designs. First, using
a sample of European-Americans, we tested whether having a Leftist political orientation pre-
dicts more fusion with Palestinians and subsequently more support for non-normative
extreme protests on their behalf. Next, in a sample of Norwegians, we tested whether Leftists
are more fused with out-groups who are perceived to be maltreated in a way that ideologically
clashes with central Leftist values (i.e., the Palestinians living under oppressive occupation)
Extreme activism for others: The role of fusion with out-groups
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compared to out-groups whose treatment tends to not be seen as clashing with these values to
the same degree (i.e., the Kurds). In a third study, we aimed to causally test whether framing
the treatment of an out-group as a violation of Leftist political ideology would increase the
extent to which this political orientation predicts fusion with the out-group. Specifically, we
tested whether experimentally framing Kurds as living under oppressive occupation, rather
than being involved in a symmetric war, might make Leftists European-Americans fuse with
Kurds more and, thereby, increases their willingness to engage in non-normative extreme
protest on their behalf. We included measures of normative as well as non-normative
extreme protest in the first three studies to allow us to test whether the effects of fusion with
out-groups are especially strong on non-normative extreme actions in line with previous
research reviewed above. Finally, using a unique sample of aspiring foreign fighters in the
very process of joining the Kurds in their fight against ISIS, we tested whether having a Left-
ist political orientation creates more fusion with the Kurdish out-group and, thus, more
willingness to fight and die for this group.
Study 1
In the U.S., political engagement on behalf of Palestinians has become an important part of
the Leftist political agenda. Indeed, former 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was a
vocal supporter of Palestinian rights. Moreover, according to a recent survey, 29% of self-iden-
tified Liberal Democrats sympathize more with the Palestinians than with the Israelis, com-
pared to only 7% among self-identified Republicans [47]. This sympathy among the Left can
be observed in form of political movements and protests against Israel and the Israeli occupa-
tion including “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).” Here, we tested whether a Leftist
political orientation among European-Americans is associated with higher perceived fusion or
“oneness” with Palestinians, and whether this fusion, in turn, predicts extreme activism on this
group’s behalf.
To estimate the unique effects and relative strength of this political orientation–fusion with
the out-group pathway, we also controlled for a selection of alternative predictors of the social
identity [48] and social dominance models of collective action [49,50]. Specifically, meta-ana-
lytical evidence has validated three major social identity predictors of social action [48]: 1)
politicized identities such as activist identities, 2) affective reactions to injustice such as anger,
and 3) political efficacy or the belief that one’s efforts are likely to produce social change.
While these factors have mostly been studied in terms of collective action supporting one’s
own group, some recent research has shown that efficacy beliefs and moral outrage (i.e.,
anger) can also predict solidary action for disadvantaged out-groups (e.g., [51]). Hence, in this
study, we controlled for politicized social identity and its potential pathways through anger
and perceived efficacy. In previous identity fusion research, social identification has often been
measured with items such as “When someone praises my country, it feels like a personal com-
pliment” or “When someone criticizes my country, it feels like a personal insult” [20,23]. As
these items may be seen as measuring outcomes of social identification rather than social iden-
tification per se, in our research, we used a more direct social identification measure developed
by Hornsey et al. [52]. Importantly, this scale measures a politicized activist identity which,
according to previous research is more predictive of collective action than are non-politicized
identities [48]. Hence, it constitutes an appropriate control variable in the context of research
on solidary collective action for out-groups. Importantly, here we use the term “solidary” to
explicate that we focus on collective action in support of out-groups (rather than one’s in-
group), and not to refer to the emerging literature seeing solidarity as a sub-component of
social identity [26].
Extreme activism for others: The role of fusion with out-groups
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Finally, it has recently been argued that people can engage in solidary action with the moti-
vation to attenuate or strengthen between-group hegemony [50], as captured by their Social
Dominance Orientation (SDO) [53]. For instance, Stewart et al. [50] found that the higher
non-Arab foreigners’ SDO levels were, the lower their support was for the Arab Spring protest-
ers. This effect was mediated by a perception that Arabs’ lack the competence to rule their own
countries (but see [54]). Hence, we also controlled for SDO and a measure of perceived Pales-
tinian competence.
Materials and methods
Participants. A total of 201 European-Americans, who were not Jewish and who were liv-
ing in the U.S., participated in a study on “political conflicts” through Amazon MTurk (M
age
=
34.6, SD
age
= 10.00; men: 56.7%). The focus on non-Jewish European Americans was impor-
tant for two reasons: First, DNA ancestry research suggests that Jews and Palestinians are
genetically related and that knowledge about this may positively impact intergroup attitudes
[55]. Hence, Jewish participants may have perceived an overlap between their own racial/eth-
nic group and the Palestinian out-group due to shared perceived kinship. Second, although
American Jews are not directly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they often show
emotional attachment to the Israeli state, which is a majority Jewish nation. Because our focus
was on fusion with a distant ethnic out-group to which one does not belong to nor is involved
in a conflict with, we focused on non-Jewish European-American participants here. Partici-
pants were paid $1 for participation. This and all remaining studies were approved by the Insti-
tutional Review Board of the Departments of Psychology at the University of Oslo (Nr.
1790201). Unless stated otherwise, they completed the following measures on 7-point Likert-
type scales, ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 7 (totally agree):
Leftist political orientation. In all studies presented in this paper, we assessed political
orientation using a single-item indicator. This approach is common in social-scientific survey
research (e.g., European Social Survey, World Value Survey, General Social Survey), arguably
because it captures political orientation parsimoniously and equivalently across various social
and demographic groups [43] and has high predictive validity [56]. Specifically, we used the
validated 10-point format [57] to assess political orientation in all studies. For each study, we
used the terms most common in the respective political context to denote the endpoints of the
scale. That is, the endpoints were “very liberal”—“very conservative” in the US (Studies 1 and
3) and “extremely left-wing”—“extremely right-wing” in the Norwegian student population
(Studies 3), while we use a combination of both terms (i.e., “very liberal/left-wing”—“very con-
servative/right-wing”) in the last international study (Study 4). Hence, in the present study,
which was conducted in the US, participants rated their political orientation on a scale ranging
from 1 (very liberal) to 10 (very conservative). This scale was reverse-scored so that higher val-
ues indicated more Leftist political orientation.
Social dominance orientation. The new SDO
7
scale [58] was used to measure social dom-
inance with 16 items (α= .96) such as “It’s probably a good thing that certain groups are at the
top and other groups are at the bottom”.
Activist identity. We adapted a four-item scale developed by Hornsey et al. [52] to mea-
sure Palestine-activist identity (e.g., “I identify as a Palestine-activist”; α= .94).
Fusion with the out-group. Participants completed the seven-item identity fusion scale
developed by Go
´mez et al. [20]. To measure fusion with the out-group, the scale was adapted
such that all items were framed towards the Palestinian out-group (i.e., “I am one with the Pal-
estinian people”; α= .94). As in Go
´mez et al. [20], factor analysis showed that the identity
fusion and social identity measures represented distinct constructs.
Extreme activism for others: The role of fusion with out-groups
PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639 January 5, 2018 6 / 30
Palestinian competence. Participants completed the item, “The Palestinian people are
competent enough to govern themselves”, adopted from Stewart et al. [50] on a 10-point scale
ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 10 (totally agree).
Political efficacy. As in Saab et al. [51], we used four items to measure participants’ effi-
cacy beliefs (α= .96). For instance, participants indicated whether they believed that protesting
would result in “achieving justice in Palestine” on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to
7 (extremely).
Anger. Three items from Ufkes et al. [59] were used to measure the degree to which par-
ticipants felt anger, frustration and irritation regarding how Palestinians are treated (α= .98).
Normative protest intentions. As in Saab et al. [51], we asked participants how many of
the next ten organized protests for justice in Palestine they were likely to take part in. Response
options ranged from 0 to 10.
Willingness to engage in non-normative extreme protest. Willingness to engage in non-
normative extreme protest (abbreviated as ‘extreme protest’ in the analyses) was measured
with two items adopted from Simon et al. [60,61] and slightly adapted to the present context:
“I would participate in Palestine protests involving confrontations with the police” (original
item: “I would participate even in a protest action which may involve a confrontation with the
police”) and, “Sometimes violent protest for Palestine is the only means to wake up the public”
(original item: “Sometimes violent protest is the only means to wake up the public”), r(199) =
.50, p<.001.
Results
As displayed in Table 1, fusion with the out-group and activist identity were related to higher
normative protest intentions and willingness to engage in extreme protest. Surprisingly, SDO
was unrelated to both solidary action measures when considered as a full scale (.155 <ps <
.583) or as separate dominance and anti-egalitarianism subscales (.112 <ps <.894). SDO and
the potential mediator of perceived competence were therefore not included in the following
models.
In the first stage, we tested a simple model where Leftist political orientation predicts fusion
with the out-group and activist identity, which both predict extreme and normative protest in
turn (see Fig 1A). Here and in all other path models tested in this paper, maximum likelihood
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviations and Correlations between variables in Study 1 are displayed.
M(SD) 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
1. Fusion with Out-group 1.83 (1.09) .61 *** .01 .17 *.20 ** .31 ** .11 .36 *** .50 ***
2. Activist Identity 1.75 (1.17) -.01 .15 *.30 *** .37 *** .10 .49 *** .52 ***
3. SDO 2.54 (1.43) -.51 *** -.43 *** -.21 ** -.29 *** .10 -.04
4. Leftist Political Orientation 6.63 (2.51) .36 *** .24 *** .23 ** .06 .15 *
5. Anger 4.24 (1.76) .41 *** .37 *** .16 *.31 ***
6. Efficacy 2.99 (1.53) .23 ** .23 ** .24 **
7. Palestinian Competence 7.04 (2.38) .06 .15 *
8. Normative Protest 1.71 (1.96) .56 ***
9. Extreme Protest 1.77 (1.17)
Note
*p<.05.
**p<.01.
***p<.001.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639.t001
Extreme activism for others: The role of fusion with out-groups
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Fig 1. Simple (a), and more complex and fitted (b), mediation models for Study 1 are displayed. Non-significant paths are displayed
in grey. The correlation between anger and efficacy in Model b) is not displayed for purposes of presentation: r
anger, efficacy
= .30, p<
.001.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639.g001
Extreme activism for others: The role of fusion with out-groups
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estimation was used to account for potential non-normality of the dependent variables [62]. In
the well-fitting model, χ
2
(df = 2, N= 201) = 1.38, p= .502, Root Mean Square of Approximation
(RMSEA) <.001, Comparative Fit Index (CFI) = 1.00, Root Mean Square Residual (RMR) = .05,
Leftist political orientation positively predicted fusion with the out-group and activist identity.
Fusion with the out-group, in turn, positively predicted extreme protest, while activist identity
predicted both extreme and normative protest. Bootstrapping with 5,000 random resamples
showed that leftist political orientation indirectly predicted more extreme protest mediated by
fusion with the out-group (β= .05, 95% CI [.01, .11], p= .006) as well as activist identity (β=
.05, 95% CI [.01, .13], p= .015). These effects did not differ in strength (p= .848). Moreover,
Leftist political orientation had an indirect positive effect on normative protest intentions that
was mediated only by activist identity (β= .07, 95% CI [.01, .17], p= .021).
We further tested a reversed model in which activist identity and identity fusion had effects
on political orientation which, in turn, was expected to predict extreme and normative protest.
However, in this fully-saturated model, political orientation had no effect on either dependent
variable and, hence, did not mediate the effects (see S1 Fig in the supplementary information).
We also estimated a more complex model in which the effects of activist identity on norma-
tive and extreme protest were hypothesized to be further mediated by anger and political effi-
cacy, following the social identity approach of collective action. However, in the poorly-fitting
model, χ
2
(df = 7, N= 201) = 29.15, p<.001, RMSEA = .126, CFI = .938, RMR = .297, only
anger mediated the effects of activist identity on extreme protest, while efficacy did not medi-
ate at all. When we fitted the model by deleting the non-significant paths and adding a direct
path from leftist political orientation to anger, model fit was satisfactory, χ
2
(df = 6, N= 201) =
13.54, p= .140, RMSEA = .050, CFI = .987, RMR = .015 (see Fig 1B). In this fitted model, the
effect of Leftist political orientation on extreme protest that was mediated by activist identity
was further mediated by anger, resulting in a weak indirect relationship (β= .01, 95% CI [.001,
.02], p= .012). Moreover, political orientation had an indirect positive effect on extreme pro-
test that was mediated by anger (β= .04, 95% CI [.02, .08], p<.001).
Preliminary discussion
This first study provided initial support that fusion with out-groups mediates the effect of
political orientation on extreme solidary action on behalf of out-groups in need. Specifically,
the more politically Leftist people were, the more they fused with the Palestinian out-group
which, in turn, resulted in higher willingness to engage in non-normative extreme protests.
This relationship remained stable even when controlling for alternative variables known for
predicting solidary action. Why then do people fuse and show extreme support for some out-
groups in political conflict but not for others? Next, we aimed to address this question while
also confirming the robustness of our proposed political orientation–fusion with outgroups
pathway by replicating our initial findings in a different cultural context.
Study 2
Despite its far geographical distance from the Middle East, Norway has a long history of politi-
cal engagement on behalf of Palestine. For instance, Norway played a central role in the 1993
Oslo peace-treaty and provides more foreign aid to Gaza and the West Bank relative to its pop-
ulation size or GDP than any other country does [63]. At the grassroots level, this Palestine
support can be observed in form of Leftist political protests against the way Palestinians are
treated, sometimes resulting in violence and vandalism (see [64,65]). In contrast, a group that
finds itself in a similar situation as the Palestinian people but receives far less support from
Norway are the Kurds. In their modern history, the Kurdish minority living in Turkey, Iraq,
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Iran and Syria have been frequent victims of violent oppression [66]. Some of the most
extreme examples include Saddam Hussain’s 1988 genocide in the Kurdish city of Halabja, in
which chemical weapons killed thousands of Kurdish civilians. Indeed, despite historical dif-
ferences, Kurds and Palestinians have in common a history of being low-power groups in
asymmetric conflicts. Moreover, they both continue to be denied the formation of an indepen-
dent state and experience repeated victimization at the hands of high-powered groups. Yet,
Norwegians protesting against the maltreatment of Kurds are a rare sight and Norwegian for-
eign aid to the Kurdish territories is also drastically lower than to Palestine. In 2014 alone, Pal-
estine received 109 million USD from Norway [63], while the total sum of all annual aid given
to the Kurdish territories between 1995 and 2010 amounts to just 15.5 million USD [67].
Why do Norwegians show far less support for the Kurds than for Palestinians? We expected
that Norwegians have substantially more knowledge about the way Palestinians are treated
and are more frequently exposed to their suffering by the media. As a result, we expected Nor-
wegian Leftists to show fusion in particular with Palestinians because this group’s perceived
oppression clashes ideologically with Leftist beliefs, while this perception may be less pro-
nounced for Kurds. To test this, we randomly assigned participants to a Palestinian or Kurdish
condition and predicted that the more Leftist participants were the more they would fuse with
Palestinians but not with Kurds. Again, we expected this fusion with the out-group to drive
non-normative, extreme protest on the group’s behalf.
Materials and methods
Participants. Through university mailing lists, 215 Norwegian political science students
were recruited for a study about “political conflicts” (M
age
= 24.99, SD
age
= 5.83; women =
59.1%). To ensure that we measured fusion with an ethnic out-group, two participants who
either reported to have a Palestinian/Kurdish background or failed to complete this question
were removed from the analyses.
Procedure. Participants completed the SDO scale from Study 1 (α= .90) and indicated
their political orientation on a 10-point scale ranging from 1 (extremely left-wing) to 10
(extremely right-wing). The latter scale was reversed-scored so that higher values represented a
more Leftist political orientation.
Next, participants were randomly assigned to a Kurdistan or a Palestine condition. This
between-subjects design was chosen instead of a within-subjects design to prevent participants
from recognizing the comparative purpose of the study and to match their responses towards
both groups. They then completed measures from the first study of: fusion with the out-group
(α= .88), activist identity (α= .91), political efficacy (α= .92), anger (α= .92), perceived compe-
tence (due to an data error, the competence item was only presented to 158 participants), norma-
tive protest intentions, and extreme protest, r(211) = .44, p<.001. Importantly, dependent on
condition, the measures were framed towards either Kurds/Kurdistan or Palestinians/Palestine.
Lastly, to test whether participants indeed were more knowledgeable about, and exposed to,
the treatment of the Palestinians, they reported their knowledge about the respective conflict
on a scale ranging from 1 (no knowledge at all) to 10 (very much knowledge) and completed five
items measuring media exposure frequency to the respective out-groups’ maltreatment (e.g.,
“How often have you seen [dependent on condition: Palestinians/Kurds] being maltreated on
the news during the last year?”; α= .95) ranging from 1 (never) to 7 (very often).
Results
In both conditions, participants indicated being relatively Left-wing and no differences
between the conditions were observed on this variable (see Table 2). As expected, participants
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had more knowledge about the Palestinian conflict than about the Kurdish conflict, and had
seen more media coverage showing the maltreatment of Palestinians than the maltreatment of
Kurds. Moreover, participants in the Palestine condition were more fused with the out-group,
had a stronger activist identity and showed more anger and normative protest intentions than
those in the Kurdistan condition did (see Table 2).
Moderation analyses. As expected, the effects of Leftist political orientation on fusion
with the out-group and activist identity were moderated by the framing manipulation. In a
first regression with fusion with the out-group as dependent variable, F(3, 209) = 14.37, p<
.001, the framing dummy variable (coded as 0 = Kurdistan, 1 = Palestine; β= .26, p<.001, B=
.37, 95% CI [.19, .54]), the leftist political orientation variable (β= .23, p<.001, B= .09, 95%
CI [.04, .14]) and the interaction between both (β= .21, p= .001, B= .16, 95% CI [.06, .26])
were significant. Simple slopes showed that leftist political orientation was positively related to
fusion with the out-group in the Palestine condition, but not in the Kurdistan condition (see
Fig 2). Given that the skewness and kurtosis values of the identity fusion variable (skew = 2.73,
kurtosis = 10.23) exceeded the cutoff of +/- 2 and 7 respectively, indicating non-normality
[68], we conducted the same analysis after log-transforming the variable (skew = 1.41, kurto-
sis = 1.59). The same pattern of results was observed applying this transformation.
Also in a second regression, with activist identity as dependent variable, F(3, 209) = 17.48,
p<.001, the experimental dummy variable (β= .25, p<.001, B= .55, 95% CI [.28, .82]), the
Leftist political orientation variable (β= .32, p<.001, B= .20, 95% CI [.12, .27]) and the inter-
action between both were significant (β= .16, p= .010, B= .20, 95% CI [.05, .35]). Here, simple
Table 2. Between-group differences for the framing manipulation in Study 2 are displayed.
Kurdistan Frame Palestine Frame
Variable M
[95% CI]
SE M
[95% CI]
SE F η
p2
Leftist Orientation 6.83
[6.49, 7.17]
.17 6.97
[6.62, 7.32]
.18 .32
Fusion with Out-Group 1.26
[1.17, 1.35]
.04 1.63
[1.47, 1.80]
.08 16.41 *** .07
Activist Identity 1.55
[1.40, 1.70]
.08 2.15
[1.88, 2.38]
.13 15.63 *** .07
Knowledge about the Conflict 5.14
[4.66, 5.62]
.24 6.72
[6.29, 7.15]
.22 23.71 *** .10
Maltreatment Exposure Media 3.69
[3.37, 3.97]
.15 4.35
[4.05, 4.66]
.15 10.22 ** .05
Perceived Competence 6.42
[5.90, 6.94]
.26 6.68
[6.15, 7.20]
.27 .46
Anger 4.93
[4.65, 5.22]
.14 5.52
[5.25, 5.80]
.14 8.73 ** .04
Perceived Efficacy 3.43
[3.19, 3.72]
.13 3.52
[3.26, 3.78]
.13 .10
Normative Protest Intentions 1.61
[1.37, 1.86]
.13 2.18
[1.82, 2.54]
.18 6.55 *.03
Extreme Protest Intentions 1.55
[1.34, 1.76]
.10 1.72
[1.49, 1.95]
.12 1.16
Note.
*p<.05.
**p<.01.
***p<.001.
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slopes showed that Leftist political orientation was related to more activist identity in the Pales-
tine condition, but not in the Kurdistan condition (see Fig 2). Given that the activist identity
variable was only moderately skewed (skew = 1.47, kurtosis = 1.52), the model was not re-esti-
mated log-transforming the variable.
Due to the close relationships of political orientation and SDO in previous research (e.g.,
[69]) and the present study (see Table 3), we also tested whether the framing manipulation
would moderate the effects of SDO on fusion with the out-group and activist identity. How-
ever, the interaction terms were non-significant (ps >.338).
Fig 2. The more Leftist participants’ political orientation was, the more they showed fusion with the
out-group and activist identity in terms of Palestine, but not in terms of Kurdistan in Study 2.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639.g002
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Moderated mediation model. Given that SDO did not predict any form of solidary action
in Study 1, we first ran two regression models in which normative, F(3, 209) = 54.29, p<.001,
and extreme protest, F(3, 209) = 19.85, p<.001, were regressed on SDO, fusion with the out-
group and activist identity to test whether we should include SDO in the full model. Again,
however, SDO had unique predictive power in neither model (ps >.132), even when we calcu-
lated separate dominance (ps >.232) and anti-egalitarianism scores (ps >.410). This pattern
remained the same when we log-transformed the normative protest (before transformation:
skew = 2.05, kurtosis = 3.72; after transformation: skew = 1.26, kurtosis = .22) and extreme
protest (before transformation: skew = 2.46, kurtosis = 6.65; after transformation: skew = 1.37,
kurtosis = .89) variables. Thus, we did not include SDO in the path model.
We first tested a basic model in which the experimental framing condition, Leftist political
orientation and the interaction between both predicted higher levels of out-group fusion and
activist identity, which, in turn, both predicted normative and extreme protest (see Fig 3).
In this well-fitting model, χ
2
(df = 10, N= 213) = 6.15, p= .803, RMSEA <.001, CFI = 1.00,
RMR = .05, Leftist political orientation, the framing dummy variable and the interaction
between both predicted higher levels of fusion with the out-group and activist identity. Fusion
with the out-group, in turn, led to more extreme protest and slightly more normative protest
intentions, while activist identity led to more normative protest intentions but was unrelated
to extreme protest (see Fig 3).
In the Palestine condition, bootstrapping showed that Leftist political orientation indirectly
predicted higher levels of extreme protest, as mediated by more fusion with the out-group (β=
.21, 95% CI [.07, .39], p= .001) but had no indirect effects on normative protest (p= .303). In
contrast, Leftist political orientation indirectly predicted more normative protest (β= .24, 95%
CI [.11, .38], p<.001) but not extreme protest for Palestine (p= .571) when mediated by
higher activist identity.
In the Kurdistan condition, Leftist political orientation had a positive and indirect effect
on normative protest that was mediated by stronger activist identity (β= .10, 95% CI [.02, .21],
p= .009). All other indirect paths were non-significant (ps >.386).
To rule out the possibility that what accounts for the effects is mere knowledge about the
conflict rather than fusion with the out-group, we first estimated an equivalent path model in
Table 3. Correlations between variables in Study 2 across conditions are displayed.
2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
1. Fusion with Out-Group .64 *** -.05 .25 *** .17 *.06 .29 *** .22 ** .51 *** .47 ***
2. Activist Identity -.21 ** .34 *** .27 ** .13 .44 ** .28 *** .64 *** .34 ***
3. SDO -.55 *** -.36 *** .03 -.43 *** -.38 *** -.20 ** .00
4. Leftist Political Orientation .21 ** .03 .45 *** .36 *** .29 *** .13
5. Perceived Competence .14 *.45 *** .30 *** .25 ** .15
6. Media Exposure .26 *** .12 .12 .02
7. Anger .36 *** .35 *** .19 **
8. Efficacy .35 *** .18 *
9. Normative Protest .27 ***
10. Extreme Protest
Note.
*p<.05.
**p<.01.
***p<.001.
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which we replaced the fusion variable with the knowledge variable, χ
2
(df = 10, N= 213) = 9.03,
p= .526, RMSEA <.001, CFI = 1.00, RMR = .06. In this model, knowledge predicted slightly
less extreme protest, β= -.14, p= .037, but had no effect on normative protest (see S2 Fig in the
supplementary materials for the full model). Moreover, no interactive effects of the experimen-
tal condition and political orientation on knowledge were observed in the first place. Only the
path from the experimental condition on knowledge was significant, indicating that partici-
pants had more knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than about the Kurdish con-
flict. Second, we ran a model including the fusion with the out-group variable and controlling
for the knowledge variable, χ
2
(df = 10, N= 213) = 5.29, p= .871, RMSEA <.001, CFI = 1.00,
RMR = .45. Results showed that effects of fusion with the out-group remained the same when
controlling for knowledge (see S3 Fig in the supplementary materials for the full model).
Additional analyses. We also tested an extended model to control for anger and political
efficacy by letting them mediate the effects of activist identity on solidary action. In the model,
χ
2
(df = 28, N= 213) = 66.73, p<.001, RMSEA = .081, CFI = .927, RMR = .16, efficacy partially
mediated the effect of activist identity on normative protest intentions indirect effect: β=
.05, SE = .01, 95% CI [.014, .097], p= .002 while the indirect effects mediated by fusion with
the out-group remained the same as in the previous model.
Preliminary discussion
As expected, participants showed more fusion with Palestinians than Kurds. Our results sug-
gested that the different degrees of fusion with Kurds and Palestinians were due to political ori-
entation having distinct effects on both out-groups. Although participants in both conditions
had equally Left-wing political views, this orientation only resulted in more fusion with Palesti-
nians. We suspect that this is because, in Norway, the perceived treatment of Palestinians
more clearly clashes ideologically with Leftist political beliefs. This interpretation is consistent
with our findings that participants reported being substantially more knowledgeable of the Pal-
estinian conflict and also more exposed to the maltreatment of Palestinians via the news
media. Finally, Leftist political orientation was related to a higher activist identity but only
Fig 3. Moderated mediation model in Study 2 is displayed. *p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001. Non-significant paths are
displayed in grey.
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predicted normative forms of protest. Fusion with the out-group, however, predicted extreme
non-normative protest. This suggests that fusion may not only be a more potent predictor of
extreme behavior than social identity when it comes to in-groups but also in terms of extreme
solidary action for groups one is not part of.
While this study demonstrated that the political orientation–fusion pathway can explain
why people are willing to go to extreme means to support one out-group but not another, the
next study aimed to further uncover our proposed underlying mechanism. Specifically, we
sought to causally test our proposal that the reason that Leftists do not fuse with Kurds is that
their situation is not violating core Leftist values because it is not perceived as an asymmetrical
conflict.
Study 3
To provide direct support for our argument that fusion with out-groups occurs when the
group’s treatment clashes with one’s political views, here, we directly manipulate perceptions
of the out-group’s situation. Specifically, because social justice [39,40], resistance to oppres-
sion [49,53,70] and the right of self-determination [41,71] are core Leftist values, we experi-
mentally framed the Kurds as either being engaged in a symmetrical war or as being the
victims of oppressive occupation, and predicted that the latter would increase fusion with and,
subsequently, lead to more willingness to engage in non-normative extreme protests on behalf
of Kurds.
Materials and methods
Participants. A total of 234 European-Americans (M
age
= 36.13, SD = 11.62; men: 45.7%)
participated through Amazon MTurk in a study on “social issues.” All participants were paid
$2.50 for participation.
Procedure. Participants first completed the Leftist political orientation scale and then
indicated how knowledgeable they were about the Kurdish conflict on the same scales as in the
previous study. We then manipulated the out-group’s situation by randomly assigning partici-
pants to a war condition, an oppressive occupation condition or a control condition. In each
condition, participants were instructed to read a text allegedly written by a Kurdish individual.
In the war and occupation conditions, the text comprised a narrative describing Kurds living
under war or under oppressive occupation yet the wording was otherwise identical. The text in
the war condition was:
"When I came into the world and first opened my eyes, we Kurds were fighting in a war.
For as long as I know, our people have been at on-going war with the Turks, the Arabs and
the Persians.
More than 100 000 of our civilians, including many children and women, have become vic-
tim of this war, and every day brings more tragedy.
My only son was shot in front of my eyes because he was fighting the enemy soldiers. There
is hardly a day that I don’t stare out of the window thinking about him. . .and how things
would have been different without this war.
Living under war has left a mark on our people’s development as a sovereign nation. The
war has not only caused a lot of suffering and families being teared apart, but also negatively
affected our language and cultural heritage–in short, undermining the very essence of who
we are.
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I often dream and long for a war-free Kurdistan, with no fighting, where every Kurd could
have the chance to live in peace and have the possibility to live her/his life with dignity."
The text in the oppressive occupation condition was:
"When I came into the world and first opened my eyes, we Kurds were under occupation.
For as long as I know, our people have been systematically oppressed by the Turks, the
Arabs and the Persians.
More than 100 000 of our civilians, including many children and women, have become vic-
tim of this occupation, and every day brings more tragedy.
My only son was shot in front of my eyes because he resisted the occupying soldiers. There
is hardly a day that I don’t stare out of the window thinking about him. . .and how things
would have been different without this occupation.
Living under occupation has left a mark on our people’s development as a free nation. The
occupying powers have not only caused a lot of suffering and families being teared apart,
but also negatively affected our language and cultural heritage–in short, undermining the
very essence of who we are.
I often dream and long for a free Kurdistan under no occupation, where every Kurd could
have the chance to be free and have the possibility to live her/his life with dignity."
In the control condition, participants read a text about Kurds’ ethnic origins and language:
"The Kurdish people are an ethnic group that originated in the Middle East. Currently,
Kurds are living in parts of Turkey, several Arab countries and Iran. The Kurds historically
inhabited the regions surrounding the Zagros Mountains. The area is often referred to as
Kurdistan.
Many Kurds consider themselves descended from the ancient Medes, and even use a calen-
dar dating from 612 B.C.
The Kurdish languages form a subgroup of the Northwestern Persian languages. Just as the
Kurdish people inhabit different countries, the Kurdish language is written in a range of
scripts, including the Perso-Arabic alphabet and the Latin alphabet.
Kurdish is an official language of Iraq and a regional language in Iran. Many Kurds are
bilingual.
Kurdish culture is a legacy from the various ancient peoples who shaped modern Kurds
and their society. As most other Middle Eastern populations, a high degree of mutual influ-
ences between the Kurds and their neighboring peoples are apparent."
The three texts were matched in terms of length, number of paragraphs and format. To
check the effectiveness of the manipulation, on the next page, participants rated the extent to
which they would describe the conflict as a war vs. occupation from 1 (war) to 10 (occupation).
Next, in randomized order, participants completed the fusion with the out-group (α= .96)
and the activist identity scales (α= .94), followed by one item measuring normative protest
intentions, and two items measuring extreme protest, r(232) = .53, p<.001, as in the previous
studies. Because of the absence of SDO effects in the first two studies, the variable was not
measured.
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Results
Manipulation check. The manipulation check indicated that the experimental manipula-
tion was successful. In an univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA), the conflict type manipu-
lation predicted perceptions of the conflict being an occupation rather than war, F(2, 231) =
17.71, p<.001, η
p2
= .13. Post-hoc tests with Bonferroni correction showed that participants
in the occupation condition, to significantly larger extent (ps <.001), described the conflict as
an occupation compared to participants in the control condition (M= 7.30, SE = .28, 95% CI
[6.76, 7.85] vs M= 5.64, SE = .26, 95% CI [5.13, 6.16]), but especially compared to participants
in the war condition (vs. M= 5.11, SE = .26, 95% CI [4.59, 5.63]). The latter two conditions did
not differ significantly from each other (p= .467). No unmoderated, main effects were
observed on the mediators (i.e., fusion with the out-group: p= .970; activist identity: p= .623)
and dependent variables (i.e., normative protest: p= .682; extreme protest: p= .167).
Moderated mediation model. We set out to estimate first-stage moderated mediation
models [72] in which the treatment type manipulation moderated the effects of political orien-
tation on fusion with the out-group which, in turn, was expected to predict higher levels of
normative and extreme protest. Before conducting the analyses, we created two dummy vari-
ables, one comparing the oppressive occupation prime to the control condition and one com-
paring it to the war condition. All predictors were mean-centered. As expected, in the
moderated regression model with fusion with the out-group as dependent variable, Leftist
political orientation significantly interacted with the dummy variable that compared the
oppressive occupation with the war prime (see Table 4). As simple slopes indicated, when the
Kurds were described as victims of oppressive occupation, Leftist political orientation pre-
dicted higher levels of fusion with the out-group, but not when they were described as being
part of a war (see Fig 4). While the interaction with the dummy variable comparing the oppres-
sive occupation to the control condition was non-significant, simple slopes showed that politi-
cal orientation also was unrelated to fusion with the out-group in the control condition. None
of the interactions were significant for activist identity (see Table 4). Because the skewness and
kurtosis of activist identity (skew = 1.94, kurtosis = 3.64) and fusion with the out-group
(skew = 1.75, kurtosis = 2.74) fell within the normal range [68], we did not re-estimate the
models with log-transformed variables.
Given that the mediator variable of fusion with the out-group, in turn, predicted more nor-
mative and extreme protest (see Table 5), we used model 7 of the PROCESS macro [73] to test
our full moderated mediation model. In these models, political orientation was expected to
have indirect effects on normative and extreme protest, mediated by fusion with the out-
Table 4. Moderated regression models with fusion with the out-group and activist identity as dependent variables in Study 3 are displayed.
Fusion with Out-Group
a
Activist Identity
b
Variable B SE p LLCI ULCI B SE p LLCI ULCI
Leftist Political Orientation .13 .05 .014 .03 .23 .06 .05 .233 -.04 .17
Occupation vs. Control
1
.62 .53 .237 -.41 1.66 .03 .54 .952 -1.04 1.11
Occupation vs. War
1
.97 .47 .041 .04 1.90 .22 .49 .653 -.74 1.18
Leftist Orientation X Occupation vs. Control -.09 .08 .217 -.24 .055 .02 .08 .757 -.13 .18
Leftist Orientation X Occupation vs. War -.14 .07 .037 -.27 -.01 -.02 .07 .730 -.16 .11
Note. All independent variables were mean centered before the model was estimated.
a
F(5, 228) = 1.33, p= .252
b
F(5, 228) = 1.12, p= .350.
1
The occupation condition was coded as 0 and the respective comparative condition as 1.
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group, when the Kurds were described as victims of oppressive occupation but not when they
were described as part of a war. Because the macro does not provide standardized coefficients
and pvalues for indirect effects, we present unstandardized coefficients with upper and lower
95% confidence intervals here. As predicted, bootstrapping showed that leftist political orien-
tation had significant and positive indirect effects on normative (B= .08, SE = .04, 95% CI [.03,
.19]) and extreme protest (B= .08, SE = .03, 95% CI [.03, .15]) when the Kurds were described
as victims of oppressive occupation, while the indirect effects were non-significant in the war
Fig 4. In Study 3, Leftist political orientation predicted more fusion with the Kurdish out-group when
they were described as being victims of oppressive occupation but was unrelated to fusion with the
out-group in the control and war condition.
a
B= -.01, SE = .04, p= .760, 95% CI [-.10, .07];
b
B= .03, SE =
.05, p= .531, 95% CI [-.07, .14];
c
B= .13, SE = .05, p= .014, 95% CI [.03, .23].
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639.g004
Table 5. Correlations between variables in Study 3 across conditions are displayed.
2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.
1. Leftist Political Orientation .10 .13 *.15 *-.10 .04 .05
2. Fusion with Out-Group .78 *** .04 .36 *** .60 *** .57 ***
3. Activist Identity .04 .41 *** .56 *** .52 ***
4. Perceptions of Occupation .19 ** .14 *.09
5. Knowledge about Conflict .40 *** .29 ***
6. Normative Protest .64 ***
7. Extreme Protest
Note.
*p<.05.
**p<.01.
***p<.001.
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condition (normative protest: B= -.01, SE = .04, 95% CI [-.08, .07]; extreme protest: B= -.01,
SE = .03, 95% CI [-.07, .06]). While the extreme protest variable had acceptable skew
(skew = 1.75, kurtosis = 2.87), we re-estimated the indirect effects with a log-transformed nor-
mative protest variable as it was positively skewed (before transformation: skew = 3.16, kurto-
sis = 9.63; after transformation: skew = 2.28, kurtosis = 4.10). Replicating the previous results,
the indirect effect on the log-transformed normative protest variables was significant in the
occupation condition (B= .01, SE = .01, 95% CI [.01, .03]) but not in the war condition (B=
-.001, SE = .01, 95% CI [-.01, .01]).
Preliminary discussion
As predicted, when the Kurds were described as victims of oppressive occupation rather than
as being engaged in symmetrical war, being Leftist resulted in more fusion with Kurds and,
consequently, more willingness to engage in non-normative extreme protests on their behalf
(and, to a smaller extent, normative protest as well). Hence, we were able to demonstrate that
being Leftists makes people fuse only with out-groups that are perceived to be victims of the
asymmetrical oppression that clashes with Leftist political ideology. This finding provided crit-
ical insight into why Leftists fuse with some out-groups and not others.
Study 4
So far, we have investigated whether fusion with out-groups can explain a hypothetical willing-
ness to engage in extreme and non-normative activism for out-groups. But, a question that
remains is whether our framework can also be applied to those who are actually interested in
risking their lives for a distant out-group. To test this, we sampled aspiring foreign fighters for
the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (i.e., YGP) in their fight against ISIS.
Another goal of this study was to integrate our framework with research suggesting that
people feel morally obliged to enforce the kinds of relationships and values they endorse [74].
For instance, in the fight for equality against oppression, people are especially likely to support
an out-group when the norm is to feel moral outrage about the group’s maltreatment [51,75,
76]. Because fused people tend to be especially likely to uphold their moral standards even if
their life is at-risk [21], we hypothesized that a Leftist political orientation should predict more
fusion with Kurds insofar as people feel morally compelled by their political ideology to sup-
port the Kurds’ struggle.
Importantly, because many countries have experienced terror attacks by ISIS and are mili-
tarily involved in the fight against them, we also assessed and controlled for whether high
fusion with one’s own group would be an alternative motivator to join the YPG. Finally, in this
study we aimed to rule out two alternative explanation for why Leftists fuse with Kurds: 1) that
they perceive them to have the same political orientation as themselves and, thus, that our
results simply reflect fusion with the same political group [8] or 2) because the enemy group
(i.e., ISIS) has a divergent political orientation and, thus, that our results simply reflect a desire
to fight those with contrasting political views.
Materials and methods
Participants. A total of 83 participants (M
age
= 31.6, SD
age
= 8.8; men = 96.3%) were
recruited for a study on “motivations to join the Kurdish YPG” through Facebook pages for
people interested in volunteering as foreign fighters in the Kurdish militia fighting ISIS (e.g.,
the page “Lions of Rojava”). To be asked to participate, participants had to have made at least
one post explicitly requesting information about how to volunteer for the Kurdish militia.
They came from a total of 24, predominantly Western, countries and mostly from the U.S.
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(45.7%), the U.K. (9.9%) and Canada (6.2%). None were from a Middle Eastern country or
reported to have Kurdish parents. Of all participants, 9.6% had already joined the YPG. Partici-
pants completed the following measures on 7-point Likert scales ranging from 1 (totally dis-
agree) to 7 (totally agree) unless stated otherwise:
Leftist political orientation. On the same scale as in the previous studies, participants
indicated their political orientation, which was reversed-scored so that higher values repre-
sented more Leftist political orientation.
Political moral obligation. On a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 10 (to very large
extent), participants completed the question, “To which extent do you think that people with
your political orientation have the moral obligation to support the Kurds in their struggle?”
Perceived orientation of Kurds and ISIS. On the political orientation scale from the pre-
vious studies, participants were asked to rate the political orientation they believed most Kurd-
ish people and most ISIS people had. Responses were reverse-scored.
Fusion with the in-group and the out-group. With the same scales as in the previous
studies, we measured fusion with Kurds (α= .87) and fusion with participants’ own ethnic in-
group (α= .92).
Extreme group behavior. Three items (e.g., “I would fight someone physically threaten-
ing a Kurd”) adopted from Swann et al. [23] were used to measure extreme group behavior
(α= .65).
Self-sacrifice. Two items (e.g., “I would sacrifice my life if it saved a Kurd’s life”), also
adopted from Swann et al. [23] measured willingness to self-sacrifice, r(77) = .58, p<.001.
Likelihood to join YPG. On a sliding-response scale ranging from 0% to 100%, partici-
pants indicated how likely it was that they would join the YPG.
Results
Participants reported more fusion with Kurds than with their own ethnic in-group (see
Table 6). They also perceived Kurds to have a more Leftist political orientation than ISIS.
Moderation analyses. We ran a regression model to test whether moral obligation, per-
ceived Kurdish political orientation or perceived ISIS political orientation moderated the effects
of participants’ own Leftist political orientation on fusion with Kurds. Here, we also controlled
for identity fusion with one’s own racial/ethnic group as it was positively related to fusion with
the out-group (see Table 6). The predicted interaction between one’s own Leftist political orien-
tation and moral obligation was significant (see Table 7). Simple slopes showed that when par-
ticipants experienced a high political moral obligation to support the Kurds, Leftist political
orientation predicted more fusion with the out-group but not when moral obligation was low
(see Fig 5). This model was not re-estimated with a log-transformed fusion with the out-group
variable because it was relatively normally distributed (skew = -.74, kurtosis = -.12).
Moderated mediation model. Given that fusion with the out-group was associated with
higher levels of extreme group behavior, self-sacrifice and likelihood to join the YPG, we esti-
mated moderated mediation models using model 7 of the Process macro based on the model
estimated above. Bootstrapping showed that Leftist political orientation indirectly led to a
higher likelihood to join the YPG, more extreme group behavior, and willingness to self-sacri-
fice because it increased fusion with the out-group when participants experienced high moral
obligation, but not when they experienced low moral obligation (see Table 8). While the skew-
ness and kurtosis of the likelihood to join the YPG (skew = -1.97, kurtosis = 4.65) and extreme
group behavior (skew = -1.79, kurtosis = 4.31) variables fell within the suggested cutoffs [68],
the values of the willingness to sacrifice variable exceeded this cutoff (skew = -2.67, kurto-
sis = 9.15). Hence, we log-transformed and reversed the variable (skew = -1.09, kurtosis = .77)
Extreme activism for others: The role of fusion with out-groups
PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639 January 5, 2018 20 / 30
and re-estimated the indirect effects. Replicating the previous results, Leftist political orienta-
tion had an indirect effect on willingness to self-sacrifice when perceived moral obligation was
high (B= .01, SE = .01, 95% CI [.001, .03]), but not when it was low (B= -.003, SE = .01, 95%
CI [-.02, .01]).
Preliminary discussion
Using a sample of aspiring foreign fighters, here we successfully replicated our framework and,
thus, provide crucial ecological validity to our paradigm. Strikingly, participants in this unique
sample were more fused with the Kurdish out-group than their own ethnic in-groups. This
finding is similar to research on in-group fusion by Whitehouse et al. [19] showing that about
one half of a group of Libyan rebels were more fused with their battalions than with their fami-
lies. Moreover, we found that Leftist were more fused with Kurds, and thus more willing to
fight on their behalf, when they felt that their political orientation morally compelled them to
Table 6. Means, Standard Deviations and Correlations between variables in Study 4 are displayed.
M(SD) 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
1. Leftist Orientation 4.90 (3.15) .01 .51 *** -.45 *** .12 -.24 *.14 -.14 .01
2. Moral Obligation 8.28 (1.97) .04 .01 .12 .03 .34 ** .13 .16
3. Perc. Kurdish Orientation
1
4.98 (3.10) -.53 *** -.06 -.10 .21
-.10 -.01
4. Perc. ISIS Orientation
1
2.29 (3.26) -.04 .12 -.10 .16 .05
5. Fusion with the Out-Group
2
5.36 (1.32) .44 *** .30 ** .43 *** .33 **
6. In-Group Fusion
2
4.89 (1.64) .13 .28 *.08
7. Extreme group behavior 6.08 (1.04) .26 *.61 ***
8. Likelihood to Join YPG 86.81 (19.02) .40 ***
9. Willing to Self-Sacrifice 6.32 (1.05)
Note. Higher scores mean more leftist political orientation on all political orientation variables.
1
t(79) = 4.38, p<.001.
2
t(81) = 2.63, p= .010.
p= .066.
*p<.05.
**p<.01.
***p<.001.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639.t006
Table 7. Moderated regression models for fusion with the out-group in Study 4 is displayed.
Fusion with Kurds
a
Variable βB SE p LLCI ULCI
Fusion with Own Group .53 .43 .08 <.001 .27 .58
Leftist Orientation .24 .10 .05 .044 .003 .20
Perceived Kurdish Political Orientation -.24 -.11 .05 .041 -.21 -.004
Perceived ISIS Political Orientation -.20 -.08 .06 .151 -.20 .03
Perceived Moral Obligation .14 .09 .07 .163 -.04 .22
Leftist Orientation X Perceived Kurdish Orientation .12 .02 .02 .303 -.02 .05
Leftist Orientation X Perceived ISIS Orientation -.04 -.01 .02 .790 -.039 .029
Leftist Orientation X Perceived Moral Obligation .27 .05 .02 .008 .015 .092
Note. All independent variables were mean centered before the model was estimated.
a
F(8, 70) = 5.84, p<.001.
Confidence intervals are unstandardized.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639.t007
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support the Kurdish struggle. This further supports and extends our overall argument that
people fuse with out-groups when the way this group is treated (e.g., being oppressed) clashes
with one’s core political worldview and ideology. In contrast, personally having a political ori-
entation that overlaps with that of the Kurds or is in opposition to that of ISIS were both unre-
lated to such willingness to fight on their behalf, ruling out these two alternative mechanisms.
In other words, it is not simply one’s degree of perceived political similarity towards the out-
group, or one’s dissimilarity with the out-group’s enemies, that drives the political orienta-
tion–fusion with the out-group pathway we have demonstrated.
General discussion
From individuals aspiring to become foreign fighters in the Kurdish militia’s struggle against
ISIS to Americans risking their lives for Palestinian rights, there are many examples of those
Fig 5. In Study 4, Leftist political orientation predicted more fusion with the Kurdish out-group when
aspiring foreign fighters experienced that they had a high moral obligation to support the Kurds.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639.g005
Table 8. Indirect effects of Leftist orientation on dependent variables mediated by fusion with the out-group at different levels of the moderator
perceived moral obligation in Study 4.
Dependent Variable Level on Moderator
(Moral Obligation)
95% CI
B SE Lower Upper
Likelihood to Join YPG Low -.01 .61 -1.279 1.182
High 1.24 .62 .245 2.739
Extreme Group Behavior Low -.01 .03 -.066 .042
High .04 .03 .005 .107
Willingness to Self-sacrifice Low -.01 .03 -.081 .053
High .05 .03 .005 .131
Note. Estimates are based on bias-corrected bootstrapping with 5000 random re-samples.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639.t008
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willing to engage in extreme and risky support for out-groups based on their personal or politi-
cal orientations. Building on previous research that demonstrated that feelings of “oneness”
with distant in-groups at various levels of abstraction (referred to as "extended identity fusion"
[7]) can lead people to engage in extreme solidary efforts, the present paper demonstrated that
the process of fusing with groups one originally did not belong to may even motivate extreme
efforts in support of out-groups. Importantly, we also demonstrated that perceiving the out-
group’s treatment as violating one’s own political ideology and morals motivates such fusion
with the out-group.
Across various cultural contexts (e.g., U.S., Norway), populations (i.e., general population
and aspiring foreign fighters) and conflicts (Israel-Palestine, Kurdish, war against ISIS), four
studies supported this general pattern of findings. Specifically, in Study 1, the more politically
Leftist individuals were, the more fused they were with the Palestinian out-group, which led to
increased willingness to engage in extreme protest on their behalf. In Study 2, Leftists demon-
strated this pattern more with Palestinians than Kurds. In Study 3, we directly investigated
why this might occur, hypothesizing that the reason is that Palestinians more than Kurds are
perceived as a fitting case for Leftist ideological support for the downtrodden of the world.
Supporting this prediction, we found that experimentally framing the treatment of Kurds as
clashing with Leftist ideology (by describing them as victims of oppressive occupation)
increased fusion with the out-group and, in turn, willingness to engage in extreme protest on
their behalf among Leftists. Finally, in Study 4, Western Leftists aspiring to be foreign fighters
for the Kurdish YPG fused more with Kurds when feeling morally compelled by their political
orientation which, in turn, resulted in stronger intentions to fight against ISIS.
The main theoretical contributions of this research are two-fold. In an ever more globalized
world, our research provides the first empirical demonstration of the role of fusion in explain-
ing extreme solidary action on behalf of distant out-groups. Moreover, it did so in a variety of
contexts that allowed for a clear operationalization of fusion with an out-group. Specifically,
participants in our studies shared no racial/ethnic group membership with the respective out-
groups and, except for Study 4, were not engaged in the same conflict as the out-group. In
accordance with previous research on fusion with one’s own group (e.g., [20]), we found that
fusion with an out-group had its effects primarily on non-normative extreme protests. Indeed,
this was the case even when controlling for a range of alternative variables stemming from the
social identity and social dominance approaches to collective action [48,50]. Since we
observed relatively consistent effects across contexts and when controlling for a range of alter-
native predictors, we suggest that the process of fusion with out-groups should be integrated
into models of solidary collective action, particularly when the aim is to explain extreme sup-
port of out-groups.
The second main contribution of this research is that it highlighted one potent mechanism
explaining why and under which circumstances people fuse with out-groups. Specifically, it
showed that fusion with a former out-group occurs when the way the out-group is treated
clashes with people’s own political orientation and ideology. This finding is consistent with
previous research demonstrating that individuals may fuse with their in-groups especially
when they perceive sacred values to be threatened [12,13].
Both of these theoretical contributions open up several avenues for future research in the
fields of intergroup relations. For instance, a vital next step could be to explore fusion with
out-groups among Right-wing individuals. While our results could be interpreted as Right-
wing individuals showing especially low degrees of fusion with out-groups [77], it is entirely
possible that, while de-fusing from low-power groups (i.e., the oppressed), they simultaneously
fuse with high-power out-groups (e.g., the oppressors or dominators) involved in the same
political conflicts. Retrospectively, this might explain why thousands of non-German (and
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PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639 January 5, 2018 23 / 30
“non-Aryan”) volunteers joined, and often lost their lives for, the Nazi’s Waffen SS in the Sec-
ond World War. Future studies should test this proposal with contemporary scenarios. For
instance, it could be tested whether Right-wing individuals would fuse with ruling, authoritar-
ian political out-groups when subordinate groups challenge their position and whether the
degree of existing societal inequality or oppression amplifies the potential for violent retalia-
tion in this case (cf. [78]) Moreover, following research and theorizing on the role of sacred
values [1214], such future research may profitably replicate our paradigm by directly assess-
ing the extent to which participants endorse a certain set of values rather than, as we did, mea-
suring their broader political orientation.
We also encourage future research to use more comprehensive multi-item scales to measure
extreme group behavior. We used two-item scales to measure extreme protest in Studies 1
through 3, and two- and three-item scales to measure self-sacrifice and extreme group behav-
ior in Study 3, all of which were adopted from previous social identity [60,61] and identity
fusion research [23]. The correlations between the two items of the extreme protest scale used
in Studies 1 through 3 were moderately strong (rs = .44 to .53). This raises potential questions
regarding the unidimensionality of the scale. While the first item measured a personal willing-
ness to engage in violent protest, the second item captured whether one saw violent protest as
“the only mean” to achieve social change. Despite the fact that these items have been assumed
to measure the same construct in previous research, it is possible that each captured somewhat
different sub-facets of violent protest. The use of more elaborative multi-item scales with
higher reliability may hence be advisable for future research. Moreover, several of the variables,
and here in particular the normative and extreme protest measures, tended to be skewed. This
was not very surprising as the phenomena under investigation would be expected to be rela-
tively uncommon in normal populations. Although results held when log-transforming
skewed variables so that they met assumptions of normality, future research may aim to gather
data from more extreme groups (such as the one in Study 4), in which a general willingness to
engage in extreme group behavior is higher.
Another important avenue for future work is to identify mediators of the effects of fusion
with out-groups on non-normative extreme out-group support. In contrast to previous work
(i.e., [79]), we found that none of the classic social identity mediators accounted for the
observed effects of fusion with out-groups. Yet, future research might examine recently pro-
posed social identity factors such as the emotion contempt which may predict non-normative
social action to larger extent than anger [80]. We also note that it could have been meaningful
to include a multi-factorial measure of social identity, including the solidarity facet, because in
previous research it predicted extreme group behavior, albeit to significantly less extent than
identity fusion [23]. However, additional alternative mediators that are not part of the social
identity framework were likely at play in the present research. As suggested by previous work
on identity fusion with one’s own group [7,20], we suspect that feelings of invulnerability or
high risk tolerance may also mediate effects of fusion with out-groups on extreme out-group
support. Indeed, such findings would explain why the fused aspiring foreign fighters in our
last study were dedicated to join the fight against ISIS despite extensive publicly-available foot-
age showing the brutal executions of their antagonists. Future research may also benefit from
comparing antecedents and outcomes of fusion with out-groups to those of in-group fusion.
For instance, one might expect that individuals who believe that groups share an inherent
essence (as in essentialist beliefs [81]) may be more likely to fuse with in-groups, as suggested
by previous research [20,82], but less likely to fuse with out-groups. In contrast, participant
who perceive some higher-order shared group membership [83,84], such as a common
humanity [85], may show more fusion with out-groups.
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Furthermore, comparing the outcomes of in-group fusion and fusion with out-groups in
zero-sum scenarios between both groups, including moral dilemmas, may be informative. In
previous research, in-group fusion predicted more self-sacrifice to save in-group members at
various levels of abstraction but not self-sacrifice for out-group members [10]. How would
individuals who are fused with both groups respond to these dilemmas? And, would individu-
als who show stronger fusion with the out-group than the in-group–as was the case for most
participants in the last study–sacrifice in-group interests or even in-group members if it saved
out-group members? Such perspectives may also help understanding recent societal events
such as White Americans risking their lives to rally against White Supremacy in Charlottes-
ville, Virginia. Research could test whether such protesters were more fused with ethnic out-
groups (that are the enemy of White supremacists) than their White ethnic in-group.
We acknowledge that it is possible that some participants may have shared some group
memberships with Palestinians/Kurds on dimensions other than race/ethnicity. For instance,
we did not assess participants’ religious group. It may be that some of the participants had an
Islamic belief in common with the out-groups. In light of previous research demonstrating the
role of fusion with religious groups for extreme group behavior [32], it is therefore possible
that Muslim identification or fusion also was at play. However, Kurds and Palestinians both
are predominantly Muslim as are the groups with which the Kurds (but not Palestinians) are
in conflict with, which to some extent attenuates concerns about such an alternative predictor.
It is also important to note that Muslims are a very small minority among White Americans
and Norwegians, so that such a process would have applied to very few of the participants in
most of the studies. Similarly, we did not measure whether participants had out-group friends,
which could have fostered a fictional sense of kinship. Future research should thus measure
and control for such additional variables to further establish the unique effects of fusion with
out-groups.
Relatedly, one may also ask the question whether fusion with an ethnic out-group may be
more accurately described as in-group fusion. As described in the introduction, we used the
term “out-group” to denote a group that participants did not belong to in terms of their ethnic
background before fusing with it. Indeed, when asked about their ethnic group, all participants
whose data was analyzed indicated to belong to other ethnic groups than Kurds/Palestinians.
Hence, at least in terms of actual kinship, both can be seen as out-groups. Also, Kurds and
Palestinians constitute national out-groups, which is a strength compared to previous identity
fusion research in which participants ethnicity often was nested within, or covaried with, the
group they fused with. To be sure, following a social identity perspective, for participants who
fused with Palestinians or Kurds, the respective group likely formed a part of their self-con-
cept. As such, once individuals fuse with the out-group, obviously they may come to regard it
as their in-group, and this group may even appear more relevant to them than pre-existing eth-
nic categories (as arguably was the case in the last study). The point of the present research is
that it is indeed possible to feel a sense of visceral oneness with ethnic groups that clearly share
no biological ancestry with oneself: fusion processes nevertheless account for the solidary
action one is willing to take on their behalf. Crucially, what appears to lead to this stage of
extended fusion is the relational perception that the way the out-group is treated violates one’s
political ideology.
Conclusion
In sum, the present research extended the concept of identity fusion by showing that not only
does it explain extreme behavior for one’s own group, but also for what is initially one’s ethnic
out-group with which one shares no biological ancestry. This fusing with out-groups appears
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PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190639 January 5, 2018 25 / 30
to be driven and motivated, at least in part, by perceiving them as being treated in a way that
clashes with one’s own political beliefs.
Supporting information
S1 Fig. Reversed mediation model for Study 1. Non-significant paths are displayed in grey.
p<.05, p<.01, p<.001.
(TIF)
S2 Fig. Moderated mediation model for Study 2, in which fusion with the out-group is
replaced with knowledge about the conflict. Non-significant paths are displayed in grey.
p<.05, p<.01, p<.001.
(TIF)
S3 Fig. Moderated mediation model for Study 2, in which knowledge about the conflict is
controlled for. Non-significant paths are displayed in grey. p<.05, p<.01, p.001.
(TIF)
Author Contributions
Conceptualization: Jonas R. Kunst, Beverly Boos, Sasha Y. Kimel, Milan Obaidi, Maor Shani,
Lotte Thomsen.
Data curation: Jonas R. Kunst.
Formal analysis: Jonas R. Kunst.
Funding acquisition: Jonas R. Kunst, Lotte Thomsen.
Methodology: Jonas R. Kunst, Beverly Boos, Sasha Y. Kimel, Milan Obaidi, Maor Shani, Lotte
Thomsen.
Project administration: Jonas R. Kunst.
Visualization: Jonas R. Kunst.
Writing – original draft: Jonas R. Kunst.
Writing – review & editing: Jonas R. Kunst, Beverly Boos, Sasha Y. Kimel, Milan Obaidi,
Maor Shani, Lotte Thomsen.
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Supplementary resources (3)

... A similar study by Kunst et al. (2018) examined how people can fuse with disadvantaged out-groups (e.g., Kurds) when doing so aligns with their political motivations (e.g., a leftwing ideology), although only one of its studies explicitly measured both in-group and out-group fusion. This study surveyed 83 non-Kurdish Leftists from mostly Western countries who aspired to fight with the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG), a military force responsible for defending Kurdistan from ISIS. ...
... These results could hence imply that fusion with an in-group provided the secure base which in turn empowered participants to explore, connect with, and ultimately fight for out-groups that align with their personal ideology, although the study's relatively small sample size (N = 83) and focus on a niche subset of left-wingers (i.e., Westerners interested in fighting ISIS) limit the generalizability of these findings. It should be emphasized that the research conducted by Purzycki and Lang (2019) and Kunst et al. (2018) represents only preliminary evidence in favor of the fusion secure-base hypothesis, with the majority of the model's evidence residing in the strong empirical link between a secure base schema and an increased willingness to interact with and trust out-group members, and the clear suitability of a fused group to act as a secure base. ...
... Groups have long formed coalitions in times of dysphoria, particularly warfare. A fused actor could conceivably fight and die for an allied out-group, compelled by a desire to defeat a common enemy (e.g., Klavina & van Zomeren, 2018) or abide by their ideological convictions (e.g., Kunst et al., 2018). History is littered with relevant examples, such as the immeasurable sacrifices made by British soldiers assisting France and Belgium in World War I. Coalitions can blur the line between in-group and outgroup, causing fused actors to think of themselves as fighting and dying for an extended in-group (Whitehouse, 2018b). ...
Article
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Identity fusion is traditionally conceptualized as innately parochial, with fused actors motivated to commit acts of violence on out-groups. However, fusion’s aggressive outcomes are largely conditional on threat perception, with its effect on benign intergroup relationships underexplored. The present article outlines the fusion-secure base hypothesis, which argues that fusion may engender cooperative relationships with out-groups in the absence of out-group threat. Fusion is characterized by four principles, each of which allows a fused group to function as a secure base in which in-group members feel safe, agentic, and supported. This elicits a secure base schema, which increases the likelihood of fused actors interacting with out-groups and forming cooperative, reciprocal relationships. Out-group threat remains an important moderator, with its presence “flipping the switch” in fused actors and promoting a willingness to violently protect the group even at significant personal cost. Suggestions for future research are explored, including pathways to intergroup fusion.
... Aunque originalmente la fusión se desarrolló para explicar la relación entre un individuo y su propio grupo (Swann et al., 2009), estudios recientes indican que también es posible fusionarse con grupos a los que uno no pertenece, que ese tipo de fusión se produce por afinidad ideológica y que predice la solidaridad con sus miembros (Kunst et al., 2018). De acuerdo con estos hallazgos, cabría esperar que los individuos muy autoritarios fueran especialmente propensos a fusionarse con la policía en la medida en que esta garantiza el orden social y la seguridad, y que esa mayor fusión con la policía aumente el apoyo al uso de la fuerza . ...
... Identity fusion is a visceral feeling of oneness with a group (Swann et al., 2009), which predicts endorsing or performing extreme pro-group behaviors (e.g., sacrificing for the group, Gómez et al., 2011) and denial of group ethical transgressions . Although fusion was originally developed to explain the relationship between an individual and his/her own group (Swann et al., 2009), recent studies indicate that it is also possible to fuse with groups to which one does not belong and that this type of fusion occurs by ideological affinity (Kunst et al., 2018). Based on these findings, we expected that strongly authoritarian individuals would be especially prone to fuse with the police insofar as this institution guarantees social order and security, two main concerns for them. ...
Article
Full-text available
This research analyzes whether authoritarianism increases support for police abuse and if the effect is greater in men than in women. In addition, it explores whether fusion with the police, a predictor of extreme behavior, can mediate that effect. An exploratory correlational study was carried out with 149 Spaniards, in which two levels of police force were established, reasonable and excessive. The results showed a direct association between authoritarianism and support for the use of police force and an indirect association through fusion. Furthermore, the effects of authoritarianism on support for the use of police force were found to be stronger in men than in women, but only when the force used was excessive. These results suggest that ideological factors and psychosocial variables such as fusion and gender roles play a role in the legitimation of police excesses
... The power of this measure lies in its applicability to any ideological or social group, such that the amount of identity fusion is quantifiable and translatable between ideologies. The identity-fusion index has been used in the context of nationalism (Bortolini et al., 2018;Jong et al., 2015;Kapitány et al., 2019;Zmigrod et al., 2018), political partisanship (Misch et al., 2018;, resilience in the face of terror ( Jong et al., 2015), and willingness to engage in extreme protest and progroup behavior (Kunst et al., 2018;Paredes et al., 2019;Purzycki & Lang, 2019). The identity-fusion index therefore satisfies the criterion of being easily content-substitutable (by altering the group label on the large circle) and by tapping into the group identification subcomponent of ideological thinking. ...
Article
Full-text available
The psychological study of ideology has traditionally emphasized the content of ideological beliefs, guided by questions about what people believe, such as why people believe in omniscient gods or fascist worldviews. This theoretical focus has led to siloed subdisciplines separately dealing with political, religious, moral, and prejudiced attitudes. The fractionation has fostered a neglect of the cognitive structure of ideological worldviews and associated questions about why ideologies—in all their forms—are so compelling to the human mind. Here I argue that it is essential to consider the nature of ideological cognition across a multitude of ideologies. I offer a multidimensional, empirically tractable framework of ideological thinking, suggesting it can be conceptualized as a style of thinking that is rigid in its adherence to a doctrine and resistance to evidence-based belief-updating and favorably oriented toward an in-group and antagonistic to out-groups. The article identifies the subcomponents of ideological thinking and highlights that ideological thinking constitutes a meaningful psychological phenomenon that merits direct scholarly investigation and analysis. By emphasizing conceptual precision, methodological directions, and interdisciplinary integration across the political and cognitive sciences, the article illustrates the potential of this framework as a catalyst for developing a rigorous domain-general psychology of ideology.
... Research on the consequences of identity fusion has systematically shown that this experience of psychological oneness motivates willingness for several types of extreme pro-group actions. Identity fusion predicts, among others, willingness to (1) fight and die for the group and its members (Bortolini et al., 2018;Carnes & Lickel, 2018;Gómez, Brooks et al., 2011;Paredes et al., 2018;; (2) die to kill terrorists who threaten the group in an intergroup version of the trolley dilemma ; (3) volunteer for armed combat Kunst et al., 2018;Whitehouse et al., 2014); (4) die to save the life of one or more group members in several versions of the trolley dilemma (Gómez, Brooks et al., 2011;; (5) make costly sacrifices for the values that are central to the group (Sheikh et al., 2016); (6) give up important personal relationships to belong to the group (Swann et al., 2015); and (7) engage in violence to protect the stability and continuity of the group when it is seen as morally justifiable . Importantly, identity fusion does not only predict intentions, but also actual extreme behaviour. ...
Article
Identity fusion is a visceral feeling of oneness that predicts extreme behaviour on behalf of the target of fusion. We propose that strongly fused individuals are characterized by feelings of visceral responsibility towards such target – unconditional, instinctive, and impulsive drive to care, protect and promote its well‐being and interests – that motivates them to self‐sacrifice. Two studies offered initial support when the target of fusion is an individual or a group (Studies 1a‐1b). A final study added causal evidence that strongly fused learning that most ingroup members did not feel visceral responsibility towards the group expressed less willingness to self‐sacrifice than those learning that ingroup members display high levels of visceral responsibility (Study 2). These findings offer novel evidence for the mechanisms underlying the effects of fusion on extreme behaviour on behalf of the target of fusion and the attenuation of its consequences.
... Participants were asked to indicate their political views on a 7-point Likert scale from 1 (extremely liberal (left)) to 7 (extremely conservative (right)). Single item political orientation is a common approach in social sciences and has high predictive validity (Kunst et al., 2018;Weber, 2011). ...
Article
Previous research has related the existence of pathogenic threat to an individual's social cognition, with people avoiding physical interactions with those who have potential contagion risks. These pathogenic induced behavioral responses have broader social consequences, such as avoidance of outgroup members or negative reactions to individuals foreign to one's own group. Specially, higher pathogen threat is associated with xenophobic attitudes and ideological tendencies, such as authoritarianism and political conservatism. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the effect of pathogenic threat on the above-mentioned variables in a real-world situation. Collecting data during a low (N = 598) and heightened (N = 309) perceived threat of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, our results reveal that Right-Wing Authoritarian traits, but not xenophobia, increase with a rise in the number of national pathogenic cases. Moreover, our results replicate previous findings regarding the associations between pathogen threat, political orientation, xenophobia, and Right-Wing Authoritarianism, in an actual pathogen threat scenario.
... Dabei handelt es sich um ein Gefühl tiefster Verbundenheit mit der Gruppe, das durch gemeinsame, bedrückend-traumatisierende Erfahrungen mit anderen Gruppenmitgliedern oder ein geteiltes Werteverständnis entstehen kann (Swann et al. 2012(Swann et al. , 2014Whitehouse et al. 2017). Dieses Gefühl der Verbundenheit kann auch dann auftreten, wenn die Person noch kein Mitglied der Gruppe ist und kein vorheriger Kontakt mit der Gruppe stattgefunden hat (Kunst et al. 2018 ...
Article
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Zusammenfassung Der Rechtsextremismus stellt eine der größten Herausforderungen der Gegenwart für die Sicherheitspolitik und das gesellschaftliche Miteinander dar, nicht zuletzt aufgrund des enormen Gewaltpotenzials, das rechtsextremistische Personen aufweisen können. Daraus ergibt sich die Notwendigkeit einer systematischen Untersuchung der Prozesse, die zu einer Übernahme rechtsextremer Einstellungen und zu rechtsextrem motivierten (Gewalt‑)Taten führen. Der vorliegende Artikel zeichnet zunächst ein kurzes Lagebild der bundesweiten Fallzahlen rechtsextrem assoziierter Straftaten. Es folgt eine Übersicht ausgewählter sozialer sowie psychologischer Mechanismen, die dabei helfen können, Radikalisierungsprozesse im Kontext des Rechtsextremismus zu verstehen. Dabei werden die Unterscheidung von einstellungs- und verhaltensbezogener Radikalisierung sowie insbesondere solche Faktoren hervorgehoben, die Radikalisierungsprozesse anstoßen oder extremistische Gewalt als Gipfel der Verhaltensradikalisierung begünstigen können. Abschließend werden Limitationen und methodische Probleme der Radikalisierungsforschung diskutiert.
... Identity fusion has also been linked to behaviours such as the refusal to leave the group (Gómez et al., 2011b); denial of group wrong-doing (Besta et al., 2014); diminished quality of life after one's group is defeated (Buhrmester et al., 2012); the willingness to participate in extreme forms of protest on the group's behalf (Kunst et al., 2018); maximizing ingroup advantage over an outgroup, even at one's personal expense ; protecting group reputation (Ashokkumar et al., 2019); sacrificing personal relationships ; relative intergroup formidability ; donating to charity Swann et al., 2010); writing supportive notes to victims of terrorist attacks ; behaving aggressively toward outgroup members in videogames ; and the desire to retaliate against outgroup members (Fredman et al., 2017). Recently, research has found that identity fusion also extends to other targets such as ideological convictions, other individuals, animals, objects, or even activities . ...
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