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The Twinning Project: how football, the beautiful game, can be used to reduce reoffending



Reoffending is one of the greatest socio-economic burdens currently facing the UK, costing taxpayers around £18.1 billion a year. Recent studies show that 48% of ex-prisoners reoffend within a 12-month period, exacerbating the current prison overcrowding crisis. The benefits of reducing recidivism are obvious, but viable pathways to this outcome have yet to be elucidated and executed. The twofold solution to this problem is proposed in the present practice note. Firstly, we need to change the way prisoners think about themselves, aiming to bond prisoners more tightly to mainstream society and law-abiding values. In doing so, opportunities for employment become more viable. Secondly, we need to increase society-at-large’s determination in bringing former prisoners back into the fold. The Twinning project is a new initiative that promises to help us accomplish both goals.
Prison Service Journal28 Issue 248
Reoffending is one of the greatest socio-economic
burdens currently facing the UK, costing taxpayers
around £18.1 billion a year1. Recent studies show
that 48 per cent of ex-prisoners reoffend within a
12-month period, exacerbating the current prison
overcrowding crisis2. The benefits of reducing
recidivism are obvious, but viable pathways to
this outcome have yet to be elucidated and
executed. The twofold solution to this problem is
proposed in the present practice note. Firstly, we
need to change the way prisoners think about
themselves, aiming to bond prisoners more tightly
to mainstream society and law-abiding values. In
doing so, opportunities for employment become
more viable. Secondly, we need to increase
society-at-large’s determination in bringing
former prisoners back into the fold. The Twinning
project is a new initiative that promises to help us
accomplish both goals.
The Twinning Project
The Twinning Project, launched in October 2018,
pairs prisons with their local football clubs to deliver
training programmes for people in prison. The project
builds on the ongoing efforts of many football clubs’
prison-based community outreach programmes, by
connecting even more clubs with their local prisons
nationwide (Table 1). By the end of 2019, 45 major
football clubs were paired with one or more prisons in
the UK, with active interventions in over 40 prisons—
including men’s, women’s, young offenders’ institutes
(YOIs) and categories D, C, B, and long term / high
security. Crucial to the Twinning Project’s success is its
leadership by two pivotal figures across the football and
prison sectors: David Dein, former Vice-Chairman of the
FA (Football Association), Vice-Chairman of Arsenal,
president of the Arsenal Ladies Team, and creator of the
British Premier League in the 1990s; and Jason
Swettenham, Head of Prison Industries, Catering and
Physical Education in HM Prison Service in England and
Wales, with a responsibility for Physical Education
nationally. The Twinning Project capitalises on some of
the most powerful collective identities in the country—
football brands and clubs—to deliver prison-specific,
football industry-recognised training. The project has
been welcomed by both the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)
and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service
(HMPPS), with many prisons eager to join the scheme.
Specifically, the project relates to HMPPS’ priority to
reduce reoffending in adults and young people.
From practical assistance to changing identities
The initial aim of the Twinning Project was to offer
people in prison opportunities to gain qualifications
that could help guide them toward employment on
release, thus reducing reoffending and associated costs
The Twinning Project: how football, the
beautiful game, can be used to reduce
Dr Martha Newson is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion,
University of Oxford and Professor Harvey Whitehouse is the Director of the Centre for the
Study of Social Cohesion
Table 1. Quick guide to the Twinning Project
Number of associated
46 across leagues (all FA clubs, Premier League and EFL )
How long do
programmes last?
6-12 weeks, depending on club and prison prefere nces, 20 — 40 hours.
How are they
Varied, depending on club / prison preferences, e.g. weekly / twice weekly.
Who are they
delivered by?
Professional football coaches, with support from phy sical education
instructor (PEIs) who are specialist prison officers
Are there incentives
for prisoners?
Puma football kit, qualification (which may be recogn ised by FA),
psychological benefits of allegiance to a club.
What programmes are
Coaching is the most common programme (a nd the only FA-devised
programme, that is Leadership in Sport), stewardin g and refereeing
offered at some prisons.
Is it just football?
Mostly, but there are some Rugby League an d Rugby Union exceptions
(presently two clubs).
What is the cohort
10-16, dependent on club / prison.
Is there any through
the gate support?
Planned by many clubs, but yet to be formalised by t he Twinning Project.
Who funds the
Initially via club trusts, new programmes also funde d by the Twinning
Project charity.
How are clubs paired
with prisons?
Majority are connected via proximity and resettlement areas of the priso ns
involved, aside from a minority of former pairings pre-dating the Twinning
Who is eligible?
Most participants are nearing the end of their term and a risk assessment
is conducted to ensure that participants are suitable. This includes what
risk they are to others and what incentive level the y are on.
Who is excluded?
Prisoners on the basic level of the Incentives and Earn ed Privileges Scheme
are excluded. Most clubs exclude people convicted of sexual offences due
to their own legal and safeguarding requireme nts.
How are participants
Prisoners are invited to apply to clubs through advertise ment in the gym or
on residential units. Clubs select on the merit of good b ehaviour and
prison officer recommendations. A number of site s will use interviewing
methods to build on the importance of participation and link to
1. Newton, A. et al. (2019). Economic and social costs of reoffending. Ministry of Justice analytical report.
2. MacDonald M. (2018). Overcrowding and its impact on prison conditions and health. International journal of prisoner health 14: 65-68.
Prison Service JournalIssue 248 29
to the tax-payer. Employment opportunities are a well-
researched factor associated with reoffending3,
particularly when coupled with lack of
accommodation4. Indeed, lack of employment appears
to be a fundamental driver of the largest reoffending
category—theft (over £9m a year, double that of the
next largest reoffending category, violence)5. But this is
only one of the challenges facing ex-prisoners hoping
to change their lives.
As well as offering routes to employment, the
Twinning Project offers participants something more: a
positive social identity. According to social identity
theory, central to reoffending behaviours are
perpetrators’ identities: their sense of self, the groups
they belong to (or are excluded
from), and the values associated
with these identities6. Gaining
employment after release
depends, in part, on adopting
alignments with law-abiding
groups and values that have the
power to motivate behaviour7.
We already know that football is
a powerful motivator, causing
fans to travel across the globe for
a game, and even put life and
limb at risk to defend their
groups8. Can this group passion
be harnessed for social good?
Could football foster positive
social identities powerful enough
to re-write prisoners self-
narratives? We are leading research at the University of
Oxford to analyse the short- and long-term impact of
the Twinning Project and the role social bonding might
play in its success.
Identity fusion
One particularly intense form of social bonding—
which is deeply personal, and thus motivational—
involves the fusion of personal and group identities.
Identity fusion is a reliable predictor of charitable acts,
loyalty to the group, and even willingness to lay down
one’s life for others9. Fusion has been studied in many
special populations, including football fans and
‘hooligans’ across four continents10. In these highly
‘fused’ groups, individuals report family-like bonds. This
‘psychological kinship means
that fused people deeply value
the lives of all group members,
are committed to the group, and
want to stick by them11. For ex-
prisoners, a lack of social
support—particularly in the form
of a stable family—is a major
factor contributing to
reoffending12. The Twinning
Project may be able to provide a
foundational set of experiences
for re-building this void in social
support and belonging.
Rosie Meek’s work into
prison service sports programmes
has paved the way for academic
research into sport’s potential to
turn prisoners’ lives around13. However, just one
academic study connecting reoffending and identity
The Twinning
Project may be able
to provide a
foundational set of
experiences for re-
building this void in
social support and
3. Graffam J and Hardcastle L. (2007). Ex-prisoners and ex-offenders and the employment connection: Assistance plus acceptance.
Vocational education and training for adult prisoners and offenders in Australia: 47-66.
4. May C, Sharma N and Stewart D. (2008). Factors linked to reoffending: a one-year follow-up of prisoners who took part in the
Resettlement Surveys 2001, 2003 and 2004. Research Summary 5.
5. Newton, A. et al. (2019). Economic and social costs of reoffending. Ministry of Justice analytical report.
6. Monahan, J. (2017). The individual risk assessment of terrorism: Recent developments. The handbook of the criminology of terrorism:
520-534; Tajfel, H. and Turner, J. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In: Austin WG and Worchel S (Ed.s) The social
psychology of intergroup relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks / Cole, 33-47.
7. Whitehouse H and Fitzgerald R. (under review) Fusion and reform: the potential for identity fusion to reduce recidivism and improve
8. Newson M. (2017) Football, Fan Violence, and Identity Fusion. International Review for the Sociology of Sport.
9. Swann W., et al. (2009). Identity fusion: The interplay of personal and social identities in extreme group behavior. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology 96: 995-1011; Swann W., et al. (2012). When group membership gets personal: A theory of identity fusion.
Psychological Review 119: 441-456; Whitehouse, H., and Lanman, J. (2014). The Ties That Bind Us: Ritual, fusion, and identification.
Current Anthropology 55: 674-695.
10. Newson, M., Buhrmester, M., and Whitehouse, H., (2016). Explaining Lifelong Loyalty: The Role of Identity Fusion and Self-Shaping
Group Events. PloS one 11: e0160427; Newson, M., et al. (2018). Brazil’s Football Warriors: Social bonding and inter-group violence.
Evolution and Human Behavior 39(6): 675-683;Knijnik J and Newson M. (Under review) Personal agency, identity fusion and football
fandom in Australia: the case of Western Sydney. Soccer & Society; Bortolini, T., et al. (2018). Identity fusion predicts pro-group
behaviours: targeting nationality, religion or football in Brazilian samples. British Journal of Social Psychology. DOI:
11. Buhrmester, M., et al. (2015). When terror hits home: Identity fused Americans who saw Boston bombing victims as “family”
provided aid. Self and Identity 14: 253-270.
12. Farmer, M. (2017). The importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending and reduce intergenerational crime.
Ministry of Justice.
13. Meek R and Lewis G. (2014) The impact of a sports initiative for young men in prison: Staff and participant perspectives. Journal of
Sport and Social Issues 38: 95-123.
Prison Service Journal30 Issue 248
fusion has been conducted to date (in an Australian
prison)14 . Nonetheless, social identity theory has
already shown that positive identity construction is
critical to reducing reoffending in the criminology
literature15. Fusion tends to be a stronger, more reliable
predictor of pro-social behaviours, which the proposed
intervention aims to achieve. With regards to
desistance theory, whereby crime is reduced or entirely
refrained from, fusion theory particularly connects to
Maruna’s second and third perspectives: life transitions
and their associated social bonds, and narrative
changes in both personal and social identities16.
Specifically, the Twinning Project provides
opportunities for the social
resources required to identify
and cement positive social
identities and commitments17.
Equally important to
reducing recidivism is a need to
establish host communities that
show commitment to ex-
prisoners, supporting and
encouraging their efforts to go
straight. Football clubs, with their
‘tribal’ identities, are uniquely
placed to help ex-prisoners back
into the fold, with assistance by
coaches and peers18. With this
two-way fusion—or, social
bonding—we expect to see a
host of improved employability
markers, increased self-esteem,
and higher levels of cooperation
and altruism. Even participants who score low on
empathy19or high on impulsivity20, that is those at
particular risk of reoffending, may be less likely to
reoffend, provided that they have become fused to
more positive social targets.
Next steps
Many factors contribute to recidivism. While we
expect such a high calibre endeavour as the Twinning
Project to enjoy a great deal of success in reducing
reoffending among its participants, it is likely that some
people will still reoffend. For instance, people with
stable families on the outside are less likely to reoffend,
but whether this is due to fusion within families or
other factors remains unclear. Can the Twinning Project
provide the ‘kinship’ currently lacked by some ex-
prisoners? Following survey, interview, and prison data
evaluations, the Twinning Project will be better placed
to advise on the through-the-gate programmes so
many clubs are seeking to devise.
Looking forward, the success stories that may
emerge from this project have the possibility to
translate into peer-based
coaching and community-led,
post-probation initiatives under
future strands of the Twinning
Project umbrella. This might
include, for example, a
Fellowship of participants who
remain in contact with their club
post-release, or who go on to use
their qualifications in the football
industry or community. Grouping
ex-prisoners in this socially
desirable way would not only
provide recognition for their
achievements, but give stability
to an emerging community.
There is also scope to extend the
programme both domestically
and internationally. At home,
evaluations will help reveal the
cognitive mechanisms underlying its success and
limitations, which can be built in to future interventions.
As the football market is truly international in scale,
there is scope for cross-border communication and
Evaluations will also help unpack the feasibility of
offering randomly-allocated programmes, whereby
eligible prisoners have equal opportunities of
participation. In research, random allocation is a gold
standard, but there are other merits that could
Grouping ex-
prisoners in this
socially desirable
way would not only
provide recognition
for their
achievements, but
give stability to an
14. Whitehouse H and Fitzgerald R. (under review) Fusion and reform: the potential for identity fusion to reduce recidivism and improve
15. Shapland, J. and Bottoms, A. (2011). Reflections on social values, offending and desistance among young adult recidivists. Punishment
& Society 13: 256-282.
16. Maruna, S. (2000) Desistance from crime and offender rehabilitation: A tale of two research literatures. Offender Programs Report 4:
1-13; Weaver, B., and McNeill, F. (2010). Travelling hopefully: Desistance theory and probation practice. In: Brayford J, Cowe F and
Deering J (Ed.s) What Else Works? Creative Work with Offenders. Routledge: Willan Cullompton.
17. Uggen, C., Manza, J., and Thompson, M. (2006). Citizenship, democracy, and the civic reintegration of criminal offenders. The Annals
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 605: 281-310.
18. Morris, D. (1981). The soccer tribe: Cape London; Whitehouse, H. (2018). Dying for the group: Towards a general theory of extreme
self-sacrifice. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 41.
19. Jolliffe D and Farrington DP. (2004) Empathy and offending: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Aggression and violent behavior 9:
20. Ireland JL and Archer J. (2008) Impulsivity among adult prisoners: A confirmatory factor analysis study of the Barratt Impulsivity Scale.
Personality and Individual Differences 45: 286-292.
Prison Service JournalIssue 248 31
contribute to the Twinning Project’s long-term standing.
First, random allocation would reduce reliance on
prison and football staff selecting prisoners for the
project, which could disadvantage some prisoners,
especially with regards to ‘good behaviour’ (see Table
1). Instead, reaching prisoners at highest risk of
offending, rather than only those who do well in
interviews, could lead to impact with populations who
are usually regarded as uncooperative or too
challenging to rehabilitate. This initiative does not
neglect the knowledge and expertise that prison
officers offer when helping select participants, but
rather emphasises the potential of this nationwide
reoffending scheme (endorsed and executed primarily
by the Premier League) to rehabilitate the lives of
those disenfranchised prisoners at most of risk of a
lifetime of institutionalisation. With increased
employment opportunities, health benefits of
engaging in an active lifestyle, and an all-important
family albeit fictive kin, the ‘football family’
sports initiatives such as the Twinning Project have
the potential to access some of the hardest to reach
and vulnerable prison populations for meaningful and
lasting rehabilitation.
... Twinning Project is a tertiary prevention programme, an effort to rehabilitate and prevent recidivism among people convicted of crimes and serving either custodial sentences in prison or community sentences (Newson & Whitehouse, 2020). Here, we focus on the latter group, whose sentences are an alternative to imprisonment or constitute a post-release period of supervision. ...
... In the present research, we explored whether and how the Twinning Project supported positive identity transition and its potential role in participants' rehabilitation processes. This research offers the first qualitative assessment of the programme since it was launched (Newson & Whitehouse, 2020) and provides a unique case study, while also addressing the gap in our understanding of how community structures are used to reduce reoffending. To this end, we addressed the following research questions with interview data: ...
... Extensions of the research would benefit from a quantitative approach that directly tests behavioural changes (e.g., reconviction rates), which was not possible for the small sample participating in community iterations of the Twinning Project. We are currently analysing quantitative survey and behavioural data from a large study of Twinning Project participants who served custodial sentences (Newson & Whitehouse, 2020), a project for which we will also analyse reoffending data. Further research in community settings could also explore how such interventions might best incorporate receiving communities and increase the visibility of service users' successes. ...
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Recidivism costs society, communities, families and individuals. Sport is heralded as an accessible way to engage and incentivise people convicted of crime to change their lifestyles. One high-profile intervention designed to reduce reoffending rates is the Twinning Project, which invites people serving custodial and community sentences to participate in a football-based programme to gain accredited qualifications with a major football club in their local region. Our primary objective was to investigate how football, which uses some of the biggest brands and regional allegiances in the United Kingdom, might help to bridge the gap between community and paths to desistance. Using a realist approach, we present interview data from people serving sentences in the community and the coaches and probation officers facilitating intervention programmes at two major British football clubs. Specifically, we conducted interviews with staff and service users serving community sentences in a large British city. Based on social identity perspectives on social exclusion/inclusion, we carried out thematic analysis with the focus on social support, social bonding and resulting future orientation. Thematic analysis revealed four themes: (a) gaps in social support; (b) coach as a role model; (c) increased future orientation; and (d) new ways forward. These themes evidenced the struggles
... This suggests that there may be common imagistic experiences between members of groups in antagonistic relationships. Approaches to use such shared experiences could build on interventions currently being developed to reduce violence and recidivism among ex-prisoners (Newson & Whitehouse, 2020). However, any such interventions would likely require the building of consensus and support within both farming and herding communities in rural Cameroon. ...
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Herder–farmer conflicts in West Africa have caused thousands of deaths in recent years. Many conflicts are triggered by localized events that rapidly spiral out of control. What leads specific interpersonal conflicts to scale up into intergroup violence? We propose that such conflicts are rooted in identity and ritual dynamics. We present evidence that participants in Mambila traditions of masquerade initiation in Cameroon report especially strong identity fusion, a visceral sense of oneness with the ingroup. Results showed that men strongly fused to their ethnic ingroup were especially willing to fight and die for it. Overall, our findings provide evidence that when ordinary conflicts develop between groups that differ sharply on ethnic and religious lines, there is grave risk that fused persons will escalate violence. Understanding these processes may inform future development of new strategies to prevent or ameliorate intergroup conflicts of this kind.
In this Henry Myers Lecture, I summarize several decades of collaborative research on the role of ritual in group bonding and co‐operation, ranging from psychology experiments in university laboratories to field research among indigenous groups, and from surveys with armed revolutionaries to extended interviews with religious adherents. This body of work is helping to clarify the mechanisms by which social cohesion and prosocial behaviour are generated in a variety of groups, such as mothers experiencing traumatic births, football fans suffering defeat at crucial matches in Brazil and Australia, and Muslim fundamentalists in Indonesia contemplating insults to Islam in faraway conflicts. These findings also shed light on changes in ritual life from the palaeolithic to the first farmers and from archaic states to the first moralizing religions. In keeping with the forward‐looking theme of the 2022 RAI conference, I consider the implications of these findings for various practical problems facing humanity today, such as how to reduce crime and to prevent violent extremism and how to foster more inclusive forms of leadership and motivate action on environmental issues.
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Evidence shows that the least successful clubs have the most committed fans – why? Here, we test the “shared-dysphoria-pathway-to-fusion” (SDPF) hypothesis that fans of the least successful clubs become irrevocably “fused” to their club and to each other, as a result of sharing self- and club-defining memories of past defeats. To assess the SDPF hypothesis, we calculated the most and least successful clubs from the UK’s top league, the Premier League, over a 10-year period. We then invited fans of these clubs to complete a survey (N = 752), comprising qualitative recollections of football events, quantitative survey measures of identity fusion and psychological kinship, and a trolley dilemma measuring willingness to sacrifice one’s self to save fellow supporters. Our mediation model supported the SDPF hypothesis. Fans of Crystal Palace, Hull, Norwich, Sunderland, and West Bromwich Albion were more bonded and more willing to sacrifice themselves for other fans of their club than were fans of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester City. Across clubs, memories of past football defeats formed an essential part of fans’ self-concepts, thus fusing them to their club. Identity fusion in turn predicted a readiness to lay down one’s life to save fellow fans, and this relationship was statistically mediated by psychological kinship. Understanding that shared suffering can lead to extreme bonding may help sports clubs and policy makers manage crowd behaviour. Clubs will benefit from tailoring brand management and fan retainment strategies to the SDPF hypothesis. In addition, these findings provide insight into the motivations of oppressed or persecuted groups, and such others fused through shared sufferings, helping us better understand and manage the psychological processes that can lead to extreme self-sacrifice. This is the first study to show mediational support for the SDPF hypothesis in relation to football fandom. The psychological mechanism that may have once bonded embattled foraging groups in our ancestral past, now works in the modern world to unite soccer fans, among other kinds of groups, in their millions.
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A visceral feeling of oneness with a group – identity fusion – has proven to be a stronger predictor of pro-group behaviours than other measures of group bonding, such as group identification. However, the relationship between identity fusion, other group alignment measures and their different roles in predicting pro-group behaviour is still controversial. Here, we test whether identity fusion is related to, but different from, unidimensional and multidimensional measures of group identification. We also show that identity fusion explains further variance of the endorsement of pro-group behaviour than these alternative measures and examine the structural and discriminant properties of identity fusion and group identification measures in three different contexts: nationality, religion, and football fandom. Finally, we extend the fusion literature to a new culture: Brazil. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first research explicitly addressing a comparison between these two forms of group alignment, identity fusion and identification with a group, and their role in predicting pro-group behaviours.
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Football violence has been a global problem for decades. A new way to approach the phenomenon comes from the theory of identity fusion, an extreme form of social bonding implicated in personally costly pro-group behaviours. Using British and Brazilian fan cultures to illustrate, this article discusses the ways in which identity fusion can help understandings of football violence. While hooliganism in the UK and the phenomenon of torcidas organizadas in Brazil operate under culturally distinct loci, the fundamental cognition underlying the extreme behaviours exhibited by both may be remarkably similar. Through this discussion, the football landscape is shown to offer researchers unique opportunities for understanding culture and the human psyche more broadly.
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This chapter synthesizes the existing evidence base on the individual risk assessment of terrorism, focusing critical attention on recent developments in the identification of valid risk factors. The most promising candidates for such risk factors identified here include ideologies, affiliations, grievances, moral emotions, and identities. Risk factors for lone-actor terrorism may diverge significantly from those for group-based terrorism. The chapter also reflects on what must happen if research on the risk assessment of terrorism is to yield knowledge that is actionable in the context of national security, i.e., the use of case-control, known-groups research designs.
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When tragedy strikes a group, only some group members characteristically rush to the aid of the victims. What motivates the altruism of these exceptional individuals? Here, we provide one set of answers based on data collected before and shortly after the 15 April 2013, Boston Marathon bombings. The results of three studies indicated that Americans who were strongly “fused” with their country were especially inclined to provide various forms of support to the bombing victims. Moreover, the degree to which participants reported perceiving fellow Americans as psychological kin statistically mediated links between fusion and pro-group outcomes. Together, these findings shed new light on relationships between personal and group identity, cognitive representations of group members, and personally costly, pro-group actions.
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Convicted felons face both legal and informal barriers to becoming productive citizens at work, responsible citizens in family life, and active citizens in their communities. As criminal punishment has increased in the United States, collateral sanctions such as voting restrictions have taken on new meaning. The authors place such restrictions in comparative context and consider their effects on civil liberties, democratic institutions, and civic life more generally. Based on demographic life tables, the authors estimate that approximately 4 million former prisoners and 11.7 million former felons live and work among us every day. The authors describe historical changes in these groups; their effects on social institutions; and the extent to which they constitute a caste, class, or status group within American society. The authors conclude by discussing how reintegrative criminal justice practices might strengthen democracy while preserving, and perhaps enhancing, public safety.
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Identity fusion is a relatively unexplored form of alignment with groups that entails a visceral feeling of oneness with the group. This feeling is associated with unusually porous, highly permeable borders between the personal and social self. These porous borders encourage people to channel their personal agency into group behavior, raising the possibility that the personal and social self will combine synergistically to motivate pro-group behavior. Furthermore, the strong personal as well as social identities possessed by highly fused persons cause them to recognize other group members not merely as members of the group but also as unique individuals, prompting the development of strong relational as well as collective ties within the group. In local fusion, people develop relational ties to members of relatively small groups (e.g., families or work teams) with whom they have personal relationships. In extended fusion, people project relational ties onto relatively large collectives composed of many individuals with whom they may have no personal relationships. The research literature indicates that measures of fusion are exceptionally strong predictors of extreme pro-group behavior. Moreover, fusion effects are amplified by augmenting individual agency, either directly (by increasing physiological arousal) or indirectly (by activating personal or social identities). The effects of fusion on pro-group actions are mediated by perceptions of arousal and invulnerability. Possible causes of identity fusion--ranging from relatively distal, evolutionary, and cultural influences to more proximal, contextual influences--are discussed. Finally, implications and future directions are considered.
Whether upheld as heroic or reviled as terrorism, throughout history people have been willing to lay down their lives for the sake of their groups. Why? Previous theories of extreme self-sacrifice have highlighted a range of seemingly disparate factors such as collective identity, outgroup hostility, and kin psychology. This paper attempts to integrate many of these factors into a single overarching theory based on several decades of collaborative research with a range of special populations, from tribes in Papua New Guinea to Libyan insurgents, and from Muslim fundamentalists in Indonesia to Brazilian football hooligans. These studies suggest that extreme self-sacrifice is motivated by ‘identity fusion’, a visceral sense of oneness with the group resulting from intense collective experiences (e.g. painful rituals or the horrors of frontline combat) or from perceptions of shared biology. In ancient foraging societies, fusion would have enabled warlike bands to stand united despite strong temptations to scatter and flee. The fusion mechanism has often been exploited in cultural rituals, not only by tribal societies but also in specialized cells embedded in armies, cults, and terrorist organizations. With the rise of social complexity and the spread of states and empires, fusion has also been extended to much larger groups, including doctrinal religions, ethnicities, and ideological movements. Explaining extreme self-sacrifice is not only a scientific priority but also a practical challenge as we seek a collective response to suicide terrorism and other extreme expressions of outgroup hostility that continue to bedevil humanity today.
This study presents the prisoner and prison staff ideographic experiences of an English initiative which aimed to use sport as a way of engaging young men in identifying and meeting their reentry (or "resettlement") needs in the transition from prison custody to the community. Young men aged between 18 to 21 years old (N = 79) participated in the prison-based sporting "academies" and the qualitative findings demonstrated how the initiative led to perceived benefits in terms of a positive impact on prison life and culture, preparation for release, improved attitudes, thinking and behavior, and in promoting desistance from crime. The results help to delineate how and why sports based interventions can motivate imprisoned young offenders in reentry programs, with the ultimate aim of reducing reoffending.
Within the human life-span, the decade of the 20s (age 20—29) is known to manifest the fastest deceleration of offending. This article reports findings concerning the social and moral values of a sample of recidivist offenders at the start of this age-range. Most reported surprisingly conformist values, for example with regard to future aspirations (employment, housing, etc.) and to the importance of staying within legal boundaries. Nevertheless, longitudinal data showed that these conformist values often did not prevent some continued offending (though within the sample, taking steps towards desistance was associated with more conformist values). This dissonance between values and behaviour was not explained by neutralizations, but rather (1) by complex processes of maturation, in which intentions to ‘go straight’ co-exist with lapses into learned (habitual) criminal responses; and (2) by the spontaneous character of much offending, with for example invitations to offend by criminal friends being common. Thus, those seriously wishing to desist (to bring their behaviour into line with their social values) face an obstacle-strewn process of lifestyle change, though one often supported by partners and relatives. To assist lifestyle change, many would-be desisters adopt tactics of ‘diachronic self-control’, attempting to avoid future situations of criminal temptation. If the criminal justice system wishes to assist desistance among this age-group, it is vital that these complex processes are understood and supported.