The Promise of Adopting an Emotional Approach to Understanding and Reducing Political Intolerance

Ruthie Pliskin and Eran Halperin

Even in apparently stable democratic regimes, nondemocratic attitudes and practices can create fertile ground for nondemocratic legislation and the realization of discriminatory policies (Gibson 2006). Throughout the years, social-psychological research on intergroup conflict has emphasized the roles of both social identity (e.g., Brewer and Brown 1998; Hewstone and Greenland 2000; building on Tajfel 1981) and realistic group conflict and competition over real or symbolic resources (e.g., Bobo and Hutchings 1996; Coser 1956) in the emergence of negative intergroup attitudes such as prejudice and intolerance. One important manifestation of such intergroup attitudes and policy preferences, which has been at the focus of much ofjohn L. Sullivan’s work (see Sullivan and Transue 1999, for a review), is political intolerance toward social outgroups. Widely viewed by political scientists, ever since Stouffer’s ([19551 1992) seminal work, as one of the most prominent expressions of nondemocratic attitudes, political intolerance is defined as the support for denouncing—or a willingness to denounce—the basic political rights of individuals who belong to a defined outgroup in a particular society (Sullivan, Piereson, and Marcus 1982). Because it contradicts basic democratic values, when it is shared by a large portion of society members, political intolerance poses a threat to democracy itself.

Sullivan and his colleagues have made great strides over the years in promoting an understanding of the causes and consequences of political intolerance as well as the mechanisms involved in its appearance (e.g., Sullivan and Transue 1999). By putting political intolerance on the examination table, Sullivan effectively raised awareness to the phenomenon’s importance and far-reaching consequences. Furthermore, his contributions have shed light on many of the processes that promote and moderate political intolerance, allowing for a nuanced understanding that has laid the groundwork for important follow-upresearch. Perhaps most importantly, these understandings may open the door for the development of psychology-based interventions aimed at decreasing intolerance, as we will discuss in the present chapter.

Traditionally, much of the research on antecedents of political intolerance has focused on psychological tendencies such as right-wing authoritarianism (Duckitt 1993; Funke 2005), general values such as religious beliefs (Eisenstein 2006) or democratic principles (Sullivan et al. 1982), concrete intergroup processes and perceptions such as intergroup conflict and perceived threat (e.g., Stephan and Stephan 2001; Stouffer |1955| 1992; Sullivan et al. 1982; Sullivan et al. 1985), and personal characteristics such as socioeconomic status (Quillian 1995). More recently, however, researchers including Sullivan himself have begun examining emotional processes underlying political intolerance (Halperin, Canetti-Nisim, and Hirsch-Hoefler 2009; Marcus et al. 2005; Marcus et al. 1995)—processes that may be of unique importance due to both the great motivating power of emotions and to their changeable nature (see Halperin 2014). While these examinations have had considerable impact, research into the emotional antecedents of political intolerance has not fully kept up with the remarkable advances in emotion research in recent years. As we see it, researchers examining the emotional antecedents of political intolerance have employed too wide a brush to illustrate the significance of emotions in political intolerance, whereas current knowledge on emotions allowed a more nuanced and specified approach to emotions and their influence. Consequently, we believe this aspect of political intolerance research has not reached its full potential, either in terms of theory or in terms of empirical evidence. In the present chapter, we will attempt to make an initial step towards filling this gap, by employing insights from the rapidly-accumulating new knowledge on group-based emotions.

Below, we first present Sullivan’s approach to the study of political intolerance, outlining his contributions to its understanding in general and to the understanding of its relation to affect. Next, we discuss existing knowledge on emotional antecedents of political intolerance and present a new, appraisalbased framework for studying discrete emotions and their links to specific forms of intolerance. Finally, with these emotional antecedents in mind, we examine the role emotion regulation may play in promoting political tolerance, reviewing relevant findings and discussing the importance of emotion regulation for the maintenance of tolerant societies.

The Contributions of John L. Sullivan: Illuminating Political Intolerance

In attempting to understand how democracies may survive despite the intergroup hostility prevalent even under democratic regimes, Sullivan and his colleagues adopted a view of political tolerance as a mechanism allowing political opponents to “put up with” one another, even when they do not like or supportone another’s ideas (Sullivan and Transue 1999). Using this understanding, they began examining political intolerance as a content-independent construct, with different people likely to express political intolerance toward different groups depending on their subjective dislike toward those groups. Thus, their approach allowed for a wider theoretical examination of political intolerance, which was complemented by a new methodological approach involving the “least-liked group paradigm,” designed to facilitate a target-neutral examination of political intolerance (Sullivan et al. 1982). This novel mode of examining intolerance led to many important insights. For example, Sullivan and his colleagues found that levels of political intolerance in the United States had not, as previously thought, decreased over the course of the Cold War. Instead, political intolerance had remained highly prevalent, but its targets had shifted (Sullivan et al. 1982).

Sullivan has also had a central role in identifying and laying out various central antecedents of politically intolerant attitudes (reviewed in full in Sullivan and Transue 1999). These antecedents cover a range of interpersonal as well as (limited) structural factors. First, political expertise and participation, embodied in political elites, have been identified as a central component predicting higher levels of political tolerance (Sullivan et al. 1993), perhaps by better attuning politically-sophisticated individuals to the wider meaning of democratic values. Second, and perhaps most relevant to the present chapter, researchers as early as Stouffer ([1955] 1992) have identified threat perceptions as a highly central antecedent of political intolerance (Sullivan et al. 1982, 1985; Gibson 1987; Marcus et al. 1995), conceptualized as both an interpersonal difference in predisposition and as an environment-dependent factor. As the latter, research has identified an important role played by the way in which mass media frame information on groups in society, such that information framed in terms of threat leads to higher levels of political intolerance (Nelson, Clawson, and Oxley 1997). Another interpersonal factor recognized as underlying political intolerance is the extent to which individuals internalize abstract democratic values, especially when adherence to these values is tested by a confrontation with one’s least-liked groups (Lawrence 1976; Sullivan et al. 1982; Gibson and Bingham 1982; McClosky and Brill 1983).

Researchers have also identified personality more broadly as a determinant of political, highlighting traits such as misanthropy, anomie, self-esteem, and flexibility (McClosky and Brill 1983), as well as dogmatism (Gibson 1987; Sullivan et al. 1982), trust (Gibson 1987), and the Big Five dimensions of neuroticism, extroversion, and openness to experience (Marcus et al. 1995). All of the above have been found to positively correlate with political intolerance, with the exception of openness to experience, which negatively correlates with intolerant views, but has nonetheless been identified as the most powerful personality predictor (Marcus et al. 1995). Finally, researchers have also acknowledged wider structural factors such as the context at hand, finding cross-national differences in overall support for political intolerance, due to factors such as the presence or absence of conflict, the stability of a given democracy, or different cultural meanings leading to differences in interpretation of values (Gibson 1992; Gibson, Duch, and Tadin 1992; Sullivan et al. 1985).

The above antecedents, reviewed by Sullivan and Transue in 1999, include several important psychological phenomena, but these are largely limited to individual differences or purely cognitive factors. Nonetheless, in the same review, they also make reference to fear as a central element underlying intolerance (see also: Stephan and Stephan 2001; Stouffer [1955] 1992; Sullivan et al. 1982; Sullivan et al. 1985)—with threat, the first identified antecedent, being a central cognitive appraisal of fear (Lazarus 1982; Roseman 1984). These two indications have been further supported in research by Marcus, Sullivan, and colleagues on the role of affect in political intolerance (Marcus et al. 1995, 2005). According to their reasoning, people’s tendency to support politically— intolerant policies that contradict their democratic beliefs can be explained by the attention-grabbing nature of emotion or mood, chiefly experienced as anxiety in the face of threat (Marcus et al. 1995). Nonetheless, they suggest that rather than simply interfering with logical reasoning, thereby promoting politically-intolerant practices, emotion may at times even play a constructive role in relevant decision making, serving to either increase or decrease political intolerance by focusing people’s attention on certain types of information. They have since demonstrated such effects, finding that affect—and specifically anxiety—indeed influences people’s political decision making in general, and their political intolerance judgments in particular. Their research has found that anxiety increases intolerance toward a specific group among those with no predisposition to dislike that group, but does not affect intolerance among those predisposed to political intolerance toward that group (Marcus et al. 2005). Additionally, they found that anxiety increases the influence of both constructive and destructive persuasive messages on political intolerance, leading people to either more or less political intolerance depending on the message to which they were exposed (Marcus et al. 2005).

This work has placed a spotlight on emotional processes, acknowledging their crucial role in motivating people to support the suppression or protection of others’ political rights. Such realizations are highly important for the understanding of political intolerance. Nonetheless, this work has two major shortcomings: (1) Even though it references anxiety, anger, and hatred when discussing the role of emotion, this research falls short of comprehensively identifying which emotions are implicated in political intolerance and to what end; and (2) By not acknowledging the changeable nature of emotions, it misses an important opportunity to identify the promise held in reducing political intolerance by modifying individuals’ emotional reactions. In both of these respects, research on emotions in general and group-based emotions in particular has made great strides in recent years. These important theoretical and empirical developments may hold important keys for research on political intolerance, and we therefore briefly describe each below.

With regard to the unique effects of discrete emotions, the dominant approach to studying emotions in general for many years focused on distinguishing between emotions by valence, trying to identify the different roles played by positive and negative emotions in explaining human behavior. Consequently, a dominant theory on emotions in political psychology, and the one guiding the research presented above, has been Affective Intelligence Theory (Marcus and MacKuen 1993), which focuses on two to three central emotional systems, rather than attempting to understand the impact of different discrete emotions. But developments in emotion research have highlighted the importance of distinguishing among discrete emotions, because each has its own antecedents, appraisal components, relational themes, and action tendencies (Frijda, Kuipers, and Ter Schure 1989; Lazarus 1991; Manstead and Tetlock 1989; Roseman, Wiest, and Swartz 1994; Smith et al. 1993). Numerous studies conducted in recent years support this approach, demonstrating different effects for discrete emotions of the same valence in the context of intergroup relations and political processes (e.g., Halperin 2011; Halperin et al. 2011; Huddy, Feldman, and Cassese 2007; Lerner and Keltner 2001; Maoz and McCauley 2008; Sabucedo et al. 2011; Skitka et al. 2006; Small, Lerner, and Fischhoff 2006; Spanovic et al. 2010). For example, scholars who have studied Americans’ reactions to the 9/11 terror attacks point toward intergroup anger as a major engine behind support for subsequent militant actions, with fear instead increasing support for defensive rather than offensive measures, in accordance with the unique emotional goals of each of these emotions (Cheung-Blunden and Blunden 2008; Huddy et al. 2007; Lerner et al. 2003; Lerner and Keltner 2000; Skitka et al. 2006).

Beyond the unique features and consequences of discrete emotions, research into emotional processes has in recent years begun focusing on the second feature mentioned above: Their dynamic nature. More specifically, researchers have begun focusing on promoting psychological and attitudinal change through emotion, an approach predicated on the idea that even powerful emotions can be modified. This insight is at the heart of a relatively new field of research in affective science that is concerned with emotion regulation, defined as the processes that influence which emotions we have, when we have them, and how we experience and express these emotions (Gross 1998, 2014). Emotion regulation may increase or decrease the intensity and/or duration of either negative or positive emotions and therefore also influence the behavioral outcomes of these emotions. Most of the research on emotion regulation to date has focused on individuals or dyads, but the insights from such research have also been found applicable to the context of intergroup conflicts. Given that effective strategies of emotion regulation (e.g., reappraisal) allow people to appreciate the broader meaning of events (Ray, Wilhelm, and Gross 2008), leading to a more balanced perspective (Gross 2002), these techniques also hold the potential of increasing political tolerance by influencing the discrete emotions associated with intolerance.

Below, we review work that has begun to address the above shortcoming by integrating both of these developments into research on intergroup relations. Based on these developments, we propose a new approach to the study of emotions and political intolerance.

New Applications of Emotions Research into the Study of Political Intolerance

The Driving Role of Discrete Emotions in Political Intolerance

As explained above, contemporary scholars see emotion as a multidimensional process that involves conscious or unconscious cognitive appraisal, affect, and behavioral aspects (Frijda 2004), with each discrete emotion fueled by different appraisals and thus associated with a particular set of action tendencies (Frijda et al. 1989; Lazarus 1991; Manstead and Tetlock 1989; Roseman et al. 1994; Smith et al. 1993). This approach has been adopted by many prominent emotion researchers in the field of psychology, despite not having penetrated the mainstream of emotion research in political science. Nonetheless, political science in general and the study of political intolerance in particular may greatly benefit from adopting this approach, as understanding the unique behavioral and attitudinal implications of each discrete emotion can be especially valuable for studying and even predicting relevant political outcomes of different kinds. To this end, it is useful to differentiate among three different types of political intolerance, which potentially fulfill different emotional goals: (1) Defensive intolerance, which entails support for limiting the rights of outgroup members so as to protect or safeguard oneself or the ingroup; (2) corrective intolerance, which entails a perception of unjust wrongdoing on behalf of the outgroup and a perception that limiting the rights of its members may serve to right that wrong; and (3) exclusionary intolerance, whereby one supports limiting an outgroup’s rights so as to create the maximal distance between oneself and the outgroup and altogether exclude it from one’s surroundings.

These different types and the motivations associated with each may correspond to the unique features of discrete emotions. Most relevant here are group-based (as opposed to interpersonal) emotions, personal experiences targeted at events, individuals, or social groups, which are felt by individuals as a result of their identification with a certain group or society (Mackie, Devos, and Smith 2000; Wohl, Branscombe, and Klar 2006). In the case of relations between social groups, these emotions are defined as intergroup emotions, that is, emotions that are experienced as a result of the felt belongingness to a certain group and are targeted at another group (Smith, Seger, and Mackie 2007).

Accordingly, research has thus far identified three central negative intergroup emotions that play a fundamental role in political intolerance, either directly or indirectly: fear, anger, and hatred (Capelos and Van Troost 2007; Gibson and Bingham 1982; Halperin et al. 2009; Marcus et al. 1995; Skitka, Bauman, and Mullen 2004). However, as opposed to the classic view of emotions as antecedents of political intolerance, which treats emotions as a continuum between affective edges and thus lumps all three of the emotions mentioned above together, we see much potential in distinguishing among the appraisals and outcomes associated with discrete intergroup emotions.

Seeing as each of the emotions described below is associated with unique emotional goals and consequent behavioral tendencies, its stands to reason that even though all may predict political intolerance, each may predict a unique form of political intolerance. When examining the conceptualization of political intolerance in most of the literature, we can see that the specific items used to measure political intolerance speak mostly to the defensive type of intolerance. Items such as “members of the least-liked group should have their phones tapped by the government” and “members of the least-liked group should be allowed to make a speech in this city,” pertain to one’s (lack of) desire to limit the outgroup’s influence on his or her environment, tapping into individuals’ desires to protect themselves or their group, but other motivations for intolerance may exist as well. Below, we review literature in support of the first argument that different discrete emotions are implicated in political intolerance, and then move to offer ideas suggesting that each discrete emotion leads to a different type of intolerance.

Fear is an aversive emotion which arises in situations of perceived threat or danger to people and their society and enables them to respond to these threats adaptively (Gray 1987). It is frequently accompanied by perceptions of low coping potential and relative weakness (Roseman 1984) and by physiological symptoms of increased heartbeat and perspiration (Rime, Philippot, and Cisamolo 1990). The behavioral aspect of fear has been found to be related to the goal of creating a safer environment and to an avoidance or distancing tendency, classically conceptualized as motivating a “fight or flight” (see Cannon 1932) reaction, meaning the tendency to either confront the fear-eliciting agent or escape from it. Of these two routes, fear very often leads individuals to the latter, motivating highly avoidant behavior (Frijda et al. 1989), which translates into a willingness to prevent any social contact with the fear generator (Cottrell and Neuberg 2005; Frijda et al. 1989).

In the realm of intergroup relations, studies show experiences of fear lead to increased support for risk-aversive and defensive political policies (e.g., Halperin 2011; Lerner et al. 2003), decreased support for confrontational policies (e.g., Huddy et al. 2005; Skitka et al. 2006), and increased motivation to avoid a threatening outgroup (e.g., Pettigrew and Tropp 2006; Pliskin, Sheppes, and Halperin 2015; Skitka et al. 2006). While political intolerance may be onepossible outcome of fear in intergroup conflict, most studies do not point to direct relations between fear and intolerance (for review, see Capelos and Van Troost 2007). On the other hand, empirical evidence does exist about the effect of fear on intolerance through the mediation of variables such as perceived threat, outgroup derogation, or democratic principles (Gibson and Bingham 1982; Marcus et al. 1995; Skitka et al. 2004). This may be because the emotional goal of fear—creating a safer environment—may not directly correspond to political intolerance. Instead, fear can only lead to increased intolerance indirectly, through the mediation of factors that make political intolerance appear like an appropriate means of creating a safe environment.

When would political intolerance be seen as serving this goal? Support for politically-intolerant actions that are defensive within the typology presented above may hold the key to answering this question. As stated above, fear is chiefly associated with defensive emotional goals, mostly in the form of threat avoidance. The reason fear is related to political intolerance is therefore the perceived potential it holds for defending oneself (or one’s social group) from perceived threats from the outgroup. Specifically, defensive intolerance comprises support for policies relating to exclusion, segregation, population transfer or deportation, and restrictions on movement. This kind of intolerance, stemming from fear, would not be directly associated with support for vengeful or exclusionary policies—the desire to limit an outgroup’s position or power stems only from protective considerations. Any intolerant measures would only be supported by fearful individuals to the extent that the measures are perceived, or framed, as fulfilling the emotional goal of creating a safe, threat-free environment. A timely example of defensive intolerance is the increasing support for intolerant policies in the face of an influx of refugees from the Middle East seeking asylum in European countries. Fears of the economic, cultural, or political impact of new immigrants may have led to support for policies such as internment, deportation, limitations on religious attire, and more. Even more pronounced are reactions to existential fears provoked in the wake of terrorist attacks committed by immigrants or members of their social group. Such fears were the central antecedent of public support for the state of emergency imposed in France following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris—a state of emergency that has targeted even Muslim citizens without connections to the Middle East (Toor 2016), and which persisted for two years after the attacks (Serhan 2017). It is important to note that these unique features mean fearful individuals have no real desire to harm outgroup members, only to protect themselves. This suggests that an individual whose intolerance stems from fear would only become more tolerant if he or she perceives that the outgroup no longer poses a substantial threat.

Another relevant emotion is anger, which is a socially-constructed emotion evoked in events in which the individual perceives another individual or group’s actions as unjust, unfair, or as a deviation from acceptable societalnorms (Averill 1983). It involves appraisals of relative strength and high coping potential (Mackie et al. 2000), as well as physiological symptoms of high body temperature and an accelerated heart rate (Roseman and Evdokas 2004). Anger has been found to be related to optimistic risk estimates and to support for initiated actions, even if they carry risk (Lerner and Keltner 2000; Skitka et al. 2004). Accordingly, in many cases it is associated with aggressive behavior (Berkowitz 1993), support for aggressive policies (Pliskin et al. 2014), or attack action tendencies (Roseman 2002). Therefore, its potential relation to political intolerance seems intuitive.

As in the case of fear, empirical studies point only to contingent relations between anger and intolerance (e.g., Skitka et al. 2004). Specifically, Skitka and her colleagues (2004) found that the influence of anger on political intolerance is mediated by moral outrage and outgroup derogation. This may be because the emotional goals underlying anger focus on the willingness to gain a better outcome or improve the behavior of the object, and not necessarily on hurting it (see also Roseman, Copeland, and Fischer 2003), as demonstrated in several studies in recent years (Fischer and Roseman 2007; Halperin 2008). According to this perspective, the aggressive action tendencies associated with anger are only one out of a group of alternative solutions. It seems that anger, like fear, leads to political intolerance only under very specific circumstances.

When trying to understand the unique contribution of anger to political intolerance, it is important to first understand that politically-intolerant policies do not necessarily ensure that a perceived wrongdoing will be corrected. This is because policies that harm a certain group carry the risk of backlash from that group, or even that the group will no longer agree to play by societal “rules of the game”—limiting any corrective prospects. Therefore, we would expect the experience of intergroup anger to predict only corrective intolerance, comprising attitudes in support for punishment or correction that fall within the normative confines of the societal system, such as increased surveillance, more aggressive law and order practices targeted at the outgroup in question, and punitive restrictions of rights (e.g., the voting rights of convicted felons, even though these are very often disproportionately members of a minority group). All of these measures are aimed at signaling to the outgroup that it must correct its (perceived) immoral or unjust behavior, rather than exclude it or weaken it. Thus, politically-intolerant measures would only be supported insofar as they are seen as constructive to the correction of perceived injustices committed by the outgroup at hand, be they violence, crime, undue political influence, or norm violations. Such corrective intolerance stemming from anger may be especially common in the intergroup attitudes of conflicting ideological groups. Each group sees the actions and policies promoted by its political rival as morally unjust and wishes to prevent that group from succeeding in promoting its agenda by means of limiting its access to new publics. Prominent examples of these can be seen in growing intolerance of conflicting political views on college campuses in the United States, with students protesting and often obstructing speeches by representatives of rival political camps and views (Rampell 2016). The unique features of anger mean that an individual whose intolerance stems from this emotion could become more tolerant if he or she perceives the outgroup to be correcting its seemingly unjust ways.

Another emotion referenced in passing by Marcus and colleagues with regard to political intolerance is hatred (Marcus et al. 1995), and we have recently found empirical support for this relationship (Halperin et al. 2009). Hatred is an extreme and continuous emotion which rejects a person or a group in a generalized and totalistic fashion (Ben-Zeev 1992). It involves a restricted amount of negative feeling as well as a stable, wide cognitive spectrum that produces an absolute separation/division between outgroup members and ingroup members (Bartlett 2005). One experiences hatred as a result of recurrent offenses committed against their group: Offenses that are perceived as intentional and as stemming from the stable, evil character of the hated individual or group (Halperin 2008; Royzman, McCauley, and Rozin 2005; Sternberg 2003). Therefore, unlike fear or anger, which are targeted at specific actions or events, hatred is targeted at the fundamental characteristics of the individual or the group (Ben-Ze’ev 1992; Ortony, Clore, and Collins 1988). In other words, haters do not believe in any possibility of improving intergroup relations. As a result, hatred may lead one to dismiss any effort to change the hated individual or group; indeed, hatred consists of a willingness to harm, exclude, or even annihilate the other (Bar-Tai and Teichman 2005; Halperin 2008).

These characteristics make hatred a highly important emotion to consider when trying to understand the psychology' of political intolerance, and specifically the third type of intolerance mentioned above—exclusionary intolerance. Indeed, our examination into the role of hatred revealed that not only is it significantly associated with intolerance, but that, along with perceived threat from the outgroup, it is the most important predictor of this phenomenon (Halperin et al. 2009). Furthermore, this study provided initial evidence that hatred mediated the relationships between political intolerance, conceptualized broadly, and both fear and anger—previously found to be only indirectly related to intolerance. Nonetheless, as with the previous emotions, hatred’s relationship with intolerance was moderated by other important variables, namely, the presence of existential threat and an individual’s political sophistication. These caveats may mean that hatred, too, is associated mostly with a specific type of political intolerance.

Accordingly, we suggest that exclusionary intolerance may be the specific form of intolerance related to the experience of hatred, and it is perhaps the most destructive of the three types discussed here. As mentioned above, hatred is associated with a willingness to harm and even annihilate the other, due to its fundamental appraisal of the other as evil and without the potential to change (Halperin 2008).Thus, individuals experiencing hatred would specifically support measures that are seen as hurting the outgroup or aiding in its exclusion, removal, or even annihilation, regardless of the corrective or defensive potential of such measures and even in the absence of perceived threat or injustice. In other words, while all of the aforementioned measures are potentially hurtful toward the outgroup, but may serve some defensive or corrective goal, exclusionary intolerance should also include support for politically-intolerant measures when it is known that they cannot achieve corrective or defensive purposes. This type of intolerance may even include support for extreme measures such as limiting the rights of entire groups to vote or run for office, barring their appearance in the media, large-scale home demolitions or land confiscation, public humiliation, and more. It is to this type of intolerance that Donald Trump, while campaigning to become president, appealed when he described Muslims as “people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life” (Pilkington 2015) or Mexican immigrants to the United States as “criminals,” “rapists,” and drug dealers, while attributing to them negative intentions toward white Americans by saying they are “laughing at us” (Washington Post Staff 2015). It is important to note that unlike anger or fear, hatred—and consequently exclusionary intolerance—would not be mitigated by any action by the outgroup signaling reduced threat or attempts to correct behavior. Instead, as long as the fundamental appraisals leading to the experience of hatred remain intact, only the disappearance of the outgroup at hand would serve the emotional goals of those whose intolerance is fueled by hatred.

The conceptualizations above, and specifically the examples we bring, illustrate how different emotions—and different emotional appeals—may lead individuals to support undemocratic policies so as to meet their emotional goals. It is not that negative emotion, broadly defined, leads to political intolerance, but rather different discrete negative emotions have different forms of influence on different types of intolerance. Past work on political intolerance has bundled all of these emotions into a single composite—termed anxiety (Marcus et al. 1995,2005)—which blurred these distinctions. We propose that these different influences lead not only to different levels, but also to different types of political intolerance—with potentially different outcomes and different prospects of resolution. This proposition must be examined empirically, with a focus on creating refined, targeted measures of political intolerance, and our conceptual framework aims to set the ground for such research.

Despite the bleak picture that arises from the various motivations that lead individuals to support limiting the rights of others, the above findings also have a clear silver lining, stemming from the changeable nature of emotions. Below we discuss new initial findings on the potential benefits of employing emotion regulation to reduce political intolerance.

Emotion Regulation as an Intolerance-Reducing Intervention

For most individuals living in democratic societies, political intolerance goes against their long-standing democratic convictions (Marcus et al. 1995). Nonetheless, certain emotions that frequently arise in intergroup relations play a central role in the emergence of political intolerance, powerfully motivating people to support policies that limit the democratic rights of disliked groups. This leads to an imbalance between long-standing convictions and ad-hoc support for policies in the wake of emotion-provoking events or information, and this imbalance may be settled in various ways, depending on how it is approached. Therefore, reducing such negative emotions holds the promise of helping to reduce levels of intolerance, reinstating the fragile balance. Drawing on psychological research on emotion regulation, which is concerned with the processes that are engaged when individuals try to influence the emotions they (or others) experience, when they experience them, and how they experience and express the emotions (Gross 2014), we have recently examined this option, trying to understand how useful direct psychological interventions (i.e., the induction of constructive psychological processes as a means to influencing attitudes or behavior) to encourage the regulation of negative intergroup emotions may be in the realm of political intolerance. To this end, we made an attempt to incorporate one of the most influential and exciting developments in the field of affective sciences, namely, the study of emotion regulation, into the scholarly work on political intolerance.

People can regulate their own emotions or make attempts to regulate the emotions of others. Interestingly, only recently have social psychologists acknowledged the fact that the regulation of emotions can focus not just on intra- or interpersonal emotional processes, but also on emotions on the group level (see Goldenberg et al. 2016).This means that emotions that emerge in the context of intergroup processes and other political dynamics can be regulated in ways that are similar (though not identical) to the ways emotions are regulated in interpersonal contexts. To elaborate, a leader can up- or down regulate the emotions of her constituents, group members can make attempts to regulate the emotions of their own group members, and at times people may even try to regulate the emotions of members of other groups. When it comes to political intolerance, emotion regulation seems especially important: The intuitive reactions of individuals and societies alike oftentimes veer toward the negation of the basic rights and political power of opposing group members, and therefore a restraining force is called for in the name of safeguarding democratic values and norms.

People regulate their emotions in order to either feel better (i.e., experience more positive and less negative emotions) or serve specific goals they believe certain emotional experiences can promote (Tamir 2009). Within the political context, recent studies have shown that people are sometimes motivated to experience emotions that are considered unpleasant as long as they believe that these emotions can promote their ideologies and political goals (Porat, Halperin, and Tamir 2016).

The classic literature on emotion regulation describes five families of emotion regulation processes—situation selection, situation modification.

attentional deployment, cognitive change, and response modulation—distinguished by the point in the emotion generative process at which they have their primary impact (Gross 1998). Of the five families, our empirical work in recent years has focused on cognitive reappraisal, a strategy that involves changing a situation’s meaning in a way that alters its emotional impact (Gross 2002). We had previously seen reappraisal-based educational interventions to be useful in reducing negative intergroup emotions (Halperin and Gross 2011; Halperin et al. 2013), leading us to believe such interventions may indirectly influence levels of political intolerance as well. We proposed that reappraisal would be especially suitable for promoting political tolerance, as it is capable of drawing attention to the broader meaning or consequences of events (Ray et al. 2008), leading to a more balanced perspective (Gross 2002). As such, in the tension between forming reactions to an outgroup’s perceived provocations based on long-standing adherence to general democratic values at one extreme, or based on one’s automatic and mostly negative emotional reactions, we proposed that cognitive reappraisal has the potential of orienting people toward the former rather than the latter.

In three studies, we found support for this proposition (Halperin, Pliskin et al. 2014). First,Jewish-Israeli participants with a greater self-reported tendency to use cognitive reappraisal during wartime were also more supportive of anti-war protesters’ right to criticize Israel during the war. Second, rightist participants from the same population who were given short instructions on how to reappraise their emotions (i.e.,the intervention to promote the use of cognitive reappraisal) prior to reading a negative emotion-inducing text about Palestinian citizens of Israel experienced lower levels of negative emotion toward this minority group (compared to participants who read neutral instructions) and also had lower scores on a measure of political intolerance. Finally, all Israelis who read similar instructions prior to reading a negative emotion-inducing text about their own least-liked group in society showed the same pattern, experiencing lower levels of negative emotion and expressing reduced support for measures that would limit the political rights of their least-liked group. Interestingly, in the final study described, the reduction in political intolerance was mediated not only by reduced levels of negative emotion, but also by increased support for abstract democratic principles. Thus, it appears that the reappraisal intervention served to both decrease levels of negative emotion and call participants’ attention to the wider meaning of things—two processes that may be necessary to combat political intolerance (Halperin, Pliskin et al. 2014).

These findings fit well with prior knowledge on political intolerance. For one, two of the antecedents reviewed by Sullivan and Transue (1999) may in themselves speak to emotion regulation processes: (1) Political sophistication, which often involved reconsideration (and therefore reappraisal) of new information based on alternative information, and (2) framing effects (Nelson et al. 1997), which serve to provide the appraisals for new information and therefore determine its emotional impact, with reappraisal allowing for a modification of this impact. Furthermore, in the early days of research into political intolerance, Prothro and Grigg (1960) found a broad consensus among their participants endorsing the principles of democracy more abstractly, but no such consensus when attempting to apply these principles to specific groups and cases. This approach is not without its limitations, especially due to the many obstacles in place to implementing widescale interventions on a societal level, which would be needed for such interventions to have any real impact. Furthermore, in our examination of the effect of reappraisal on political intolerance, we examined only its immediate outcomes, and the long-term effects may not be as clear. Nonetheless, research on reappraisal-based interventions in other intergroup contexts has demonstrated long-term benefits in addition to immediate effects, and so we believe this approach holds great promise. If reappraisal can simultaneously call attention to these wider, more abstract meanings, and reduce levels of the highly-motivating negative emotions at the heart of political intolerance, the promise it holds for the advancement of democratic values as applied to all groups in society is substantial.

Summary and Discussion: A Tolerant Society Is an Emotion-Regulated Society

Adhering to values of political tolerance is a huge challenge for citizens living in democracies at large, and specifically for those living in unstable and politically or ethnically divided societies. The challenge stems from the inherent conflict between the aspiration to ensure the minority rights guaranteed by democracy on one hand, and the natural instinct to gain more political power by limiting the access of outgroups to such power on the other hand, especially when those outgroups’ statements or actions provoke strong negative emotions. The second motive may at times be magnified by the willingness to hurt disliked outgroups as an expression of anger or way of coping with the perceived threats posed by them. As such, the political intolerance dilemma highlights the conflict between values and emotions in its most explicit form.

Previous studies by Sullivan and colleagues, as well as by others, highlighted the role of negative emotions in orienting people toward the less tolerant side of the spectrum. We praise this work and see it as pioneering, as it has brilliantly incorporated theories and methods from affective sciences into the study of politics broadly speaking and into the study of political intolerance more specifically. At the same time, from a critical point of view, we believe that unfortunately scholars in our field of political psychology have been rather slow in incorporating more updated developments in affective science research, and thus fail to capture the full range of emotional dynamics in an important political phenomenon such as political intolerance. In the current chapter, we suggest that two important developments in the rapidly developing field of affective sciences may help us to better understand processes leading to the emergence and perpetuation of political intolerance.

First, we suggest that a better understanding of the role discrete intergroup emotions play in processes leading to political intolerance may radically improve our understanding of intolerant tendencies and actions. In line with recent developments in the study of discrete emotions, mainly but not exclusively based on appraisal theories of emotions, we argue that trying to paint emotional processes involved in political intolerance with strokes that are too wide (i.e., negative vs. positive emotions, anxiety vs. calm), oftentimes misses important details of the overall picture. Accordingly, we offered in this chapter a new framework distinguishing among three types of political intolerance, each one driven by a different discrete emotion: Fear (defensive intolerance), anger (corrective intolerance), and hatred (exclusionary intolerance). We believe that although the actual political expressions of these three types of intolerance widely overlap, their underlying motivations and mechanisms are different, and therefore the way to address each of them politically and psychologically should be highly specific. Future studies should empirically validate the existence of these three types of intolerance and, perhaps more importantly, try to reveal ways to more distinctively deal with each and every one of them. Recent work on indirect emotion regulation of discrete intergroup emotions may inspire such important attempts (see Halperin, Cohen-Chen, and Goldenberg 2014 for a review).

Finally, we see immense promise in the integration of recent work on emotion regulation into the study of political intolerance, for several reasons. First, we feel that it is our normative obligation as political psychologists to go beyond the description or the understanding of the problem and to try and find ways to address it. Second, as the field of emotion regulation undergoes such rapid developments, we believe that it is critical to find ways to implement it on large scales among the masses and within the political context. In a way, although we realize that democratic values are critical for preserving democratic culture and regimes, we also believe that emotion regulation processes are critical for the way people living in such regimes cope with statements and actions that induce in them extreme versions of negative emotions. As such, we propose that tolerant societies are societies that individually and collectively cope better with negative intergroup emotions. The road to addressing these challenging goals began with Sullivan’s seminal work on political intolerance and its various antecedents, among them anxiety. This work set an orientation for other political psychologists and allows us and others today to continue on the same path by integrating contemporary insights from affective sciences into the understanding of political intolerance, as well as toward the formulation of more effective and more wide-reaching interventions to increase and maintain political tolerance.


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