tilburg belief systems lab – research

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research

At the Belief Systems Lab we study belief systems from several angles. A full list of lab publications is on the publications page.

  1. Belief System Networks
  2. Worldview Conflict
  3. Social Status and Power
  4. Morality and Moralization
  5. Improving Psychological Science

Contrary to some scholars’ expectations (Bell, 1960), the end of ideology has yet to arrive. Conflicts over political, religious, and moral disagreements are a defining characteristic of our time. In the Netherlands, Europe, and the United States, these conflicts arise over political and religious issues, such as the role of government in healthcare, gun control, immigration, and abortion.  Our research tries to understand the root causes of these ideological conflicts by studying how political, religious, and moral beliefs structure people’s attitudes and behaviors and provide people with a sense of meaning.

1. Belief System Networks

The lab’s newest line of work is trying to push the idea that we can understand belief systems as systems. From this perspective, rather than modeling belief systems like latent variables, we should be modeling belief systems as networks of interconnected attitudes and values. This can help us understand the structure of belief systems, how they connect with personality, perceived threats, and prejudice, and connect work on belief systems with other types of dynamic systems. The first results are currently being written up.

Hypothetical belief system network
Hypothetical belief system network

2. Worldview Conflict

If we take psychological findings about political and religious belief systems at face value, we predict that people with more traditional belief systems are more likely to be prejudiced, intolerant, and sensitive to group boundaries compared to people with more liberal or progressive belief systems. This view is consistent with the idea that conservatives tend to be higher on need for closure and more sensitive to threat compared to liberals. We have challenged this prevailing view with our work on the ideological-conflict hypothesis (Brandt et al., 2014). We find that both liberals and conservatives will be equally intolerant of groups with differing political worldviews (Wetherell, Brandt, & Reyna, 2013). The effect has been extended to religious fundamentalism (Brandt & van Tongeren, 2017). The impact of ideology is so strong that we find it can cause intolerance in people who profess to be open to experiences (Brandt et al, 2015). This challenges the traditional social psychological view on both prejudice and political polarization, suggesting that our current models of belief systems are incomplete. (back to top)

3. System Justification & The Status Quo

People have a pervasive tendency to support the status quo, a finding that is consistent across psychological subdisciplines including judgment and decision making, social psychology, and political psychology. In the lab, we are interested in this from two directions. First, we are interested in how power and social status predict support for the status quo (Brandt, 2013). Currently, we are building on this work by conducting a large and international study with over 60 collaborators from around the world that will test a number of potential moderators of the association between status, power, and legitimacy among individuals and between countries. Second, we are interested in the cognitive processes that bolster such status quo biases. One approach looks at how how memory retrieval processes might underly support for the status quo (Spälti et al., 2017). In general, the goal is understand the precise processes, so that these biases can be reduced. (back to top)

4. Morality and Moralization

Moral and immoral events are common and play an important role in people’s emotional lives and in their sense of wellbeing and belonging (Hofman, Wisneski, Brandt & Skitka, 2014). How do people come to hold onto their moral beliefs in the first place and why are they such a powerful factor? We have studied this question by focusing on moralization, which is when an attitude, idea, or behavior acquires moral relevance over time (Brandt, Wisneski, & Skitka, 2015), and by trying to understand the precise mechanisms linking disgust with harsher moral judgments (Wagemans et al., 2018). (back to top)

5. Improving Psychological Science

Psychological science, and social psychology in particular, has faced a number of challenges over the last several years. We won’t always live up to our high expectations for a solid science, but my preferred response is to try our best to do better in terms of the replicability of our results, the robustness of our methods, and the quality of our theories. (back to top)