tilburg belief systems lab – research

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Here 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 and so watch this space for more news about this exciting line of work.

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 recently been extended to religious fundamentalism (Brandt & van Tongeren, in press). 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.

Related Publications

  • Brandt, M. J. (2017). Predicting ideological prejudice. Psychological Science, 28, 712-722. [PDF | SOM | Replication Package]
  • Brandt, M. J. & van Tongeren, D. R. (2017). People both high and low on religious fundamentalism are prejudiced towards dissimilar groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112, 76-97. [PDF | Replication Package | Coverage by BPS]
  • Brandt, M. J., Chambers, J. R., Crawford, J. T., Wetherell, G., & Reyna, C. (2015). Bounded openness: The effect of openness to experience on intolerance is moderated by target group conventionality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109, 549-568. [PDF | Replication PackageFigure 5]
  • Brandt, M. J., Evans, A. M., & Crawford, J. T. (2015). The unthinking or confident extremist? Political extremists are more likely to reject experimenter-generated anchors than moderates. Psychological Science, 26, 189-202. [PDF | SOM | Replication Package | Figure 2, Panel A |Coverage in HuffPo]
  • Brandt, M. J., Reyna, C., Chambers, J., Crawford, J., & Wetherell, G. (2014). The ideological-conflict hypothesis: Intolerance among both liberals and conservatives. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 27-34. [PDF Main Figure]
  • Brandt, M. J., Wetherell, G., & Crawford, J. T. (2016). Moralization and intolerance of ideological outgroups. In Joseph P. Forgas, Lee Jussim, & Paul van Lange (Eds.) The Social Psychology of Morality (pp. 239-256). New York: Routledge. [PDF]
  • Crawford, J. T., Brandt, M. J., Inbar, Y., Chambers, J. R., & Motyl, M. (2017). Social and economic ideologies differentially predict prejudice across the political spectrum, but social issues are most divisive. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112, 383-412. [PDF | SOM]

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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 interesting 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.

Related Publications

  • Brandt, M. J. (2013). Do the disadvantaged legitimize the social system? A large-scale test of the status-legitimacy hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 765-785. [PDF | Replication Package |Footnote 7 Results | Footnote 9 Results | reanalyses suggested by John Jost | powerlessness, rather than low status?]
  • Brandt, M. J., & Henry, P. J. (2012a). Gender inequality and gender differences in authoritarianism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1301-1315. [PDF]
  • Brandt, M. J., & Henry, P. J. (2012b). Psychological defensiveness as a mechanism explaining the relationship between low socioeconomic status and religiosity. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 22, 321-332. [PDF]
  • Brandt, M. J., Henry, P. J., & Wetherell, G. W. (2015). The relationship between authoritarianism and life satisfaction changes depending on stigmatized status. Social Psychology and Personality Science, 6, 219-228. [PDF | SOM | Replication Package]
  • Brandt, M. J. & Reyna, C. (2017). Individual differences in the resistance to social change and acceptance of inequality predict system legitimacy differently depending on the social structure. European Journal of Personality, 31, 266-278. [PDF | Replication Package]
  • Brandt, M. J., Wetherell, G., & Henry, P.J. (2015). Changes in income predict change in social trust: A longitudinal analysis. Political Psychology, 36, 761-768. [PDF | Footnote 1 Results | Replication Package]
  • Spälti, A. K., Brandt, M. J., & Zeelenberg, M. (2017). Memory retrieval processes help explain the incumbency advantage. Judgment and Decision Making, 12, 173-182. [PDF | SOM | Replication Package]

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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., preprint).

Related Publications

  • Brandt, M. J., & Reyna, C. (2011). The chain of being: A hierarchy of morality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 428-446. [PDF]
  • Brandt, M. J., & Wetherell, G. (2012). What attitudes are moral attitudes? The case for heritability. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 172-179. [PDF]
  • Brandt, M. J., Wisneski, D., & Skitka, L. (2015) Moralization and the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election campaign. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 3, 211-237. [PDF | HTML | SOM | Replication Package]
  • Hofmann, W., Wisneski, D. C., Brandt, M. J., & Skitka, L. J. (2014) Morality in everyday life. Science, 345, 1340-1343. [PDFReplication Package | Coverage in NYT, Wired, Science | a critical commentary & our reply]
  • Skitka, L. J., Wisneski, D. C., & Brandt, M. J. (in press). Attitude moralization: Probably not intuitive or rooted in perceptions of harm. Current Directions in Psychological Science. [PDF]
  • Wagemans, F. M. A., Brandt, M. J., & Zeelenberg, M. (in press). Disgust sensitivity is primarily associated with purity-based moral judgments. Emotion. [PDF | SOM]

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5. Improving Psychological Science

Psychological science, and social psychology in particular, has faced a number of crises over the last several years. We won’t always live up to our high expectations for a solid science, but the best 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.

Related Publications

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