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Experienced Adversity in Life Is Associated With Polarized and Affirmed Political Attitudes

  • Author(s): Randles, D;
  • Heine, SJ;
  • Poulin, M;
  • Silver, RC
  • et al.

Many studies find that when made to feel uncertain, participants respond by affirming importantly held beliefs. However, while theories argue that these effects should persist over time for highly disruptive experiences, almost no research has been performed outside the lab. We conducted a secondary analysis of data from a national sample of U.S. adults (N = 1,613) who were followed longitudinally for 3 years. Participants reported lifetime and recent adversities experienced annually, as well as their opinions on a number of questions related to intergroup hostility and aggression toward out-groups, similar to those used in many lab studies of uncertainty. We anticipated that those who had experienced adversity would show more extreme support for their position. There was a positive relationship between adversity and the tendency to strongly affirm and polarize their positions. Results suggest that adverse life events may lead to long-lasting changes in one’s tendency to polarize one’s political attitudes.

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