The Search for Significance Leads to Political Violence Only When it is Coupled With a Sense of Victimhood

Hameiri, B. (University of Pennsylvania and Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab), Moore-Berg, S. (University of Pennsylvania and Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab), Bruneau, E. G., (University of Pennsylvania and Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab)

The Significance Quest Theory (SQT; e.g., Kruglanski et al., 2009) suggests that the desire to feel significant is a fundamental human need, and when deprived of this need, people become motivated to restore it. According to SQT, this could happen by radicalising and resorting to extreme actions, such as supporting or engaging in political violence. We argue, however, that the theory and empirical evidence that support it fall short in explaining when search for significance will lead to engaging in political violence, as it is plausible that the need to feel significant will lead to engaging in other, more benign, forms of action. In a pre-registered study (N = 393), we examined the hypothesis that what moderates the relationship between search for significance and political violence is a sense of being a victim, or victimhood. We found that searching for significance led to support and willingness to engage in political violence only when participants scored high on the tendency for interpersonal victimhood. When victimhood was low, search for significance did not predict support for political violence. These findings call for the development of a more nuanced theory for radicalisation and give way to potential new interventions to combat radicalisation.

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Conflict and Morality