When Ideology Meets Conflict-Related Content: Influences on Emotion Generation and Regulation

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Abstract

Do rightists and leftists experience information about suffering and harm with differing emotional intensities, depending on the identity of target depicted? Do they consequently choose differently how to regulate or cope with these emotions? Research has identified ideological differences in emotional processes, but it has yet to identify what types of content lead to ideological differences in emotional intensity or whether these content-dependent differences relate to differing preferences for engaging versus disengaging emotion-regulation strategies. We posited that right–left differences in experienced emotional intensity would be context-dependent, emerging mostly in response to depictions of harm to the outgroup, in accordance with the centrality of intergroup attitudes to ideological self-placement in conflict. Study 1 (N = 83) supported this hypothesis, with leftists (vs. rightists) experiencing outgroup harm (but not ingroup harm or conflict-irrelevant harm) with greater emotional intensity. Study 2 (N = 101), which replicated this finding, additionally examined whether behavioral differences in regulatory choice consequently emerge mostly regarding outgroup harm. We tested 2 competing hypotheses as to the nature of these differences: (a) the intensity hypothesis, positing that leftists (more than rightists) would regulate their intensified reactions to outgroup harm through disengagement–distraction (vs. engagement–reappraisal) due to a documented greater preference for disengaging coping strategies as intensity increases, and (b) the motivation hypothesis, positing that leftists (more than rightists) would prefer engagement–reappraisal (vs. disengagement–distraction), consistent with leftists’ documented greater preference for intergroup empathy. Results exclusively supported the intensity hypothesis, and the significance of both studies is discussed.

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