A recent Psychological Science article by Jia, Karpen, and Hirt (2011)* found that individuals’ opposition to building a Mosque at ground zero (which was actually an Islamic community center but mislabeled by many) and perceived area surrounding Ground Zero in which it was not appropriate to build a Mosque increased as U.S. Group deference increased among individuals. But this effect only occurred when America was portrayed as on the decline. When America was portrayed as on the rise, this effect washed out.
This result affirms a longstanding theory in social psychology, namely that derogation of one’s out-group often occurs in order to increase the status of one’s in-group. Just refer to classical theory on Social Identity Theory. The idea here is that one’s in-group is an extension of one’s self, and thus we are motivated to protect our in-group’s status. Unfortunately, this is sometimes achieved through derogating one’s out-group. What is interesting about these results is that an effect that was so strongly portrayed in the media essentially washes out when America is viewed as being on the rise. Story made short: Groups who are doing well are, well, nicer?
My question is, when does this not occur? In other words, we may no longer feel the need to derogate out-groups or at the very least view their symbolic buildings as threats to our own in-group if we are “on the rise,” but does the out-group derogation simply wash away when all is swell within our in-group? My initial thought is no. This is why minorities have historically been and continue to be oppressed. But the question is, what determines when we oppose certain efforts of minorities and when we oppose the minorities themselves? Furthermore, how do we reduce this bias?
I think Jia et al.’s (2011) study helps shed some light on the issue. The goal is to focus on your in-group’s successes, but not to the detriment of other groups. I would like to see if attitudes specifically towards Muslims themselves are more malleable than support for a structure representing Muslims when status of a group changes. In other words, when America is viewed as on the rise, are attitudes toward Muslims more or less positive or do they not change? This is, fortunately, an empirical question. One that requires more inquiry and examination to understand more fully. Never the less, it seems that a successful American is a less anti-Mosque near Ground Zero American.
*Jia, L., Karpen, S.C., & Hirt, E.R. (2011). Beyond anti-Muslim sentiment: Opposing ground zero mosque as a means to pursuing a stronger America. Psychological Science, 22(10), 1327-1335.