An Existential Function of Enemyship: Evidence That People Attribute Influence to Personal and Political Enemies to Compensate for Threats to Control

Daniel L Sullivan, Mark J. Landau, Zachary K. Rothschild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

109 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Perceiving oneself as having powerful enemies, although superficially disagreeable, may serve an important psychological function. On the basis of E. Becker's (1969) existential theorizing, the authors argue that people attribute exaggerated influence to enemies as a means of compensating for perceptions of reduced control over their environment. In Study 1, individuals dispositionally low in perceived control responded to a reminder of external hazards by attributing more influence to a personal enemy. In Study 2, a situational threat to control over external hazard strengthened participants' belief in the conspiratorial power of a political enemy. Examining moderators and outcomes of this process, Study 3 showed that participants were especially likely to attribute influence over life events to an enemy when the broader social system appeared disordered, and Study 4 showed that perceiving an ambiguously powerful enemy under conditions of control threat decreased perceptions of external risk and bolstered feelings of personal control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-449
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume98
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Emotions
Outcome Assessment (Health Care)
threat
Psychology
evidence
moderator
social system
Power (Psychology)
event

Keywords

  • control
  • enemyship
  • existential psychology
  • risk perception
  • system belief

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Psychology

Cite this

@article{19d83b87b6c5489fbb9a0374a0abf2a4,
title = "An Existential Function of Enemyship: Evidence That People Attribute Influence to Personal and Political Enemies to Compensate for Threats to Control",
abstract = "Perceiving oneself as having powerful enemies, although superficially disagreeable, may serve an important psychological function. On the basis of E. Becker's (1969) existential theorizing, the authors argue that people attribute exaggerated influence to enemies as a means of compensating for perceptions of reduced control over their environment. In Study 1, individuals dispositionally low in perceived control responded to a reminder of external hazards by attributing more influence to a personal enemy. In Study 2, a situational threat to control over external hazard strengthened participants' belief in the conspiratorial power of a political enemy. Examining moderators and outcomes of this process, Study 3 showed that participants were especially likely to attribute influence over life events to an enemy when the broader social system appeared disordered, and Study 4 showed that perceiving an ambiguously powerful enemy under conditions of control threat decreased perceptions of external risk and bolstered feelings of personal control.",
keywords = "control, enemyship, existential psychology, risk perception, system belief",
author = "Sullivan, {Daniel L} and Landau, {Mark J.} and Rothschild, {Zachary K.}",
year = "2010",
month = "3",
doi = "10.1037/a0017457",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "98",
pages = "434--449",
journal = "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology",
issn = "0022-3514",
publisher = "American Psychological Association Inc.",
number = "3",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - An Existential Function of Enemyship

T2 - Evidence That People Attribute Influence to Personal and Political Enemies to Compensate for Threats to Control

AU - Sullivan, Daniel L

AU - Landau, Mark J.

AU - Rothschild, Zachary K.

PY - 2010/3

Y1 - 2010/3

N2 - Perceiving oneself as having powerful enemies, although superficially disagreeable, may serve an important psychological function. On the basis of E. Becker's (1969) existential theorizing, the authors argue that people attribute exaggerated influence to enemies as a means of compensating for perceptions of reduced control over their environment. In Study 1, individuals dispositionally low in perceived control responded to a reminder of external hazards by attributing more influence to a personal enemy. In Study 2, a situational threat to control over external hazard strengthened participants' belief in the conspiratorial power of a political enemy. Examining moderators and outcomes of this process, Study 3 showed that participants were especially likely to attribute influence over life events to an enemy when the broader social system appeared disordered, and Study 4 showed that perceiving an ambiguously powerful enemy under conditions of control threat decreased perceptions of external risk and bolstered feelings of personal control.

AB - Perceiving oneself as having powerful enemies, although superficially disagreeable, may serve an important psychological function. On the basis of E. Becker's (1969) existential theorizing, the authors argue that people attribute exaggerated influence to enemies as a means of compensating for perceptions of reduced control over their environment. In Study 1, individuals dispositionally low in perceived control responded to a reminder of external hazards by attributing more influence to a personal enemy. In Study 2, a situational threat to control over external hazard strengthened participants' belief in the conspiratorial power of a political enemy. Examining moderators and outcomes of this process, Study 3 showed that participants were especially likely to attribute influence over life events to an enemy when the broader social system appeared disordered, and Study 4 showed that perceiving an ambiguously powerful enemy under conditions of control threat decreased perceptions of external risk and bolstered feelings of personal control.

KW - control

KW - enemyship

KW - existential psychology

KW - risk perception

KW - system belief

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=77649124258&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=77649124258&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1037/a0017457

DO - 10.1037/a0017457

M3 - Article

C2 - 20175623

AN - SCOPUS:77649124258

VL - 98

SP - 434

EP - 449

JO - Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

JF - Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

SN - 0022-3514

IS - 3

ER -