“Terrorist” or “Mentally Ill”: Motivated Biases Rooted in Partisanship Shape Attributions About Violent Actors

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We investigated whether motivated reasoning rooted in partisanship affects the attributions individuals make about violent attackers’ underlying motives and group memberships. Study 1 demonstrated that on the day of the Brexit referendum pro-leavers (vs. pro-remainers) attributed an exculpatory (i.e., mental health) versus condemnatory (i.e., terrorism) motive to the killing of a pro-remain politician. Study 2 demonstrated that pro-immigration (vs. anti-immigration) perceivers in Germany ascribed a mental health (vs. terrorism) motive to a suicide attack by a Syrian refugee, predicting lower endorsement of punitiveness against his group (i.e., refugees) as a whole. Study 3 experimentally manipulated target motives, showing that Americans distanced a politically motivated (vs. mentally ill) violent individual from their in-group and assigned him harsher punishment—patterns most pronounced among high-group identifiers.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)485-493
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 01.05.2019
Externally publishedYes