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Uncertainty and Extremism

Summary and Keywords

Uncertainty regarding the self—about who we are, our place in the world, and our future is typically an unsettling and aversive state. It is a state that we are motivated to reduce in order to gain predictability over events in the world around us. One of the most effective ways of managing uncertainty regarding the self is by seeking group memberships and belonging to groups. Thus, uncertainty reduction can be construed as a drive, such that we join and identify with groups in order to manage uncertainty about and related to the self; this is the core tenet of uncertainty-identity theory, which discusses uncertainty reduction as one of the motives for seeking group memberships.

Previous work in uncertainty-identity theory has shown that when uncertain about the self, individuals seek highly entitative groups to identify with. Such groups are characterized by clear, distinct boundaries—a clear sense of what the group stands for while spelling out who we are versus who we are not. Highly entitative groups have interdependent members and a clear sense of identity that is distinct from those of other groups. According to uncertainty-identity theory, identifying with such groups can reduce self-uncertainty, as individuals can define the self in terms of a clear, distinct prototype and manage uncertainty regarding who they are. Research in uncertainty-identity theory shows that when uncertain, group members perceptually polarize their group away from the outgroup in order to enhance the perceived entitativity and distinctiveness of their group prototype relative to other groups. Thus, the group moves to an extreme and polarized position that is far removed from that of an outgroup with the need to fashion a distinctive identity. The preference for a clearly defined and highly entitative social identity that helps delineate who we are versus who we are not when group members are self-uncertain should increase group members’ vulnerability to ingroup rhetoric that emphasizes the distinctiveness of group boundaries and an us versus them thinking. This is a dangerous trend, especially in the context of intergroup conflict, as influential group members, such as leaders, might seek to mobilize group members by demonizing outgroup members while attributing suffering and unpredictability experienced by ingroup members to the actions of outgroup members. Thus, gaining an understanding of the processes through which the uncertainty of group members is exploited to mobilize support for extreme ideologies might be one way to explain extremism and radical behavior by groups.

Keywords: uncertainty, social identity, intergroup distinctiveness, leadership, entitativity, extremism, intergroup communication

Uncertainty-Identity Theory: Uncertainty and Belonging

Why do people join groups, identify with social categories, and feel the need to be members of collectives? According to social identity theory (e.g., Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987; also see Abrams & Hogg, 2010; Hogg, 2017; Hogg & Abrams, 1988), we derive aspects of ourselves from our group memberships; in other words, our group memberships are essential for self-definition, as we define ourselves in terms of the groups we belong to and identify with. Groups, according to social identity theory, also provide us with positive esteem (Abrams & Hogg, 1988), as through intergroup comparisons, we strive to be better than them, at the same time allowing us to maintain an identity that is distinct and different from theirs. Thus, a key motive for social identification among individuals is positive intergroup distinctiveness, that is, to identify with a distinct, well-defined identity that is clearly delineated from and more positive than that of an outgroup identity. Moreover, identifying with groups and categorizing others and ourselves in line with group memberships, helps us make sense of complex social stimuli according to self-categorization theory (Turner et al., 1987). That is, we reduce a whole plethora of social stimuli into manageable information by categorizing others as either ingroup members, based on whether they fit in the group we identify with; or as outgroup members, based on outgroup category fit.

This chapter examines the extent to which seeking group memberships and belonging in groups acts as a panacea for managing uncertainty about subjectively important matters, such as uncertainty regarding and about the self-concept, who we are, and our place in the world. Given that identifying with groups and defining the self in line with group memberships presents one of the reasons why we seek belonging in groups, when we feel uncertain about the self, one of the ways we can manage such uncertainty is by seeking clearly defined social identities. These very processes are outlined by uncertainty-identity theory (Hogg, 2000, 2007, 2009), which was developed within the broad framework of social identity theory and relies on a self-categorization based explanation to discuss how categorizing oneself in groups can help in the management of self-related uncertainty. Uncertainty-identity theory will be used as the guiding theoretical framework in this chapter as it discusses how individuals manage uncertainty regarding the self. Further, it will also discuss the theoretical processes that explain why highly uncertain individuals seek and identify with groups that are well defined, tight-knit, entitative, very distinct, and have directive and authoritarian leadership, and might thus appear to be radical or extreme. In doing so, the chapter will discuss how heightened uncertainty among group members can be utilized to mobilize group members against the outgroup by influential ingroup sources such as leaders and the media.

According to uncertainty-identity theory, uncertainty about who we are, our place in the world, our future, is aversive and unsettling (e.g., Hogg, 2000, 2007, 2009). By belonging to groups and viewing ourselves as members of a group and as distinct from members of other groups, we are able to gain an understanding of who we are relative to them. This helps reduce uncertainty regarding the self-concept by locating ourselves through our group memberships in the world around us, helping us understand where we stand relative to others—as similar to ingroup others and dissimilar to outgroup others.

Uncertainty according to uncertainty-identity theory is a drive that individuals are motivated to reduce, and this drive to reduce uncertainty, rests on three premises (Hogg, 2012). First, individuals should be motivated to reduce uncertainty regarding the self: in other words, not all uncertainty that is experienced will be aversive. At times, not being certain about what to expect can be viewed as a challenge in fact. However, at other times, uncertainty can be threatening and viewed as aversive, especially when we feel we have few resources to deal with the situation at hand (e.g., Hogg, 2009). Such aversive uncertainty, especially when it is about or regarding the self can be brought on by the context the individual lives in, for instance, by a personal crisis, unemployment, and societal circumstances such as war, intergroup conflict, and violent relations between groups. Individuals should thus be motivated to reduce such uncertainty about the self.

The second premise states that individuals seek group memberships and identification with groups to reduce uncertainty regarding the self and the self-concept. That is, individuals either seek new groups or identify more strongly with existing group memberships to manage self-uncertainty. Self-categorization as a group member and identification with groups helps individuals manage uncertainty regarding the self, as by assigning group attributes to the self, individuals can define the self in line with the prototypical attributes of the group (Hogg, 2009). The group prototype represents the ideal position within groups and describes and prescribes the normative ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving for group members. Moreover, such prototypes help us represent our group memberships cognitively; thus, when a specific group membership is salient in our minds, group prototypes serves as guides to thinking, feeling, behaving, and organizing social stimuli and thus can serve as normative ingroup guides that help us manage uncertainty about who we are.

An important characteristic of ingroup prototypes is that they work according to the metacontrast principle (e.g., see Abrams & Hogg, 1990), that is, the ingroup prototype represents the position within groups that maximizes differences between groups and minimizes differences within groups. Thus, prototypes that are clear and well defined help maintain intergroup distinctiveness, fashioning well-defined and distinct identities and distinct intergroup boundaries that separate the ingroup from the outgroup.

The third premise of uncertainty-identity theory is drawn from this last point—groups that are characterized by clear prototypes, well-defined boundaries, and are close-knit within, in other words, are highly entitative (e.g., see Campbell, 1958; Hamilton & Sherman, 1996; Lickel et al., 2000), are especially successful at helping individuals manage uncertainty (Hogg, 2012; Hogg & Adelman, 2013). Entitative groups by virtue of providing group members with distinct identities that are clearly delineated from outgroup boundaries, provide clear, well-defined prototypes that can be assigned to the self by group members to manage self-uncertainty.

In two studies, Hogg, Sherman, Dierselhuis, Maitner, and Moffitt (2007) showed that when individuals feel uncertain about the self they identify more strongly with groups, especially groups that are higher in entitativity. Moreover, Sherman, Hogg, and Maitner (2009) in two studies found that when individuals within highly entitative groups (relative to low entitative groups) were made to feel uncertain about the self, they enhanced the perceived polarization between their group and the outgroup. Thus, under heightened uncertainty, when individuals viewed their group as highly entitative, they perceived greater intergroup distance from an outgroup, thereby exaggerating the perceived distinctiveness of their social identity. Results showed that when individuals felt heightened self-uncertainty, they enhanced the perceptual entitativity of their ingroup by polarizing their group away from the outgroup, thereby perceptually enhancing the distinctiveness between the two groups. Thus, groups that are structured around a clear purpose, have distinct intergroup boundaries, wherein members are bonded together with an experience of common fate, and are defined by a distinct notion of who we are versus who we are not are especially attractive when individuals experience heightened self-uncertainty. On the other hand, groups that are diffuse, have unclear goals, do not have a common platform or agenda that brings members together, and are not distinct enough from other groups, and thus low in entitativity, are less successful at reducing uncertainty among group members.

While the perceived entitativity of groups is a key moderator in the relationship between levels of experienced uncertainty and identification with the group as we have seen (e.g., see Hogg et al., 2007), in the next section the chapter examines how the inclination to identify with entitative groups under heightened uncertainty can be linked to extremism by groups and the mobilization of group members against a chosen outgroup.

From Entitativity to Extremism: Mobilizing Hate

Entitativity is a perceptual quality of groups, which is determined by the extent to which the group appears distinct in an intergroup context and comprises members who are highly similar, interdependent, and share common fate (Campbell, 1958; Hamilton, Sherman, & Castelli, 2002; Lickel et al., 2000). While uncertain individuals seek entitative groups to manage heightened uncertainty, in the context of this chapter, it is important to emphasize that not all entitative groups are extreme and not all uncertain individuals seek extreme groups under conditions of heightened uncertainty. Extremism refers to a behavioral tendency of groups (e.g., Hogg, 2014) as opposed to a perceptual quality of groups that is captured by the concept of entitativity. That is, groups that are typically characterized as extreme have rigid boundaries, high internal homogeneity, directive and even authoritarian leadership, belief systems that are rooted in orthodoxy, hierarchical structures, and high ethnocentrism; membership within such groups is determined by strict guidelines—not everyone is allowed in, and there are typically very clear rules about who can be included and who is to be excluded (Hogg, 2014, 2015; Hogg & Adelman, 2013; Reicher, Hopkins, Levine, & Rath, 2005). Further, intolerance of dissent is high within such groups, as members are expected to fall in line with the dictates of a directive leader and the strict norms of the group, and typically dissent against the leader and strict ingroup norms is not condoned (e.g., Haller & Hogg, 2014). In such groups, information typically flows from the top down to the followers, and those in power and authority dictate who the group members are, who is to be included versus excluded, and what the group stands for. Such groups are thus characterized by inflexible ideologies with strict norms about what is considered ingroup normative (Hogg, 2012, 2014).

Such groups can be highly successful in helping group members manage heightened self-uncertainty, as identification with such groups informs uncertain group members how to think, feel, and behave. By simply assigning the clear and well-defined attributes of the group to the self, uncertainty about the self can be managed by group members. Under high uncertainty, seeking highly entitative groups with a clear behavioral agenda that can achieve results should be especially attractive to group members, especially since entitative groups that are viewed as dynamic and agentic with highly interdependent members are viewed as capable of organizing efficiently around a common behavioral agenda (Brewer, Hong, & Li, 2004; Rutchick, Hamilton, & Sack, 2008). A radical behavioral agenda is typically suited in such circumstances, as such groups encourage among followers a single-minded focus toward one common goal such that alternative choices of behavior that might suit the individual’s personal goals are suppressed and deemed less important (Kruglanski, Gelfand, & Gunaratna, 2012; Kruglanski et al., 2014).

Hogg, Meehan, and Farquharson (2010) demonstrate the appeal of groups with a radical behavioral agenda when individuals feel highly uncertain about the self. Hogg and colleagues manipulated uncertainty (versus certainty) by asking students to list ways in which changes to the tuition system made them feel uncertain (versus certain). They found that when students were made to feel uncertain, they identified more strongly with a group that presented a radical behavioral approach; was hierarchically organized with a clear leader; was highly homogenous internally; and had an efficient, forceful behavioral agenda to deal with the issue of tuition changes compared to a group that presented a more moderate agenda, was diffuse in its agenda, was highly heterogeneous internally, and had a weak behavioral agenda to deal with the issue. However, when students experienced low uncertainty, they showed a preference for the moderate group by identifying more strongly with it relative to the radical group. Thus, there was a strengthening of identification with the radical group under conditions of heightened uncertainty relative to low uncertainty.

Thus, highly distinctive, entitative groups with clear intergroup boundaries and a well-defined behavioral agenda are attractive under conditions of high uncertainty, as such groups provide uncertain members with clarity of purpose, clear and specific group attributes with which to define the self and manage uncertainty. When we categorize ourselves and others into groups, according to self-categorization theory (Turner et al., 1987), we view ourselves and our fellow ingroup members through the lens of the group prototype, while we do the same to outgroup members—that is, ingroup members are viewed in line with the ingroup prototype while outgroup members are viewed through the lens of the outgroup prototype. This process is called depersonalization and indicates that when we categorize others and ourselves into groups, we cease to view them as individuals and instead view others as members of a category who share the attributes of the specific group they belong to. In situations where intergroup lines and boundaries are drawn strictly, such depersonalization can mean ingroup members are seen as a distinct entity that is separate, far removed, and polarized away from the outgroup that is viewed as very different from the ingroup (e.g., Hogg, 2015; Sherman et al., 2009). In such situations, seeing both groups as sharing any commonalities becomes difficult as the separateness between the two groups is repeatedly emphasized.

The cleavage between the two groups is highlighted by rhetoric within both groups that emphasizes the distinctiveness between the groups through language that clearly specifies what is inclusive of the ingroup and what is to be considered as exclusive (Reicher et al., 2005). Discourse that emphasizes intergroup boundaries in a context where uncertainty among members is brought on by societal conditions can be especially dangerous to intergroup relations between groups. When individuals feel uncertain as a result of their safety, their lifestyle, and their worldview being threatened by an outgroup, they might cling more closely to an ingroup ideology (e.g., Van den Bos, 2009) that holds the outgroup responsible for the suffering caused to one’s group. Under such conditions, a close-knit, entitative group that clearly distinguishes itself from the threatening outgroup, should be seen as providing solace to the uncertainty one experiences. In such instances, discourse within the group might come to paint the ingroup as noble, moral sufferers who have been targeted by an outgroup who is now viewed as evil, unpredictable, unjust, and capable of causing irreparable damage to the ingroup. While such a view of the ingroup versus the outgroup should help create a common bond among the ingroup as sufferers and victims, it also helps dehumanize, and delegitimize (Bar-Tal, 1989, 2000) the outgroup and its members.

Research on the concept of collective victimhood (Bar-Tal, 2003; Bar-Tal, Chernyak- Hai, Schori, & Gundar, 2009), elaborates on this tendency of groups to view the ingroup as victims and sufferers while members of the outgroup are viewed as evil perpetrators responsible for the suffering of ingroup members, such that groups on both sides come to engage in a competitive tussle over the status of victimhood (Noor, Brown, & Prentice, 2008; Noor, Shnabel, Halabi, & Nadler, 2012; Shnabel & Noor, 2012). Such competition over victim status results from each group’s need to maintain higher moral status relative to the outgroup. According to Bar-Tal and colleagues (2009), collective victimhood is a narrative of suffering and victimization that develops within groups typically in the context of intractable intergroup conflict. That is, the social identity of group members is shaped in line with the suffering and victimization endured by group members as a result of the actions of an outgroup that is viewed as relentless in its ability to cause harm and suffering among members of the ingroup. This experience of victimization and suffering frames collective memories within the group as occasions of group victimization are commemorated in national symbols, monuments, and speeches by leaders, and thus past and current victimization can become a core aspect of the group’s identity. A narrative that emphasizes only the victimhood of the ingroup when combined with demonization (e.g., Giner-Sorolla, Leidner, & Castano, 2012) and at times dehumanization and delegitimization (Bar-Tal, 1989, 2000) of the outgroup, should help create an identity for group members that is distinct, entitative, and removed from that of the outgroup. The outgroup is seen as responsible for the suffering endured by ingroup members; all members of the outgroup are viewed in line with the demonized prototype of the outgroup; and thus, as evil, unpredictable, unjust, and as capable of causing irreparable harm. Thus, the entire outgroup is painted in one broad stroke and variability within the outgroup is not recognized.

In a similar vein, when individuals in a group attribute a sense of humiliation and loss to acts of an outgroup, restoring a sense of significance becomes an important motive to reestablish one’s group’s position in intergroup contexts. This motive for establishing and restoring a sense of significance, respect, and position for oneself individually or for one’s group, has been termed as a quest for significance, and has been employed to explain motives for extreme behaviors such as terrorist activities and suicide terrorism (Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, & Orehek, 2009; Kruglanski et al., 2014). Further, ideologies and narratives might develop within groups (e.g., terrorism justifying ideologies), which tell group members how to restore or gain much needed significance that has been lost as a result of humiliation faced or loss of respect one has suffered either personally or as a member of a group. By attaching oneself to the quest for significance for the group cause, one can attain significance, respect, and honor, as one sacrifices one’s personal goals for the goal of gaining glory and greatness for one’s group. Oftentimes, when the outgroup is seen as the cause for the suffering inflicted on one’s group, avenging such humiliation should be motivated by such a quest for significance for one’s group. Further, rhetoric within the group that dehumanizes and delegitimizes the outgroup should help justify extreme and radical acts against outgroup members (e.g., Bar-Tal, 2000).

Divisive rhetoric within both groups involved in conflict serves to create identities that are distinctive and polarized away from the outgroup on both sides. One such type of intergroup communication has been termed polarized communication (e.g., see Gudykunst, 1995), where information communicated highlights how we are always right and they are incapable of the truth, thus delineating boundaries between us and them while fashioning the ingroup as moral and right while the outgroup is viewed as dishonest and wrong. Thus, rhetoric that delineates group boundaries by emphasizing the ways in which the outgroup is not only distinct from the ingroup, but dangerous, harmful, and a threat to the ingroup should help ingroup members manage uncertainty and unpredictability born of conflict with the outgroup. A clear source is now held responsible for the misery experienced by ingroup members, and this helps them explain why they have suffered while providing a sense of predictability regarding the evil outgroup’s harmful future actions. Narratives that emphasize ingroup victimization and suffering within groups also serve to unify members, enhance intragroup cohesiveness, and create a common bond and shared fate of suffering (Noor et al., 2008). As discussed, such homogenous groups of clear purpose should be especially attractive to group members who experience heightened uncertainty. Once such cohesiveness within groups is achieved, mobilizing members within the group against the demonized outgroup should be a fairly easy task. Moreover, as such narratives develop within groups, intergroup reconciliation is stalled as violent action against the outgroup is legitimized as a means for ingroup preservation and protection (e.g., Noor et al., 2008; Vollhardt & Bilali, 2015). Such divisive identities, while detrimental to reconciliation between groups, by their very nature create clear prototypes, distinct social identities, and highly entitative groups, and should thus be effective in providing solace when group members experience uncertainty.

The Role of Leaders

The previous section discussed how highly uncertain individuals seek groups with divisive, absolutist, and rigid ideologies that have a strong group-centric focus (Kruglanski, Pierro, Mannetti, & Grada, 2006), as such groups have clear agendas and distinctive prototypes that can be assigned to the self to manage uncertainty about the self. Given the role such rigid ideologies play within groups in helping group members manage uncertainty, this section discusses the extent to which leaders within groups play a central role in fashioning distinctive social identities. Ingroup leaders are highly influential within groups, and by managing ingroup rhetoric to shape the ingroup prototype in an intergroup context, they play an important role in framing social identities within groups (Reicher & Hopkins, 2003; Reicher et al., 2005).

According to the social identity theory of leadership (Hogg & van Knippenberg, 2003), leaders are highly influential within groups as a result of the position they occupy relative to the ingroup prototype, that is, typically leaders embody the ingroup prototype within groups. Leaders wield normative influence within groups as prototypical members to shape group attributes, normative ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, and in general who we are relative to who they are; thus, they can shape distinctive social identities by drawing attention to the intergroup context. Prototypes shift based on the intergroup context to maximize between group differences and minimize intragroup differences, and thus, social identities are framed on the basis of the intergroup context that is salient at a given time. Thus, by emphasizing specific intergroup contexts and by relying on rhetoric that highlights specific outgroups, leaders can shape the ingroup prototype that defines the group. This identity defining function of leaders has led Reicher and Hopkins (2003) to term leaders as entrepreneurs of identity, while Hogg and van Knippenberg (2003) term leaders as prototypicality managers. This identity defining function is carried out by leaders by framing the inclusiveness of the prototype, and by clearly indicating who is represented in the group and who is not, as intergroup boundaries are clearly drawn by pillorying deviants who occupy positions on the borders of groups (Hogg, 2005). Further, the inclusiveness of the ingroup prototype is also emphasized by carefully choosing an outgroup that clearly represents what the ingroup is not (Reicher et al., 2005).

In contexts where group members experience high uncertainty, leaders who help frame a distinctive identity should be especially attractive and garner support, as they help create a clearly defined prototype that emphasizes what the group stands for and the clarity of intergroup boundaries. In fact, Rast, Hogg, and Geissner (2013) showed that as uncertainty experienced by individuals increased, support and trust in an autocratic leader also increased. However, the opposite was true for non-autocratic leaders—support and trust for a non-autocratic leader was lower as uncertainty increased. This indicates that leaders who take the reins of the group and are directive in their approach are especially sought after when group members feel high levels of uncertainty.

Several contexts can raise uncertainty regarding the self, one’s future, and one’s place in the world, such contexts could be in the realm of personal events such as unemployment and divorce or in the realm of societal events such as economic crises, droughts and famines, wars, intergroup conflict, and situations that are typically characterized by lowered predictability. In such situations, leaders, especially authoritarian leaders, who come to power based on rigid ideologies, encourage hierarchical power structures within the group, and are directive in their approach should be especially effective in guiding group members; this strategy by directive leaders can be especially effective at allaying the uncertainty experienced by followers (e.g., Haller & Hogg, 2014). In such instances, the leader does not seek to influence group members, rather through sheer power gained through one’s position, the leader seeks compliance and obedience to his or her leadership from group members. Such leadership that is directive and autocratic might be exactly what uncertain followers need, as they look to the leader for guidance, direction, and clear answers to their problems.

Given the support that leaders can garner and the power they can wield within their groups when followers experience high uncertainty, leaders might seek to actively manipulate and provoke uncertainty among followers by relying on rhetoric through speeches and public announcements. Hohman, Hogg, and Bligh (2010) tested the impact uncertainty provoked by the leader has on identification with one’s subgroup membership within an overarching superordinate identity. Using speeches made by George W. Bush, they manipulated the extent to which democrat and republican participants in their study experienced self-uncertainty. That is, all participants read the same Bush speech, but depending on the condition they were randomly assigned to (high versus low uncertainty), they were asked to focus on aspects of the speech that made them feel highly uncertain versus certain. Their results indicated that heightened uncertainty provoked by the speech was associated with heightened party identification, with democrats identifying strongly with the Democratic Party and republicans identifying strongly with the Republican Party. However, national identification was lower for democrats when Bush’s speech made them feel uncertain, as heightened uncertainty resulted in them identifying more strongly with their own group as the superordinate identity was now defined in line with another subgroup. Thus, through speeches and public and media-based announcements leaders can actively seek to provoke feelings of uncertainty among followers.

Such provocations or manipulation of uncertainty among followers can be accomplished by leaders by emphasizing real or perceived threats to the safety and security of ingroup members by carefully framing the intergroup context to emphasize threats from dangerous outgroups (e.g., Haller & Hogg, 2014). Given that leaders typically occupy prototypical positions in groups, they have leeway over defining and disseminating prototypical information to group members (e.g., see Hogg & Reid, 2006). Leaders can thus shape the prototype as distinct, while emphasizing differences between one’s group and other groups, by pillorying ingroup deviants and marginal members (e.g., Hogg, 2005), and emphasizing a clear narrative that binds group members together within the group. Leaders rely on language, rhetoric, and framing of information to shape ingroup and outgroup prototypes by making specific intergroup contexts salient and by emphasizing their own prototypicality within the group such that they remain the focus among followers (Reicher & Hopkins, 1996; Reid & Ng, 2003).

Research on social identity framing (Seyranian, 2012, 2013, 2014; Seyranian & Bligh, 2008) examines this identity framing role played by leaders in groups. Leaders, based on the position of influence they have in groups, can manipulate uncertainty among group members as a strategy to bring about ingroup support for their leadership and cohesion within the group. Outlining a three-stage process, Seyranian (2012, 2013, 2014) discusses how leaders provoke uncertainty among ingroup members, provide solutions to manage this uncertainty, and subsequently reinforce these solutions to shape and frame new social identities for followers and move the group in new directions. As discussed above, social identities are fluid and they change with respect to the intergroup context. In groups that are more democratic in nature, the framing of ingroup prototypes and identities might be open to much discussion and debate, while in groups that are led by authoritarian and directive leaders, group defining information comes from the top positions within the group (e.g., Haller & Hogg, 2014). Thus, in the latter type of group, the leader has a greater say over the defining attributes of the group and how the identity of the group should be framed. According to social identity framing theory (Seyranian, 2013; Seyranian & Bligh, 2008), such framing of identities occurs in three stages (Seyranian, 2012). In the first stage of frame breaking, leaders highlight uncertainty, which helps create feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and vulnerability among group members. Leaders might do this in several ways, they might emphasize real or imagined threats from an outgroup or from ingroup deviants who might be viewed as threats to ingroup safety. Leaders might emphasize past humiliation, threat, or attacks against the ingroup, and build a narrative of suffering endured by ingroup members at the hands of an unpredictable enemy by evoking collective memories of such past events (e.g., Bar-Tal, 2007; Bar-Tal et al., 2009). By making such outgroup threats salient to the ingroup, leaders provoke uncertainty regarding the safety of ingroup members and the group as a whole.

In the second stage of frame moving, leaders reshape the ingroup prototype emphasizing ingroup cohesiveness, entitativity, and clarity of group boundaries in order to present group members with a clear, distinctive identity to identify with and thus to manage and quell experienced uncertainty. This strategy should also serve to enhance support for the leader as group members look to the leader for answers and guidance. Finally, in the last stage of frame freezing, leaders reinforce the new narrative within the group and thus in a sense freeze the social identity that has been framed through the previous stage. When uncertainty is heightened, social identity framing strategies used by leaders within groups serve to create distinct identities that are extreme as they are removed from and polarized away (e.g., see Hogg, 2015, for a review) from a perceived threatening outgroup. By emphasizing uncertainty and threat from an outgroup, the leaders might bring about support for ingroup ideologies that promote group centrism and an inward-looking focus while emphasizing intergroup differentiation (Federico, Hunt, & Fisher, 2013). Thus, through the manipulation of uncertainty among group members, leaders can frame and fashion identities by emphasizing looming threat from outgroups and highlighting suffering and injustice faced by the ingroup, and this serves to build ingroup cohesiveness and greater support for the ingroup cause. As we have seen so far, leaders rely on communication, rhetoric, and language as powerful tools in constructing ingroup narratives by emphasizing specific intergroup contexts to frame identities (e.g., Reid & Ng, 2003).

Media Messages and Uncertainty

The media serves important functions in society as individuals look to media sources to gain information about the state, policies, and issues that are relevant to the ingroup, and to learn about other outgroups and where the ingroup stands in relation to these outgroups (e.g., Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1973). Thus, one of many important functions served by the media is to provide information, and individuals actively seek media sources to gain important intra- and intergroup information (Blumler, 1979; Katz, Haas, & Gurevitch, 1973). Media messages can thus be another source that heightens uncertainty among group members similar to ingroup leaders, as the media might create the impression of a crisis that faces the group, thus, actively provoking uncertainty among group members.

Esses, Medianu, and Lawson (2013) illustrate how the media can create such uncertainty, by exploring media messages about immigrants. They examine how media narratives about immigrants serve the function of portraying immigrants as dangerous and threatening, as “enemies at the gate,” as potential terrorists masquerading as refugees, and as dangerous to the health and well-being of the natives of the nation. Such narratives, according to Esses et al. (2013) are meant to encourage uncertainty among individuals who expose themselves to such media messages, that is, they feel uncertainty about the future of their nation, their cultural values and way of life, and their own personal well-being. Media messages that provoke such uncertainty among group members serve to enhance support for policies favoring the closing of group boundaries, and overall, encourage group centrism (Kruglanski et al., 2006) and support for more extreme ideologies within the group. Media portrayals aimed at provoking uncertainty and the resultant group centrism can be harmful for immigrant groups who are excluded from the ingroup prototype, treated as outsiders, and derogated. Thus, the media can transform a fairly innocuous event by framing it in terms of a potential threat to a group by promoting narratives that demonize and dehumanize immigrants as dangers to existing societies.

Thus, like leaders, the media might be another prototypical ingroup source that helps frame the ingroup narrative and encourages group centrism and outgroup derogation within the context of heightened uncertainty among group members. Media messages after provoking uncertainty can shape a rigid and group centric worldview that should help group members clarify the self-concept by seeking an identity that is clear, well-defined, and distinctive. The development of such a narrative within groups is especially dangerous in the context of intergroup conflict and competition, conditions that typically bring about uncertainty as a result of societal instability, thereby making members vulnerable to communication of information that flows down from the top from ingroup prototypical sources such as leaders and the media. The role played by communication here is essential and extremely important as identities are fashioned through intragroup communication. And as we have seen so far, when specific contexts produce heightened uncertainty, there is the danger of group members transforming into radical ideologues, zealots, and fanatics that can result in dangerous and harmful intergroup relations.

Discussion of the Literature

The experience of uncertainty, especially uncertainty regarding subjectively important issues, can motivate individuals to seek groups that are organized around radical ideologies, zealotry, and extreme beliefs that help create distinct, well-defined identities. Such groups give individuals a clear sense of purpose, while fashioning an identity that clearly specifies who we are versus who they are. Such groups are characterized by distinctive prototypes that spell out in clear terms how the ingroup is separate and removed from the outgroup while emphasizing ingroup similarities. Such group prototypes and normative ingroup information act as guides to appropriate ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Thus, ideologies that emphasize the cleavage between groups, while shaping a clear sense of who ingroup members are, can be especially attractive under heightened uncertainty. These predictions lie at the center of uncertainty-identity theory and its explanation of the solace that radical agendas and extreme groups provide under conditions of heightened self-uncertainty.

There has been some discussion on the ways in which rhetoric and communication can be used to mobilize outgroup hate within groups (e.g., Reicher et al., 2005; Reid & Ng, 2003). The role leaders can play in these contexts has been examined, as leaders shape ingroup prototypes to mobilize followers by emphasizing distinctiveness from the outgroup, even dehumanizing and delegitimizing the outgroup (Bar-Tal, 1989, 2000) to bring about legitimization of ingroup hatred toward the outgroup. Communication plays an important role in this context, as it is through the framing of ingroup narrative and rhetoric that such intergroup distinctiveness and ingroup cohesiveness can be emphasized. As the discussion in this chapter has shown, such rhetoric can also be employed to provoke uncertainty among group members, as leaders emphasize ways in which the outgroup might threaten ingroup members, usurp the ingroup’s position, or pose other potential threats and harm ingroup members. Such communication should produce uncertainty among ingroup members regarding subjectively important matters, such as their future, safety, and their group’s standing. Little attention has been given to these communicative processes, however, specifically to the processes through which uncertainty is heightened among group members, such that they band together and seek solace within a collective identity that promises a means of protection from a demonized outgroup (see Reicher et al., 2005; Seyranian, 2012, for exceptions). Questions regarding the role uncertainty plays in the context of mobilizing ingroup members and how this can feed into support for extreme and radical behavioral agendas can benefit from the attention of future research. Communication has a central and important role to play in this context, as communicative messages are used to frame rhetoric within groups such that feelings of uncertainty are emphasized among group members (e.g., see Hohman et al., 2010; Seyranian, 2012).

Further Reading

Federico, C. M., Hunt, C. V., & Fisher, E. L. (2013). Uncertainty and status-based asymmetries in the distinction between the “good” us and the “bad” them: Evidence that group status strengthens the relationship between the need for cognitive closure and extremity in intergroup differentiation. Journal of Social Issues, 69, 473–494.Find this resource:

    Gaffney, A. M., Rast, D. E. III, Hackett, J. D., & Hogg, M. A. (2014). Further to the right: Uncertainty, political polarization and the American “Tea Party” movement. Social Influence, 9, 272–288.Find this resource:

      Goldman, L., & Hogg, M. A. (2016). Going to extremes for one’s group: The role of prototypicality and group acceptance. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 46, 544–553.Find this resource:

        Haller, J. J., & Hogg, M. A. (2014). All power to our great leader: Political leadership under uncertainty. In J-W. van Prooijen & P. A. M. van Lange (Eds.), Power, politics, and paranoia: Why people are suspicious of their leaders (pp. 130–149). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

          Hogg, M. A. (2000). Subjective uncertainty reduction through self-categorization: A motivational theory of social identity processes. European Review of Social Psychology, 11, 223–255.Find this resource:

            Hogg, M. A. (2014). From uncertainty to extremism: Social categorization and identity processes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 338–342.Find this resource:

              Hogg, M. A. (2015). Social instability and self-uncertainty: Fertile ground for political polarization, ideological schism, and directive leadership. In J. Forgas, W. Crano, & K. Fielder (Eds.), Social psychology and politics (pp. 307–320). Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.Find this resource:

                Hogg, M. A., Meehan, C., & Farquharson, J. (2010). The solace of radicalism: Self uncertainty and group identification in the face of threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 1061–1066.Find this resource:

                  Hogg, M. A., Kruglanski, A., & van den Bos, K. (2013). Uncertainty and the roots of extremism. Journal of Social Issues, 69, 407–418.Find this resource:

                    Kruglanski, A. W., Pierro, A., Mannetti, L., & De Grada, E. (2006). Groups as epistemic providers: Need for closure and the unfolding of group-centrism. Psychological Review, 113, 84–100.Find this resource:

                      Seyranian, V. (2012). Constructing extremism: Uncertainty provocation and reduction by leaders. In M. A. Hogg & D. L. Blaylock (Eds.), Extremism and the psychology of uncertainty (pp. 19–35). Malden, MA: Wiley-BlackwellFind this resource:

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