A series of three studies in Germany found that people living in poverty frequently experience exclusion from different aspects of society and devaluation leading to the feeling of shame. Such shame, in turn, increases their support for authoritarianism due to the promise that that they will be included in the society again authoritarian leaders typically make. The study was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Poverty is defined as a lack of the capability to live a minimally decent life. Aside from presenting a wide range of material problems related to daily life and survival, it is also a psychologically threatening to those experiencing it because it leads to shame. People living in poverty cannot afford to participate in various social activities (e.g. visiting a restaurant, movies, or various other communal events) and this creates an emotional experience of worthlessness, powerlessness, and exclusion from society.
Poverty is often linked with support for authoritarianism. Authoritarianism refers to a willingness to submit to authority and a preference for intense group cohesion and conformity (as opposed to autonomy and deciding on one’s behavior by oneself). However, the mechanism that might link poverty and authoritarianism is not known and is rarely discussed. Some authors have proposed that stress, anxiety, and shame created by a life in poverty might be key elements of this mechanism, but empirical research on has been lacking.
Study author Jasper Neerdaels and his colleagues wanted to explore this mechanism and proposed that shame and exclusion from society lead to increased support for authoritarianism. This happens “because authoritarian leaders and regimes promise a sense of social re-inclusion through their emphasis on strong social cohesion and conformity. As such, authoritarianism diffuses the sense of threat inherent in shame,” the researchers explained. [Continue reading…]