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Identity fusion may fuel followers to engage in political violence, study finds

A new study by researchers at Yale and the University of Oslo found that Americans who experience “identity fusion” — a psychological phenomena that occurs when people have a “visceral feeling of oneness” with another person or group — with U.S. President Donald Trump are more likely to commit political violence.

Researchers used participants’ answers to a survey to rate them on an “identity fusion scale.” The paper reported that people who have “fused” with Donald Trump were more willing to violently challenge election results, to personally protect the border from an immigrant caravan and to perpetuate violence against Iranians, Muslims and immigrants. Bringing together data from seven studies, the paper was published in Nature Human Behaviour on Sept. 2.

“We showed — in seven studies conducted with Republican partisans — [that] people who experience identity fusion with their leader, Donald Trump, show higher intentions to personally persecute immigrants, Muslims or Iranians living in the [United States], if Republicans asked them to,” said Jonas Kunst, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Oslo.

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This series of studies focused specifically on identity fusion with Trump, but the authors explained that their findings could apply to any political leader, regardless of ideology. People have likely politically fused with many left-wing leaders throughout history, they noted.

“People think that we have our own identity, but sometimes we form relationships with other people or groups in a way that we lose our personal identity and let it become immersed in the image of another person,” said John Dovidio, professor of psychology at Yale and senior author of the paper. “This is not just about Trump.”


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