January 13, 2014
New research from psychologists from the New York University suggests that the desire to feel unique can undermine consensus, cohesion, and mobilization—at least in political contexts.
My hunch is that this may extend to religious contexts as well.
Chadly Stern and colleagues reported in the journal Psychological Science in November 2103 on the findings of a study on “truly false uniqueness” and “truly false consensus” among political liberals, moderates, and conservatives.
The study looked at two things. First, the researchers considered the degree to which participants over- or underestimated their sense that their beliefs were the same as those of others in the same political grouping (liberal, moderate, conservative). Second, the team measured the degree to which participants in the study were motivated by a desire to feel unique versus a desire to feel the same as others in their group.
Overall, Stern, et al found that “liberals underestimated their similarity to other liberals, whereas moderates and conservatives overestimated their similarity to other moderates and conservatives.”
Elizabeth Drescher is the author of the forthcoming book Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s None (Oxford University Press). She teaches religion at Santa Clara University, and lives online at www.elizabethdrescher.com and @edrescherphd on Twitter.