Putting groups back into the study of political intolerance

James L. Gibson, Christopher Claassen, Joan Barceló

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It is truly remarkable that the basic model of the origins of political intolerance put forth by Sullivan and his colleagues in the 1980s remains the most useful such model for contemporary research. Tolerance is a function of Democratic values, psychological insecurity, and perceptions of group threat. At the same time, however, our understanding of threat perceptions in particular has evolved, as with, for instance, the distinction between socio-tropic and egocentric threats. Unfortunately, decades of research has failed to produce convincing explanations of why some are threatened by outgroups, while others are not. Our purpose here is to offer a theory of the origins of these threat perceptions. We focus in particular on the development of separate explanations for different types of threat. Our concern for the etiology of threat perceptions stems from the assumption that the most effective means of producing political tolerance is to reduce outgroup threat. We find that groups that are perceived to be undemocratic and, surprisingly, not very powerful, face elevated risks of being the focus of mass intolerance. At the same time, we do not find any a significant effect for group reputations being threatening and/or violent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAt the Forefront of Political Psychology
Subtitle of host publicationEssays in Honor of John L. Sullivan
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781000768138
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • General Social Sciences


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