Monday, May 9, 2011

Reflections on National Pride, Group Cohesion, and the Death of Osama Bin Laden

"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."  -- biblical proverb 

"(Pride) is the crown of the virtues." -- Aristotle 

Admittedly, this post is a bit outside of our comfort zone as psychology researchers, in that it moves into socio/political issues that we have little expertise in (e.g., we're qualified to talk about individual psychological experiences and not how global political events effect National Security). Nevertheless, the death of Osama Bin Laden is a significant event in the United States, and this blog is as much a utility for its bloggers as it is for its readers: Just like you, we're trying to figure out how all of this fits into our daily lives.

In case you haven't heard, on May 1st, 2011, USA Special Forces ended the life of Osama Bin Laden--a man involved in the planning and execution of the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001--after chasing him for a decade. Clearly, the death of Osama Bin Laden has many social and political implications, for example it highlights the sacrifices that military families make daily for our continued safety, raises questions about the increased safety (or not) of American citizens; closes a long chapter in US military operations; and has important political implications for the 2012 presidential campaign, just to name a few. As psychologists, we're not really qualified to talk about these issues in an informed way. Instead, we'll try to understand how the death of Osama Bin Laden factors into our social identities as Americans, and the emotions we feel in our daily lives. In particular, we will focus on the experience of one emotion: pride.

National Pride
You may have seen this video from Sunday, May 1st. It shows fans cheering at a baseball game between the Mets and Phillies. They're chanting "USA!" "USA!" as the news of Osama Bin Laden's death circulates through the crowd. This is a clear example of national pride being expressed on a grand scale. Pride is usually a self-focused positive emotion associated with achievement and accomplishment. In group contexts, pride can be felt in response to the achievements of a social group one identifies with. In the case of this last Sunday, people felt national pride for the United States, and its achievement of a decade-long goal to catch Osama Bin Laden.

Pride's Two Faces
Recently, Jess Tracy and her colleagues (2010) at the University of British Columbia have identified two distinct facets of pride. The first type of pride, called "authentic pride," is pride that is "aligned with one's merits" and is experienced during actual achievements or accomplishments. The experience of authentic pride is thought of as a natural and adaptive reaction to the accomplishments of the self or of one's social group. The second type of pride, called "hubristic pride," is the pride that is associated with vanity and narcissism-- that is, pride that goes beyond one's merits.

Research on the two facets of pride is in its infancy, but initial work indicates that individuals can experience both authentic and hubristic forms of pride following personal achievements, or the achivements of one's in-group, but that the type of pride one experiences has distinct personality correlates and social outcomes. Using self-report methods, researchers have found that authentic pride-- that is pride that is associated with one's actual merits-- is associated with a number of postive and prosocial outcomes: Individuals who feel authentic pride tend to feel a genuine and deep-rooted sense of elevated self-esteem, have diminished depression, low anxiety, and healthy relationship functioning.

In contrast, individuals who experience hubristic pride--that is pride that comes from an inflated sense of self-- tend to feel narcissistic, tend to act more aggressively and with greater hostility, and tend to engage in more self-destructive behaviors. Moreover, the people who experience these different forms of pride also differ in terms of personality. Relative to people who frequently experience hubristic pride, people who experience authentic pride are higher in the prosocial traits of conscientiousness and agreeableness (e.g., traits associated with helping others and responding to others' needs).

A nonverbal expression of pride (source)
Consequences of Authentic and Hubristic Pride Following the Death of Osama Bin Laden
While there is no question that many Americans felt a boost of national pride after Osama Bin Laden's death, the aforementioned research suggests that there are two diverging consequences to feeling national pride. On the one hand, when we feel authentic pride--based on the actual accomplishment of a long-standing national goal, or regarding the noble sacrifices of our military forces overseas-- we are likely to feel increased national esteem and cohesiveness with our fellow Americans. These outcomes have their benefits for the US as a nation. However, when Americans step beyond these accomplishments and contend instead that the death of Osama Bin Laden is evidence that the US is without faults, is somehow God's chosen nation, or that America is the greatest country in the world--these, and others, are examples of hubristic national pride-- and the consequences of this form of pride are increased forms of aggression, hostility, and dehumanization towards other countries, religions, and nationalities.

Related Web-Links
NPR News
Scientific American

What are your emotions like in the week following Osama Bin Laden's death? We'd love to hear about your thoughts in the comments!

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