Just finished reading a new study on self-perception and group identity by Petrocelli and Smith, from Indiana U.
Interesting and surprising findings about what kind of standards people hold themselves to, and where they think those standards come from.
First, they asked about self-standards. Then, they asked the group about their strength of affiliation with fellow Americans and the country at large, and standards that the country is held to.
Results in the body ... and here's a teaser ... true patriots care a lot about the country's standards and the world's standards.
People were asked to compare how they were to how they "ought to be."
Then they were asked if this sense of what they "ought to be" came more from inside themselves, or from other people's expectations.
Those who had very strong internal notions of what they "ought to be" were also quite anxious about those standards if they felt they fell short of them.
On the other hand, people who felt that what they "ought to be" came from other people or society were more anxious if they felt they were living up to those standards, and calmer if they felt that they were doing a good job of deliberately flouting those standards. Individualists, sure, but without a strong sense of internal "ought to be" you could argue they are sociopaths.
Then, people were asked about their ideal self. Not what they "should" be, but what they "could be if they were at their best performance." Again, they were queried as to whether these ideals came from other people or more from the self.
People with a strong self-ideal were more unhappy the further they felt they fell from that ideal.
So, anxiety is created when you fail your own standards or believe your life is excessively constrained by other people's standards.
Dejection occurs when you think you're far from your own ideal.
Then, people were asked, "Do you see yourself as an American?" "Are you pleased to be an American?" "Do you feel strong ties with other Americans?" "Do you identify with other Americans?"
A funny thing happened among those who scored weakly on these questions. Low levels of American identity or displeasure with American identity were associated with increased levels of anger if the individual also perceived that America mainly acted as other nations thought it should.
That's right. The people who were calmer the more the country flouted what other nations thought we "ought to do" didn't really identify with other Americans.
Bill O'Reilly? Sean Hannity? I'm looking at you.
Maybe you don't hate America, but it's a good guess you hate Americans.
On the other hand, people who thought of themselves as American and were pleased to be identified as American ... they got more dejected the further they felt the country was falling behind ITS OWN IDEALS.
Jon Stewart ... come on down.
Whether or not people identified with their countrymen, discontent with the nation or its government was significantly tied to one factor ... if they thought that the country was no longer seeking its own ideals, but those of other nations, and it was falling behind those international ideals ... they were dissatisfied with the direction of the nation.
Tom Friedman ... you're the next contestant.
But among the "happy to be American" crowd, if they thought the country was following its own IDEALS (not responsibilities, but ideals) rather than those of the world, they were more content if they believed the government was falling short of those ideals than if they thought the government was living up to them.
President Bush? You're up.