In this paper analyzes the conceptual value of the Buddhist teachings of no-self and mindfulness for contemporary activism. First it explores how the doctrine of no-self promotes extended empathy, self-awareness, self-love, and self-care. Second, it explores how the doctrine of mindfulness both resolves some of the organization-related tensions between no-self and activism and provides additional tools for effective activism, as mindfulness promotes embodied care and right action.
The main purpose of this paper was to propose a new philosophical approach to contemporary activism that would address its central problems on personal, interpersonal, and organizational levels.
Keywords-component; Buddhism; Zen; No-Self; Mindfulness; Activism
It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that the Zen Buddhist doctrines of no-self and mindfulness might be effective tools for activism, considering that no-self completely undermines the Western conception of moral agency, and mindfulness promotes an awareness and acceptance of the present and detachment from desire for change. If activism is an organized effort to help others and ourselves in the face of injustice, can that really be achieved without a robust notion of the self and a powerful desire for change?
This paper argues that together, mindfulness and no-self can create a basis for better activism by addressing its central problems on personal, interpersonal, and organizational levels. First, it will be argued that the doctrine of no-self, far from limiting agency, promotes extended empathy, self-awareness, self-love, and self-care. Second, it will be argued that the doctrine of mindfulness both resolves some of the organization-related tensions between no-self and activism and provides additional tools for effective activism, as mindfulness promotes embodied care and right action. In this way, the incorporation of no-self and mindfulness into activism creates a comprehensive new approach to activism that is equipped to combat its main issues.
Zen Buddhism is based upon a radical doctrine of no-self. Because no single part of what makes up the self can individually be considered the seat of the ego that “selfhood” is a term that, rather than actually defining a real entity, simply acts as a reference to an unfounded conception of ego. (Warren 133) In this way, no-self is a valuable conceptual tool for activism.
A. Extended Empathy
First, no-self promotes extended empathy because the practitioner of no-self is unable to make an ontological distinction between the suffering of others and their own suffering, which in turn becomes a trigger for advocacy and cooperation among activists.
One could argue that no-self will not adequately extend empathy to distant others, as being informed of suffering at the other end of the world will not have the same effect as seeing someone suffering in front of you. However, it logically follows from the doctrine of no-self that we are not a self experiencing others but rather a being experiencing itself. (Tanahashi 69) In this way, no-self cannot favor empathy for the suffering of “near others” over “distant others”, as according to this doctrine there is no “other” at all.
Second, no-self entails a detachment that not only allows individuals to engage with the world with the same care with which they engage with themselves, but also to engage with themselves with the same honest with which they engage with the world. no-self leads to self-awareness which is actualized through a recognition of privilege and an intersectional approach to activism. Introspection becomes outwardly inclusive when the “potential of inner-subjective diversity” - that is to say, the power of acknowledging the “multiplicity” of individual experiences creates an inclusive activism. (Kalmanson 817)
It could be argued that such an intersectional approach will not necessarily strengthen an activist movement, because giving equal weight to all experiences might undermine the purpose of a movement by shifting the focus, or accidentally promoting contradictory goals. However, intersectionality is the only way to effectively achieve any goal. For instance, if the goal of the feminist movement is gender equality, then it logically follows that it should work to dismantle oppressive norms and systems that subjugate women. Not all women experience the oppressive norms and systems in the same way, based on individual circumstances, and so will present a multiplicity of experience. If we are to reject an intersectional approach, it follows that there must be one accepted form of womanhood, and so resistance will only happen along those lines – and almost always, the standard is set by the most powerful within that group and excludes many other experiences. As such, the doctrine of no-self may be a critical tool to facilitating an intersectional approach to activism – an approach that is not only helpful, but also arguably necessary.
Third, the doctrine of no-self facilitates radical self-love, which in turn becomes a tool to counter internalized disvalues. Though it may seem ironic that no-self would promote self-love, acceptance of the multiplicity and change of identity, and so leads to greater self-love as there is no longer a need to fit a self- or societally-imposed narrative of identity. Kalmanson has identified the aesthetic value of rejecting a fixed self, and argues that recognizing of the value of multiplicity and change is potentially liberatory. (Kalmanson 818) Not only does this rejection of a single self be beautiful in itself, but it allows one to see the beauty in oneself in one’s particularity, and as a constantly shifting and infinitely faceted becoming. This self-acceptance is key to activism because a greater acceptance of oneself dismantles internalized oppression on a micro scale and validates a struggle for justice.
One possible objection to the utility of self-love in activism is that self-love may blind people to their faults, making them inefficient and potentially even counterproductive activists. If self-love is not conditional upon doing good, but rather naturally follows from no-self, then it seems that there is no mechanism to revoke this love, and so there is no emotional consequence to doing something wrong. However, if paired with self-awareness, which requires constant contextual evaluation of experience, self-love can nonetheless be a valuable tool. Promoting self-love does not imply that one should have a preference for oneself; it is simply another way to be able to see the beauty and faults in all perspectives, especially those that are in constant flux.
Fourth, no-self promotes self-care to prevent burnout and martyrdom in activists. Successful and ethical activism should protect those who engage in it, especially because often those who are engaged in fighting for justice are those who most affected by the injustice. To this end, no-self can be employed to promote self-care. Insofar as an activist’s goal is to rectify injustice and a practitioner of no-self should have no preference for self over other or, crucially, for other over self, then an activist should give themselves the same care they give to others.
It could be argued that activists practicing self-care may be a detriment to their cause as presumably activists are in a more powerful position than those they advocate for, and so any act of self-care maintains this power dynamic. However, regardless of whether or not activists are more powerful than those they aim to protect, self-care is still an important tool for activism. Firstly, because if an activist has more power than those they are defending, they will not necessarily be cared for in the same way they care for others. And secondly, because they are more likely to know what they need and address their needs accordingly, thus using their limited time and energy in a way that is more likely to be efficient. Therefore, self-care as facilitated by no-self is vital to sustainable activism.
Because it leads to extended empathy, self-awareness, self-love, and self-care, no-self is a valuable tool for rethinking activism to make it more efficient, inclusive, and sustainable. However, despite its many benefits, no-self is not sufficient on its own to radically improve activism because it cannot be used as a guide for action or as a tool for organization, both of which are essential parts of effective activism. At the very least, even if no-self does not impede agency, it is only helpful in addressing the more theoretical aspects of activism. In order to complement this discussion of no-self, one must turn to the potential role of mindfulness in efficient activism.
In order to achieve enlightenment, Buddha proposed the Eightfold Path, of which one of the steps is "right mindfulness", which entails being fully attentive to one's experience in every moment. In addition to the benefits of applying the no-self doctrine to activism, mindfulness is a useful tool for activism because it promotes the application of embodied care and the prioritization of right action, both of which are helpful to guiding action and organization in activist movements.
A. Embodied Care
Mindfulness can be a useful tool in facilitating responsible and effective activism by promoting embodied care. Embodied care consists in being fully mindful while engaging in care, so that we are more responsible in our actions, thus maximizing our impact while limiting unconscious repetition of damaging behaviors, such as microaggressions. (Butnor 422) A mindful approach to activism would therefore allow activists to do the most good and the least harm, and takes into account one’s behavior instead of just one’s goals, which encourages a much deeper and more purposeful engagement with one’s experience and values.
One serious objection to the relevance of embodied care in activism is that such a sensitive awareness of the world, and particularly of others, is not possible for everyone. For instance, embodied care may not be accessible to all individuals on the autism spectrum, which seriously limits its applicability in all areas of activism, but especially when it comes to activism with the goal of promoting the rights of neurodivergent individuals (i.e. those whose mental state is consistently divergent from the norm through mental illness, etc.). However, even if some individuals are less capable of engaging mindfully with all of their surroundings and so less capable of engaging in embodied care, it is still a valuable tool for activism. Embodied care does not require reciprocity to work, except insofar as it is easier to care for others that also care for you. Because of this, just because some people may be less capable of engaging in this way does not meant that it will be a less valuable tool for those that are willing and capable.
B. Right Action
Mindfulness is also a path towards consistently right action. For the mindful activist, the end cannot justify the means, as all actions must be both appropriate and effective. (Uebel & Shorkey 221) In this way, mindful activism holds its practitioners to a higher standard of awareness. Not only will this prevent the justification of morally questionable behavior, but it will also require that activists with the same goals act in compatible ways, because mindful activism values being concretely aware over being abstractly “better”.
Though one could argue that this approach to activism makes long-term planning and cohesive vision difficult, mindful activism is actually beneficial in the long-term and facilitates the creation of a cohesive vision across differences. First, mindfulness paired with no-self not only facilitates communication across differences but actually requires it, making activism more effective and inclusive as discussions will be ego-less. Second, long-term planning is not necessarily a problem for mindful activism because part of mindfulness includes a particular awareness of the present moment in which the present moment encompasses all of time. (Tanahasi 77 §4) As such, one is always aware of the future is always but one can never override situational appropriateness.
The author gratefully acknowledges and thanks Dr. Ian Sullivan for his eye-opening perspective on the practical applications of Buddhist thought and for his support.
 Butnor, Ashby. 2014. “Dogen, Feminism, and the Embodied Practice of Care”. In Asian and Feminist Philosophies in Dialogue, ed. Jennifer McWeeny and Ashby Butnor.
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Abstract: The human mind has long been a mystery, able to disguise the most rotten characters from public scrutiny. Killers like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Ed Gein, were all once perceived as normal, even exceptional, in society’s eyes. Though we tend to focus on their evil deeds, we do not often ask ourselves why, or how, these individuals decided to become the despicable, infamous serial killers they are known as today. To better understand how potential perpetrators become full fledged killers, scientists dove deep into the psychology behind the outer persona, discovering similar genes in the brain and traumatic childhood events of such individuals who may exhibit proclivities for future violent tendencies. A combination of neuroscience and psychology studies have revealed the underlying clues that any average person can become a bloodthirsty serial killer. While they may be able to keep up a calm, charismatic exterior and easily blend into our society, they may be capable of hunting down the vulnerable to satisfy their own sick, twisted desires.
Keywords: MAOA, serotonin chromosome, psychopath, psychotic, sociopath
Jim Fallon’s Ted Talk, “Exploring the Mind of a Killer,” offered a plethora of scientific information about both the mind of a serial killer and recent findings in neuroscience. Specifically, he talked in depth about the Monoamine Oxidase A (MAOA) violence gene that is commonly found in killers. In this paper, I will discuss his scientific findings along with other external factors that affect the psyche of these murderous human beings otherwise described as psychopaths. According to Fallon , a neuroscientist at the University of California, over 90% of convicted serial killers are observed to have a particular gene that triggers violent behaviors. This gene, known as MAOA, has different variations. Moreover, . the MAOA enzyme,coded by the MAOA gene, catabolizes serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Some researchers have concluded that low MAOA density in certain regions of the brain may contribute to psychopathology but further research still needs to be done (Kolla 2017). Others have focused on studies that show youth having a long allele of the serotonin transporter gene in the presence of environmental stress can exhibit interpersonal and affective traits of psychopathy (Sadeh et al. 2013). In this paper, I will focus mainly on the influence of serotonin which is . a chemical produced by nerve cells, sending signals across those cells, otherwise known as a neurotransmitter. In the case of psychopathy, serotonin’s most important function is to regulate mood and social behaviors. A lack of serotonin, therefore, will offset the psychological balance of the human brain.
II. GENETIC MAKEUP AND NEUROSCIENTIFIC PATTERNS
The MAOA enzyme is a mitochondrial enzyme that is encoded by the x-chromosome linked MAOA gene. MAOA can determine aspects of human personality and thereby can increase the risk for personality disorders. Variations in the MAOA gene and the MAOA enzyme levels have been linked to antisocial behavior and aggression (Kolla 2017). Furthermore, low MAOA density in regions of the brain may contribute to psychopathology although environmental influences must also be considered.. Researchers have found that males displayed signs of extraversion of this gene at age 16, which continued to develop through their late 20s. This result was expected, as most genetic effects, especially those of more complex traits, are most strongly developed during the late childhood and early adulthood years. (Xu et al 2019.).
The MAOA gene is only one of two main factors that contribute to the makings of a future serial killer. An extra amount of serotonin in the brain during developing stages is also a factor. Ironically, normal amounts of serotonin are supposed to make the human body calm down. However, combined with the MAOA gene, the brain overloaded with serotonin, can eventually become insensitive to this chemical. This is equivalent to having a car without brakes causing desires in the brain to run wild without any mechanism to stop them from spiralling out of control.
Xu et al. (2019) expounds on this important point in their study, “Monoamine Oxidase A (MAOA) Gene and Personality Traits from Late Adolescence through Early Adulthood: A Latent Variable Investigation.”, The data in this experiment aligns with the statistics presented by Michaud and Aynesworth, successfully tying together the neuroscience and psychological portions of my paper.
Both these factors are phenotypes, genetic information that has not yet been expressed externally, in behavior or on the human body. In the book The Only Living Witness, Michaud and Aynesworth are a reporter and an investigator team reveal -that all killers need a trigger, most times taking the form of a traumatic childhood event (environmental factors) that results in physical damage to the brain. 74% of serial killers underwent mental abuse and 42% underwent physical abuse during their childhood years. Most likely, those events leave the child prone to injury, with 29% of convicted serial killers having suffered some sort of head trauma. Children mimic what they see, with their mental states not yet fully developed. With 43% of future killers suffering through sexual abuse and 35% witnessing such acts as a child, it is no surprise that those unforunate children grow up to be the monsters they’ve suffered under all those years. To block out childhood trauma, most killers in turn develop psychopathic behaviors as a coping mechanism (Michaud 2012).
III. PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF INFAMOUS KILLERS
The term ‘psychopath’ is commonly misunderstood among the general public; most people seem to associate it with crazy, or disarray, the complete opposite of the true definition. Psychopaths cannot feel love, but they can have strong feelings over their possessions. James Blair,claims that psychopaths are extremely good at hiding their tendencies and dark urges, able to blend in with society as just another normal member (Blair 2013); this often comes as a shock to most.
Blair (2013) introduces a new concept toreaders by highlighting the point that psychopaths are often inaccurately depicted as crazy, visibly unstable people and that society has the misconception they behave in accordance to this myth in real life. Blair explores the truth behind psychopathy, offering information that most people have never thought about. Blair claims psychopathy is easy to hide. He had also previously noted that psychopaths can be insensitive to cues of punishment as well as insensitive to others in distress which is relevant and important to the underlying discussion in this paper.The most horrifying fact is that psychopaths understand how charismatic they can be, thereby using their charm as their modus operandi. In his book The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers Second Edition, author Michael Newton comments that those “predators in human form” who have long been hidden in society, are invisible to the naked eye until they strike. Newton’etail about the lives of infamous killers. He goes into depth about the influencing aspects in these psychopaths’ lives that played a role in shaping them into who they become. For example, he noted parental abuse, and head trauma as two common factors that many killers shared.
One of the main factors that is emphasized by Newton is the extent of their “psychopathic charm”. Ted Bundy wore fake casts to appear weaker in front of unsuspecting young women (Brogaard 2012)(Newton 2006). Jeffrey Dahmer coaxed his victims into a drunken state before having his way with them (Michaud 2012). Edward Gein was well known around his town as the “helpful man,” successfully using his reputation to cover up what happened behind closed doors (Newton 2006). These psychopaths often understand the extent of their heinous crimes, and yet feel no remorse when caught.
In the Ted Bundy tapes, for example, the famed killer chatted with the interviewer as if they were old buddies, completely ignoring the current circumstances. By observing different patterns in human interactions around them, psychopaths are able to mimic those actions, allowing them to appear perfectly sane to the eyes of the public (Michaud 2019)(Newton 2006). The live, broadcasted interview with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy proved how “normal” murderers can act. Even with all the cameras, Bundy was still able to hold a clear, casual conversation with the interviewer, as if they were friends. It’s not often that we get to observe the actions of a killer, and this is one of those rare moments in history that contains a dark, rotten core. However, seeing Bundy’s casual behavior supported my previous claims in the paper about psychopathic traits and how easily they can be hidden from the public.
Blair (2001) has suggested that reduced amygdala functioning is a key biological factor in psychopathy. This supports the finding made by Hariri et al (2002) in using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the connection between genetic variation in the serotonin transporter gene and brain activity. It has been suggested by Heinz et al. (2005) that the genetic variants of the serotonin transporter gene are linked to the amygdala functioning. Furthermore, the reduction in amygdala activity in the presence of a long allele of serotonin transporter gene appears to suggest a potential risk factor for development of psychopathic traits (Glenn 2011).
While only some serial killers may exhibit manipulative psychopathic behaviors, most of them are also ‘psychotics,’ a completely different classification from ‘psychopathic.’ Berit Brogaard, a PhD and director of the multisensory research at the University of Miami, further explores the psychotic traits in her article “The Making of a Serial Killer: Possible Social Causes of Psychopathology.” Though there are overlaps, such as “blunted emotions,” psychotics lack a touch with reality, existing in a constant state of hallucination, not aware of their surroundings (Brogaard 2012). They may hear a voice in their head, continuously force feeding them false ideologies about the world around them, motivating them to commit unspeakable deeds. With this given information, unsurprisingly most convicted serial killers have been diagnosed with psychotic diseases, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, both of which negatively impact the mental state of the human brain.
Serial killers do not simply pop out of the womb feeling murderous; there are many factors throughout their lives that impact the way they think, act, and feel around others. While these traumatic events should not make society feel any sympathy for those who take the lives of others, it is interesting to piece together similarities that change a normal human to a cold-blooded killer.
One factor in explaining this complex disorder may be hidden in the brain and the MAOA enzyme. Specifically, along with a broad spectrum of environmental influences are the epigenetic factors that may determine the decreased activity of MAOA and long allele of serotonin transporter gene..
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Blair R. J. (2013). Psychopathy: cognitive and neural dysfunction. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 15(2), 181–190.
Brogaard, B. (2012, December). The Making of a Serial Killer. Psychology Today. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201212/the-making-serial-killer.
Fallon, Jim. “Exploring the Mind of a Killer.” TED, 2009,www.ted.com/talks/jim_fallon_exploring_the_mind_of_a_killer?language=en.
Glenn A. L. (2011). The other allele: exploring the long allele of the serotonin transporter gene as a potential risk factor for psychopathy: a review of the parallels in findings. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 35(3), 612–620. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.07.005
Kolla, N. J., & Vinette, S. A. (2017). Monoamine Oxidase A in Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Current behavioral neuroscience reports, 4(1), 41–48. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40473-017-0102-0
Hariri, A. R., Mattay, V. S., Tessitore, A., Kolachana, B., Fera, F., Goldman, D., Egan, M. F., & Weinberger, D. R. (2002). Serotonin transporter genetic variation and the response of the human amygdala. Science (New York, N.Y.), 297(5580), 400–403. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1071829
Heinz, A., Braus, D. F., Smolka, M. N., Wrase, J., Puls, I., Hermann, D., Klein, S., Grüsser, S. M., Flor, H., Schumann, G., Mann, K., & Büchel, C. (2005). Amygdala-prefrontal coupling depends on a genetic variation of the serotonin transporter. Nature neuroscience, 8(1), 20–21. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1366
Michaud, SG, Aynesworth H. The Only Living Witness: the True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy. Irving, TX: Authorlink Press, an imprint of Authorlink; 2012.
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Xu, K., Gaysina, D., Tsonaka, R., Morin, A., Croudace, T., Barnett, J., Houwing-Duistermaat, J., Richards, M., Jones, P., & The LHA Genetics Group (2017). Monoamine Oxidase A (MAOA) Gene and Personality Traits from Late Adolescence through Early Adulthood: A Latent Variable Investigation. Frontiers in Psychologie, 8(1736), . https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01736
Abstract: Abstract This project applies a new theory in the field of intergroup conflict known as "Gateway group theory," which posits that to decrease conflict between two groups, a third group with specific characteristics that appeal to both sides needs to be identified, enabling them to act as a medium. This group is known as a "Gateway group." With the background of the bitter digital divide and echo chambers plaguing the United States’ current political discourse, this paper sought to find the Gateway group between polar Democrats and Republicans on Twitter. This project data mined and examined the shared “likes” of these two populations using originally developed code and definitional parameters. Then, the study analyzed the profiles of the authors of these liked Tweets to compile an aggregated Gateway group profile that can be used to find Gateway group individuals on Twitter who have the ability to decrease conflict between Democrats and Republicans. The study found that Gateway group members exist. They are a group of Moderate Democrats. Every post that was liked by both a Democrat and Republican was also tagged and analyzed for similarities in content. It was found that 55% of all posts referenced “Trump” and 92% of those votes had a negative sentiment. Additional similarities in content were found, for example a keen interest in elections and certain Democratic candidates. This project develops an effective methodology that can be applied to any conflict on Twitter to find the Gateway group for that conflict to decrease polarity between polar groups.
Keywords: Gateway group theory, Democrat and Republican, political discourse, Twitter
In 2016, The New York Times opinion columnist Lee Drutman penned an op-ed titled “The Divided States of America.” He commented on the fact that local elections were blowouts for one party or another, and instead of being a one two-party nation, America had devolved into two one-party nations. Current elected officials are more polar than they have been in decades because voter bases are more polar. In September of 2017, eight months into the Trump presidency, the Pew Research Center released a report which found that 75% of Republicans had negative views of Democrats and 70% of Democrats have negative views of Republicans. This was a large increase from the mid-1990s, when about 20% of the members of each party held unfavorable views for the other. These sentiments came to a boil during the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. According to a CNN national survey, 91% of Democrats opposed Kavanugh’s confirmation while 89% of Republicans supported it. This project attempts to find a middle ground between the two groups -- perhaps a way back to “We” the People -- using applications of social psychology and computer science. All conflict is a result of two or more groups disagreeing with each other on a fact, principle, or idea. The more divided, the greater the conflict. One of the guiding theories in intergroup contact and conflict is the Common Ingroup Identity Model. Broadly defined, an ingroup consists of members with similar beliefs, and an outgroup is a group with the conflicting ideology. At its core, the model states that if members of conflicting groups would think of themselves as belonging to a singular larger group with shared values and perceptions, they would have more positive beliefs, feelings, and behaviors toward one another. The key notion and guiding principle of the Common Ingroup Identity Model is that successfully integrating ingroup and outgroup members into a one-group through a shared identity can reduce feelings of racism or friction between the two groups (Gaertner and Dovidio, 2012). One study found that if individuals faced certain similar stressors, they were more likely to develop “we feelings,” which caused them to act as a single common group (Dovidio and Morris, 1975). The Common Ingroup Identity Model, and theory of increased contact leading to a decrease in prejudice, has been quantified. Pettigrew and Tropp (2006) conducted a meta 2 analysis of 515 studies from 38 countries and found that 94% of them showed this negative correlation. Studies in Italy, Germany, Northern Ireland and the U.S. demonstrate that simply having ingroup friends who have outgroup friends can diminish prejudice (Pettigrew et. al, 2011). This is interesting because it proves that even proving that indirect contact can have an effect on the polarization of two groups, an idea that will be explored further in this paper. The key idea of the Common Ingroup Identity Model is that the characteristics that ingroup members use to connect with other ingroup members need to be expanded to the outgroup to create a connection between the two and form a larger unitary group (Gaertner et al., 1993). Thus, more positive beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, which are usually reserved for ingroup members, are extended or redirected to former outgroup members because of their recategorized ingroup status. Gaertner et. al. (1993) furthers that consequently, recategorization changes the intergroup dynamic as an “us” versus “them” orientation to a more inclusive “we”. Once people regard former outgroup members as ingroup members, the conflict can then start to diminish and even be resolved because the behavior of the two groups changes and it is, in effect, one large ingroup (Gaertner and Dovidio, 2012). This last finding has been reexamined in recent years and has evolved into the Gateway Group theory. Gateway groups are members of both an ingroup and an outgroup. They are defined as groups that can be characterized by “unique social categorizations that enables them to be categorized as and identified with more than one group in the context of intergroup relations” (Levy et. al., 2017). In other words, they share key characteristics of each group and recent research suggests their existence and role can be crucial. Having multiple identities could bridge the gap between two completely separate groups without shared identities. In the United States, for example, the rise of a multiracial (African American and Caucasian) group poses the interesting question of whether their existence can help repair race relations (Levy et. al., 2017). Gateway groups can exist in multiple forms and capacities. Currently, the most important and relevant work on Gateway groups explores the issue of dual identity. Dual identity is a subgroup of a population that also identifies with another group (Dovidio, et. al., 2009). In the context of ingroup conflict, people with dual identities share characteristics with both an ingroup and an outgroup. Combined with the Common Ingroup Identity Model, the existence of common 3 groups could imply that those people could be used to create common identities, but still have two distinct groups. In other words, a Gateway group could bring together groups to decrease conflict but the additional step of creating one “we” group wouldn’t be necessary. The most important part of Gateway Group theory is that Gateway groups have been proven to decrease conflict. According to research by Hornsey and Hogg (2000), different groups with different identities have more bias towards one another. However, upon the introduction of Gateway groups, the amount of intergroup bias between the two groups actually decreased because the two groups felt more related, which supports the Common Ingroup Identity Model. The majority of research so far has been theoretical, as this theory is relatively new. And -- when gateway groups have been involved in experimentation, they have been defined before the experiment. This paper will take the opposite approach. First, it will define the two ingroups, and then examine who the Gateway group is and what are its defining characteristics. There is another key difference between past exploration of Gateway Groups and their impact on conflict reduction and what this paper is interested in examining, and it relates to the arena of the conflict. Previous studies involving Gateway groups have only examined the introductions of Gateway groups into real-world, corporal conflicts. However, conflict has increasingly been migrating from the physical world to the virtual. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been the battlegrounds of current ideological wars. So that is where this research chooses to focus. With large amounts of data available, and many recent studies into the use of data to gather information about people, social media is an optimal source of information for this paper. Several recent studies have deduced physical traits and characteristics of humans in the physical world using their online behavior – their likes and follows. For example, an analysis of the “likes” of people on social media was an accurate source to trace certain characteristics. One study correctly identified homosexual and heterosexual men in 88% of cases, African Americans and Caucasian Americans in 95% of cases, and accurately sorted Democrat and Republican in 85% of cases, all based on a thumbs-up “like” (Kosinski et. al., 2013). Other factors that could be identified, with relative degrees of accuracy, were Openness, Agreeability, Extroversion, and Density of Friendship Network (on Facebook). On Twitter, one way of determining political polarity is by comparing the number of Democrats versus the number of Republicans that users 4 follow (Demszky et. al., 2019). The analysis of likes and tweets demonstrates the relative ease researchers can create profiles of random users with a high degree of accuracy. So, extrapolating from that, how would one define an ingroup online? On social media, people with similar views tend to comment, share, They serve as amplifiers for the same viewpoints, in essence, an echo chamber. Another term for this would be: an ingroup. Bessi (2016) argues that these echo chambers are problematic due to the fact that discussion with like-minded peers only increases polarization towards an outgroup (Zollo et. al., 2015). His key finding was that users would undergo a positive selection bias, by which they partook in groups that were aligned with their own beliefs, joining polarized virtual communities in the process. Additionally, in these insular bubbles, blatantly or deliberately false information is received as fact, which can be extremely dangerous because Bessi found that as ideas became more conspiratorial and radical, more people shared them in the same social media group, and more of it was taken as fact. The online world has created some of the most rigidly defined polar in and out groups. In the context of this study, the echo chambers will be formed by two conflicting polar political groups who have negative attitudes towards each other on Twitter. The overall hypothesis of this study is that by analyzing the shared Tweet likes of these two groups a profile of an online Gateway group on Twitter can be synthesized and used to decrease the effect of the online political echo chamber in the future.
This analysis will answer two different questions that have not been scientifically answered in the realm of intergroup conflict studies. The target population is a group of Democrats and Republicans on the social media platform Twitter. The end goal is to apply social psychology -- specifically Gateway Group Theory as defined below -- to identify what factors contribute to a decrease in the effect of political echo chambers on social media and beyond. A new theory in the intergroup contact branch of social psychology called Gateway Group (GG) Theory modifies the received notion that polarization could only be decreased through direct contact between the two groups. GGs are people with connections to both, and GG theory states 5 that their mere existence leads to decreased polarization. Given that this is a relatively new theory, the few previous experimental applications looked at a specific predefined GG and explored its effects on the target populations. This experiment differs in two key ways. First, it explores GGs in social media and determines if their effects in the physical world parallel those in the digital world; and second, its goal is to define the GG based on parameters derived from social media activity (Twitter). This contrasts with previous studies which have started knowing what their GG is, and then measured its effects on a target population. This experiment will have four separate parts. The first is data collection round one, the second is analysis, the third is data collection round two, and the fourth is overall analysis. Every step of this project was completed with originally developed Python code created specifically for this research. The online setting will be preserved as it is crucial that the observed natural interactions are untampered. A prerequisite to data collection is the definition of operational variables. A random sampling of Twitter users will be taken using the Twitter API. The users will be selected based on the number of current members of the 116th United States Congress they follow. Users who follow more than 25 Congresspeople will be included in the set. To determine their level of political polarity, the number of politicians they follow from one party will be divided from the other to determine the net polarity. For example, if a person follows ten Democrats but only two Republicans they will have a net ratio of 5 Dem. This is important because it sets the context for the rest of the study, as all users must be labeled beforehand. The next part of the study analyzes shared likes. The data set will be divided into quintiles based on users’ polarity ratios. The fifth quintile will be the highest “Democrat” ratio, or the most polar Democrats, and the first quintile will have the highest “Republican” ratio, or the most polar Republicans. Using this, the last 200 likes of 400 users in the first quintile will be compared to the last 200 likes of 400 users in the fifth quintile. A list of “political” terms was created in order to filter tweet content so only political tweets are evaluated. Political terms include (but are not limited to): “impeach”, “vote”, “President”, “immigration”, and “election”. Every time the users like the same post, the post and the user who posted it will be filed away. 6 This profile is a Gateway person because they attracted likes from the opposite ends of the spectrum. First, the profiles will be collected and using the Twitter API, their important characteristics will be put into the RapidMiner TurboPrep and Auto Modeler Software and that will determine the most prevalent characteristics for a Gateway group. The characteristics that will be evaluated will be user location, how many followers the user has, how many friends the user has, the number of Tweets the user has liked, and how many times the user has Tweeted or retweeted. Second, the posts that receive likes from both Democrats and Republicans will be tagged and will be matched against the list of political words, most of which are topic areas (i.e. elections, immigration, impeach, metoo) to see what subjects appear most often. Additionally, the profiles of the Gateway Groups will be evaluated in the same manner the original Democrats and Republicans were classified -- by using the politicians they followed as the metric for determining polarity. The purpose of this is to better understand who these people are in the context of Twitter.
The analysis of the shared likes was fruitful in gathering data on Gateway groups. First and foremost, the 800 polar users analyzed had thousands of shared likes with each other, and 155 active “Gateway people” were identified. The individual numerical characteristics (friends, followers, favorites (Tweets liked), Tweets) of the profiles are listed in Table 1 below. For each of these, the data column was broken into quintiles and the upper and lower bounds of the third quintile was taken as the range of values. The Tweets that received the shared likes were analyzed for content. The two most prevalent Tweet topics were “Trump” and “election”/ “vote”. “Trump” was mentioned in 55% of the Tweets, and “election”/“vote” was mentioned in 13% of all Tweets. In the case of “Trump” Tweets, 92% had a negative sentiment. Additional recurring topics included “impeach” (10%), “war” (9%), and “kurds”/“turkey”/“syria” (4%).
Contrary to the narrative of a hopelessly divided America, especially online, this paper finds that the most polarized Democrats and Republicans do share likes on Twitter of certain third party accounts. In other words, they won’t see or share or like each other’s Tweets but will both see, share, and occasionally like the Tweets of a third subset of people on the platform. So the most important finding of this project is therefore that Gateway groups on Twitter do, in fact, exist. This is thanks to the novel application of weak link theory (Goyal, 2005) based on the methodology of using shared likes to determine the existence of a Gateway group. No previous study about Gateway groups has not known who Gateway group was in advance of the study. 9 They have all studied the effect of predefined Gateway groups on predefined target populations. This is also the first time Gateway groups are explored within the virtual, rather than physical, world. Those previous studies established that Gateway groups deescalate conflict. This is valuable information because a following experiment to this study should be to use this aggregated profile to find users who fit it on Twitter, and introduce them into the feeds of polar Republicans and Democrats and observe the effect of depolarization. So what is the profile of a Gateway group that can bridge polarized Republicans and Democrats on Twitter? The data reveals certain repetitive characteristics, starting with location. Approximately one-third of the users were from the Northeastern United States (including Washington, D.C.). On Twitter, these users have amassed a large following -- the median range of followers was in the hundred thousands. They have many more followers than people they follow. They are prolific Tweeters -- the median number of Tweets they generate is in the tens of thousands. Combined, this reveals that in order to appeal to multiple sides, they need to populate the feeds of their many followers constantly. Probably the most important finding in the context of the characteristics is the political affiliation and relative degree of polarity of Gateway group members in comparison to the overall political spectrum on Twitter. To provide context, the polarity of the sample Democrats and Republicans overall (i.e. not the Gateway group) was in the high tens, low hundreds, which meant that for every 100 Democrats or Republicans they followed, they followed one member of the opposite party. The Gateway groups in comparison were much more moderate. The average follow ratio of the Gateway groups was 3 Democrats for every 1 Republican. The breakdown of the Gateway profiles’ political affiliation was also interesting: 87.74% of the profiles were either Democratic or Neutral. Only 12.26% of the users were Republicans. This uniquely places these Gateway group members in a political context and who they are in relation to Democrats and Republicans becomes clearer. By and large they are Moderate Democrats. This data can have an interesting real-world application: Moderate Democrats evoke more positive reactions from the staunch liberals and staunch conservatives than do Moderate Republicans; the average “Republican” Gateway profile only followed 2 Republicans for every 1 Democrat (even more moderate and closer to the center than the average Gateway). In the 10 context of the current political reality, the fact that Moderate Democrats specifically are able to bridge the divide between the extremes with political content is a critical finding. One application of this finding is that it supports the argument that in 2020, the Democratic Party should strongly consider nominating a Moderate Democrat to run for President because they have the best chance of building a coalition of Democrats and Republicans. The idea of Moderate Democrats as a Gateway group is also borne out through the examination of the actual names of the Twitter account holders. While the names of Gateway profiles were not sought for in the data, the code written to extract profile information also provided the names of the Gateway people. While most of them were not household names, there were a few known personalities. Not surprisingly, they were politicians. The two Democratic candidates who appeared the most in the shared likes pool were Tulsi Gabbard and Joe Biden. Biden has claimed the role of the Moderate Democratic candidate in the 2020 Democratic Primary race. Gabbard, who is more controversial, is running on a platform that mixes ideas from the right and the left. So while not a classical “Moderate,” her overall aggregated profile is that of a Centrist. Both these candidates received more than double the shared likes than the next Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Warren, who is perceived to be much farther to the left. While this paper is not endorsing a Gabbard or Biden candidacy, it does suggest that whomever runs against President Trump should not skew too far to the left on policy, but rather stay centric and build a large enough support base from both sides to win the election. Within the vast number of people who follow Gateway groups, there are polar Democrats and Republicans who actively like the Gateway group’s content, and because only political Tweets were examined in this study, that opens the door to more discourse and exposure to content that is not necessarily within the confines of their respective echo chambers. The content Tweeted about and liked spanned many topics. To better understand what was Tweeted, the data was sorted by keywords. The highest-occurring keyword in the data was “Trump”, appearing in 55% of the Tweets. But more telling was the fact that 92% of these Tweets were negative. This is partially expected and partially surprising. That polar liberals are not enamored with President Trump is not surprising, but it is interesting that many polar conservatives like content that is critical of the President: these negative Tweets Tweeted by Moderate Democrats were also liked 11 by polar Republicans. This raises an interesting question: if a Moderate Democrat does run, would some polar Republicans abandon President Trump to vote for that candidate? The point of this paper is not to dole out political advice to any one party, but rather to explore ways to reduce the digital divide that plagues our political culture and national discourse. Now that we have established the existence and profile of Gateway group members on Twitter, we must explore their role and how to amplify it. First of all, according to Gateway Group Theory, their mere organic existence suggests the ability to reduce conflict. There are also a few steps that could be taken proactively to increase their influence. Currently, the majority of the Gateway group members are Democrats. These Democrats have not actively become Gateway persons (they don’t think of themselves as such or even know they belong to a unique group that decreases polarization on Twitter), rather, their online activity makes them so. But there is actually an ingroup and an outgroup dynamic occurring within the Gateway group, where Democrats are the ingroup and Republicans the outgroup. And while this paper deals with Gateway Group theory, the Common Ingroup Identity Model still holds true. The Background Section explained that a key idea of the Common Ingroup Identity Model is that the characteristics that ingroup members use to connect with other ingroup members need to be expanded to the outgroup to create a connection between the two and form a larger unitary group, changing the dynamic from “us” vs “them” to “we.” In this case, the “we” is the Gateway group. If these Gateway Democrats actively followed more Republicans and started to increase the similarities in Tweet content, more Republicans could be made a part of the Gateway and consequently increase the scope of its influence. These Gateway groups could ultimately decrease the echo-chambers. Unfortunately, this cannot be mandated or achieved artificially. But one idea is to encourage the platform to design algorithms that would recommend Gateway group members to polar Republican or Democratic users (platforms routinely recommend additional accounts to follow.) As this study shows, Twitter, which is often seen as the source of so much of the polarity in contemporary US political discourse, can actually become the vehicle for reducing that polarity. This via Gateway Twitter members deliberately reaching out to those beyond their current sphere of shared followers, for example by growing their own ratios of Republican vs. 12 Democratic users they themselves follow. To truly evaluate the long-term effect of Gateway groups on the echo chamber, a further study would have to observe the same polar profiles over time as they interacted with more Gateway group members and use sentiment analysis on their Tweets at different points in time to see if they became less polarized. Using this study’s profile, that should happen. And there is wide-applicability to this idea well beyond politics on Twitter. While the methodology of the study was based in computer science, and the study examined social media, it was all through the lens of social psychology. The guiding principle behind social psychology is that human behavior is constant and so theories are made and applied to a variety of different situations. Because of that, this study has two key impacts and implications. First, it successfully defines Gateway groups on social media through its unique methodology. It establishes two conflicting ingroups. It then uses a metric (shared “likes”) to find the people that evoke positive reactions from both ingroups. Finally, it extracts profile data on these people to make a composite Gateway profile. But the second implication is crucial in the context of social media, which is only making people more and more polarized because of the echo chambers that are so prevalent on these platforms. This method of identifying a Gateway group online via shared likes can be applied to any “conflictual” echo chamber on social media. The originally developed code from this project can be adapted and used to this end. It is the first step in combating the polarity of users on social media because now researchers can build on this idea to find the Gateway groups to then insert them into polarized feeds to decrease intergroup conflict. Social media has been the scapegoat for the political polarization plaguing this country. But if the influence of the Gateway groups this study identified could be increased, then social media could become a social medium and decrease the polarity of our political discourse.
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