Tag Archives: Arizona

Social support as a psychological stressor, implications for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head at a political rally in January

By Kevin R. Betts

Some of you will remember my post back in January about Jared Loughner, the 22 year old who shot and killed six people and wounded 14 others at a political rally in Arizona. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded in the shooting by a shot to the head. The story of Giffords has since received extensive attention by major news agencies. Colleagues, political supporters, and perhaps most of all, her husband, have eagerly awaited Gifford’s recovery and hoped for her successful future in politics.  The impact of social support on recovery from such hardships has been studied extensively by social and health psychologists. What effect, if any, might social support have on recovery efforts like those of Giffords?

The intuitive assumption of many laypersons—that social support aids recovery—is not completely accurate. To be sure, recipients of social support often gain strength from the social support they receive during hardships. Yet, social support can also hinder recovery efforts if administered inappropriately. Researchers Rafaeli and Gleason (2009) find that social support can undermine the recipient’s sense of self-efficacy, focus the recipient’s attention on the stressor, and make the recipient feel indebted to the provider. The combination of these factors and others may lead recipients to perceive social support as an additional stressor. Rafaeli and Gleason (2009) emphasize that social support can promote positive health outcomes, but only when the right type of support is provided at the right time. For instance, reassuring a recipient that she is capable of overcoming some stressor may be stressful if she is already confident in her abilities (because it could undermine her sense of self-efficacy). It might make more sense in such cases to speak of the positive outcomes that will result once the stressor is “inevitably” overcome.

Findings like these may be especially relevant to Giffords’ recovery efforts. Supporters of Giffords would like to see her make a complete recovery that allows her to continue work in public office. At a fundraiser in March, supporters raised $125,000 in pledges to sustain her 2012 reelection campaign. The support that Giffords has received from supporters is profound. Yet, expectations set for her may be unrealistic. Neurosurgeon Dr. Dong Kim asks, “If somebody has a severe brain injury, are they ever going to be like they were before? The answer is no.” Given limits to how fast one can recover from such a serious injury, Giffords may perceive these support behaviors as stress inducing. Giffords still has a lot of recovering left to do before returning to office can even be considered. If we wish to see Giffords make the fastest recovery possible, it may be wise for the public to set our expectations aside for a while and just let her recover.

Read more:

What’s really going on with Gabby Giffords? (Newsweek)

Rafaeli, E., & Gleason, M.E.J. (2009). Skilled support within intimate relationships.  Journal of Family Theory and Review, 1, 20-37.

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“Why didn’t anyone stop this? It seems so obvious!”

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After an act of extreme violence, it is normal for people to want answers. The shooting of Arizona officials a couple weeks ago is no exception. Briefly, a disturbed man opened fire on public officials killing six and leaving U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona in critical condition. Many accusations were thrown about to explain the man’s extreme behavior. For example, mental health was pointed out in an article on TheHill.com. While there is all this blame thrown around, many question why no one had noticed his erratic behavior and stopped it. According to The Hill article, polls have been conducted and many blame the mental health system for failing to identify dangerous individuals. It also notes that many people have the same feelings regarding other shootings. It seems so obvious to those around these shooters that these people are unstable. Unfortunately, they only notice after the fact.

Part of the reason that people only notice mentally unstable shooters after fact is because of a psychological effect called “Hindsight Bias” (Fischhoff, 1975). Hindsight bias occurs when one misjudges the predictability of an event after the event occurs. According to Campbell and Tesser (1983), one motive for this bias is that people have a need for predictability. Particularly in the case of these shooters, we have a strong motivation to believe that these events are predictable, and not random. Therefore, it is easy to blame an institution or individuals for not recognizing the instability beforehand and “do something” to prevent these atrocities, because we have all the evidence after the fact. With the benefit of hindsight, we believe the events are quite a bit more predictive than they really are, because it makes us feel safe. However, in reality, these events are fairly random. With this in mind, perhaps we should hold back on finding out who is to blame for not stopping these things from happening.

Poll: Mental health linked to Arizona shooting. By Jason Millman from TheHill.com

Campbell, J. D. and Tesser, A. (1983), Motivational interpretations of hindsight bias: An individual difference analysis. Journal of Personality, 51: 605–620.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Did intergroup threat act as a precursor to the Arizona shooting rampage?

Jared Loughner's Pima County booking photo

By Kevin R. Betts

Twenty-two year old Jared Loughner stood in a Phoenix courtroom yesterday faced with federal murder and attempted murder charges. Although much is still being learned about why he targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in a shooting rampage on Saturday, his actions appear politically motivated. At a past political event, he asked Giffords questions along the lines of “What do you think of these people who are working for the government and they can’t describe what they do?” and “What is government if words have no meaning?” Loughner’s political leanings are unclear, but friends say he expressed dissatisfaction with Giffords and her views. Could perceptions of threat posed by the views of Giffords and her constituents have contributed to Loughner’s violent rampage?

The essence of intergroup threat theory is an expectation that future intergroup relations will be harmful in some way to the ingroup (Stephan, Renfro, & Davis, 2008). These threats may be realistic in that they threaten political power, economic power, or well-being, or they may be symbolic in that they threaten values, beliefs, or a worldview.  It is possible that Loughner perceived the views of Giffords and her constituents as threatening in one or more of these ways. He expressed dissatisfaction to his friends and others regarding her views and ability to lead. More importantly, affected individuals react to threats both psychologically and behaviorally. Psychological reactions may include fear, anger, resentment, or helplessness. Behavioral reactions may be avoidant or aggressive in nature. Although avoidant reactions are most common, aggressive reactions become more likely with negative previous interactions and a strong ingroup identity. Loughner’s friends describe contentious interactions between him and Giffords at past political events, but his association with opposing groups is unclear. Nonetheless, his actions were clearly aggressive.

It is probably too soon to draw firm conclusions about whether intergroup threat acted as a precursor to the Arizona shooting rampage. More information about Loughner’s political leanings,  formal or informal associations with any political groups, history of prior contact with Giffords and her constituents, and perceptions of threat posed by the views of  Giffords and her constituents are all needed. Yet, intergroup threat is worth considering as a possible precursor to the incident as the case unfolds.

Read more:

Shooting suspect’s nihilism rose with isolation (AP)

Stephan, W.G., Renfro, C.L., & Davis, M.D. (2008). The role of threat in intergroup relations. In U. Wagner, L.R. Tropp, G. Finchilescu, & C. Tredoux (Eds.), Improving intergroup relations (pp. 55-72). Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

What is the future of immigrant relations in Arizona?

By Kevin R. Betts

Arizona’s controversial new immigration law is set to go into effect this Thursday. In short, the law requires that police officers determine the immigration status of individuals who are stopped, detained, or arrested when there is reasonable suspicion that they are in the country illegally. The law also makes it a misdemeanor for legal immigrants to not carry immigration papers. Fearing possible harassment by police and wrongful detention, many legal and illegal immigrants have fled the state since the announcement of the impending law. How might dwindling numbers of immigrants in Arizona impact immigrant relations in the state?

Research in the behavioral sciences has repeatedly shown that to achieve peace between conflicting groups, intergroup contact is necessary. Without frequent intergroup contact, unfounded prejudices often form about members of stigmatized groups. Based on this research, we might expect that fewer immigrants in Arizona will provide fewer opportunities for  contact between immigrants and natural born citizens, and consequently, more unfounded prejudices about immigrants. Indeed, research by Ulrich Wagner and colleagues (2008) provides evidence for this prediction. They looked at how the proportion of ethnic minorities in a region affects opportunities for intergroup contact, and how frequency of intergroup contact affects prejudice. Using East and West German samples, they found that lower levels of prejudice in West Germany could be explained by the larger numbers of ethnic minorities in the region, which allowed for increased intergroup contact.

Will Arizona’s new law be effective in its primary purpose of driving out illegal immigrants? It probably already has, but not without costs for immigrant relations in the state as legal and illegal immigrants flee the region.

Read more:

Hispanics flee Arizona ahead of immigration law

Wagner, U., Christ, O., Wolf, H., van Dick, R., Stellmacher, J., Schlüter, E., & Zick, A. Social and political context effects on intergroup contact and intergroup attitudes. In U. Wagner, L.R. Tropp, G. Finchilescu, & C. Tredoux (Eds.), Improving intergroup relations: Building on the legacy of Thomas F. Pettigrew (pp. 195-209). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

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“Nativist apoplexy” and the case of immigration legislation

In Arizona a law was recently passed allowing police officers to arrest anyone unable to provide documentation of their immigrant status. Supporters of the law argue that illegal immigrants from Mexico are taking American jobs and bringing in dangerous drug cartel violence. Protesters of the bill argue that such a sweeping law will result in law enforcement abuse and a shift of resources and attention away from the real terrorists/drug traffickers. With this legislation, passed on the eve of world-wide May Day rallies in support of immigrant workers, the emotionally and politically charged issue of immigration has escalated to new heights.

As Daniel Bar-Tal explains in a 1990 Journal of Social Issues article, a perceived threat of one group to another can ignite a cycle of delegitimization and moral exclusion stoked by fear and often escalating to further violence. As a rhetorical strategy, delegitimizing a group separates or “others” them and thus serves as grounds for justifying inhumane treatment. We can see many examples of delegitimization and moral exclusion in the case of the Arizona legislation.

Sparked by fears of drug-related violence and the recent murder of an Arizona rancher — who was known to often help immigrants trying to cross the border by giving them water or alerting border patrol so that they could receive medical assistance — the debate surrounding U.S.-Mexico border control has been fueled by many useful myths. As a recent Washington Post article points out, illegal immigration is a complex issue and the main talking points (immigrants take jobs from Americans, illegal immigrants cause crime) are simply not true. But from the standpoint of politics and debate, these myths are very useful because they allow for justifying differential treatment and harsh legislation such as the law that was just passed. Deutsch (1990) further explains the psychological underpinnings of moral exclusion and dehumanization and the social conditions that contribute. Economic depression, for example, can lead to a sense of relative deprivation and an increase in alienation/isolation attitudes. Political instability, authoritarian government, violence, and lack of social bonding can also lead to moral exclusion.

While it is clear that a number of psychological and social forces are merging and a political debate ensuing, there are very real reasons why the current administration may not be able to hold off immigration legislation until the next year. As Bar-Tal explains, “There is little doubt that the distance between delegitimizationof this intensity and behavioral harm is very small.” In other words, legislation such as the one passed in Arizona, may lead to even more violence and less productive border relations. Or, the delegitimization of one group could quickly spread to other groups and become aimed at all immigrants, legal or not.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Five Myths About Immigration. The Washington Post.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 If Only Arizona Were The Real Problem. The New York Times.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Bar-Tal, D. (1990). Causes and Consequences of Delegitimization: Models of Conflict and Ethnocentrism. Journal of Social Issues.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Deutsch, M. (1990). Psychological Roots of Moral Exclusion. Journal of Social Issues.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Arizona’s Punishment Doesn’t Fit The Crime: Studies Show Decrease in Arizona Crime Rate Over Time.

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