Yesterday, the FBI released its “Hate Crime Statistics, 2009” report, which found that there were 8,336 victims of hate crimes in the United States last year, and that:
Of the 1,575 victims of an anti-religious hate crime:
* 71.9 percent were victims because of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias.
* 8.4 percent were victims because of an anti-Islamic bias.
* 3.7 percent were victims because of an anti-Catholic bias.
* 2.7 percent were victims because of an anti-Protestant bias.
* 0.7 percent were victims because of an anti-Atheist/Agnostic bias.
* 8.3 percent were victims because of a bias against other religions (anti-other religion).
* 4.3 percent were victims because of a bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).
Anger is a complicated emotion. Based on personal experience, we all know it produces negative effects, but psychologists have found that it has some positive features as well. For one thing, anger activates an area of the brain that is associated with many positive emotions. And now, psychologists have found that anger can make us want things more than if we weren’t angry.
Normally, we’re motivated to go after things that we find rewarding or make us feel happy—in other words, things that we associate with positive emotions. To test the link between anger and motivation, the researchers asked people to watch a computer screen that displayed common objects, like a mug or pen, and before each object, a neutral, angry, or fearful face secretly flashed on the screen—subliminally linking an emotion to the object. The participants were told to squeeze a handgrip when they wanted an object and that those who squeezed harder were more likely to win it. As it turns out, people put forth more physical effort to get the objects associated with anger, though they didn’t realize it.
This response—to try to get things associated with anger rather than avoid them— “makes sense if you think about the evolution of human motivation,” says Henk Aarts of Utrecht University, who led the study. For example, in an environment where there’s a limited amount of food, he says, “if the food does not make you angry or doesn’t produce aggression in your system, you may starve and lose the battle.”
Could the language that bilingual people use influence how they see other people? A team of researchers decided to test this idea by studying a group of Israeli Arabs who speak both Arabic and Hebrew fluently. They asked the volunteers to take a psychology test that would show how they responded to different words, designed to get at their attitudes and beliefs about Arabs and Israelis.
Specifically, they wanted to see whether the volunteers would find it easier to link Arab names or Jewish names with positive or negative traits—and whether the results depended on which language they were tested in. In one case, for example, the volunteers were asked to press one key on the keyboard whenever they saw a positive word or an Arab name and another key when they saw a negative word or a Jewish name. If the volunteers generally associated “good” with Arabs and “bad” with Jews, they would hit the keys faster than those who didn’t have these “implicit associations.”
So did it matter which language the volunteers were tested in? Turns out it did. Overall, the Arab Israelis showed more negative bias toward Jewish names than Arabic names—they were quicker to associate Jewish names with negative words and Arab names with positive words than they were at making the reverse associations—and this effect was much stronger when the words were presented in Arabic.
Shai Danziger, who worked on the study, isn’t surprised:
I am a bilingual and I believe that I actually respond differently in Hebrew than I do in English. I think in English I’m more polite than I am in Hebrew. People can exhibit different types of selves in different environments. This suggests that language can serve as a cue to bring forward different selves.
A series of studies by researchers at York University shows that it can. The researchers put volunteers in either neutral or anxiety-provoking situations and then asked them to rate the strength of their religious convictions, including whether they would die for their faith or support a war to defend it. When people were put in anxiety-producing situations (like working on a complex math problem), they became more extreme in their religious convictions. The reaction was strongest in people with “bold” personalities (eager and tenacious, with high self-esteem) who were already vulnerable to anxiety and didn’t feel empowered to achieve their daily goals.
We shouldn’t be too surprised. Past research has shown that anxiety and insecurity can turn people to religion—and that religious conviction can act as a “buffer” against anxiety. And earlier studies by the researchers at York have shown that strong religious beliefs are linked to low activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that becomes active when a person makes errors or experiences uncertainty. Psychologist Ian McGregor, who worked on those studies and the new one, notes in a write-up of the research that:
Taken together, the results of this research program suggest that bold but vulnerable people gravitate to idealistic and religious extremes for relief from anxiety.