Anger triggers people's support for wartime presidents

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Washington, July 8 (ANI): Anger, not anxiety, is what makes people supportive of a president when a nation is going to war-a phenomenon known as the "rally 'round the flag effect", according to a study based in US.

For the first time, a new experimental psychology research from Washington University in St. Louis, has offered compelling evidence that these wartime surges in presidential support represent a collective reaction to a specific human emotion.

"It's about anger, not anxiety. Anger is the engine that drives these sudden spikes in presidential approval ratings," said Dr. Alan Lambert, professor of psychology in Arts n Sciences and lead author of the study.

His findings, show that anger - not anxiety - is the dominant emotion that both triggers and feeds the rally effect.

After 9/11, George W. Bush's popularity surged by almost 40 points, reaching as high as 90 percent and remaining much higher than normal for nearly a year, according to the Gallup Poll.

Contrary to popular opinion and previous speculations among psychologists, the study shows that the impulse to support the president in times of war has little to do with feelings of anxiety or uncertainty or needing a president to somehow make us feel safe.

Nor do pre-existing political ideologies and values prevent us from being pushed at least a bit further down the militaristic path.

"Whereever you start on the ideological spectrum, your support for the president is pushed in an upward direction by feelings of anger. It's not a rationale thought process. It's a very primitive, almost knee-jerk response," he said.

The findings are based on a five-year study that began in 2003 with experiments measuring shifts in pro-military attitudes among college students who watched eight minutes of a CNN 'America Remembers' documentary on the 9/11 terror attacks.

The researchers surveyed a group of 136 college students to establish a baseline score of the participants' attitudes toward George W. Bush, pro-war policies, patriotic symbols and conservative views.

As expected, those exposed to the CNN 9/11 video scored much higher on measures of anger than those completing the mundane word game, and regardless of their initial political leanings, most video viewers showed a marked increase in their support both for George W. Bush and his militaristic policies.

"Keep in mind that this was a group of typical college students, many of whom didn't like the war and for the most part, didn't like George Bush at the beginning of the study. But, if you make them angry and you remind them about the war, they still end up showing increased support for George Bush," said Lambert.

"Anger clearly increased support for the president, but that effect was very narrowly confined to the president's military policies. It didn't affect attitudes toward gays. It didn't affect attitudes toward abortion. It had absolutely no effect at all on any other political ideology apart from militaristic attitudes. It's absolutely a rifle shot, something that pushes just this one button," he added.

The study will be presented at the 33rd annual meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology in San Francisco, Calif., and will be published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (ANI)

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