Challenging the belief behind the action: mediation of willingness for the devoted actor
The devoted actor model demonstrates that adherence to sacred values, fusion with a group, and the perception of threat interact to predict costly actions in the name of a group and a cause, disconnected from the instrumental calculation of risk or cost. This thesis presents a theoretical and empirical investigation of the potential to impact action at the level of belief adherence. Results from a series of studies are presented across four papers, demonstrating evidence that belief rigidity can mediate action—that is, moderation of the strength with which an individual holds a value or belief can moderate willingness to fight and die in the name of the group to which it is attached. Evidence for this effect supports the conclusion that belief adherence may be a viable target in the peaceful resolution of conflict.
Paper 1 suggests that two core factors of the devoted actor model, identity fusion and perceived threat, may predict the rigidity with which an actor adheres to a value. Evidence for the hypothesised alignment between the prediction of belief rigidity and the prediction of willingness to act is supported in Paper 2. In Paper 3, fusion, sacredness, and perceived threat predict changes in the strength with which values are maintained under challenge. In a subsequent analysis, the magnitude of change in adherence predicts reported willingness to fight and die for the value. Taken together, these findings provide evidence in favour of the hypothesised mediation. However, the results present greater complexity than theorised. Rather than the absence of identity fusion and threat perception, high levels of these factors in combination, and in the absence of a perception of sacredness, may predict the greatest likelihood of successfully moderating value adherence—and therefore, the greatest likelihood of decreasing willingness to act at the level of belief. Paper 4 provides a depth of discussion regarding the implications of this finding and its place in the literature.