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A cognitive balance approach to understanding intergroup attitudes in post-Brexit Northern Ireland

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posted on 2023-08-02, 09:01 authored by Jack LoughnaneJack Loughnane, JENNY ROTHJENNY ROTH, Wijnand Van Tilburg

Cognitive balance theory posits that a drive for cognitively consistent thoughts modulates interpersonal relations. We extended cognitive balance theory to intergroup relations and tested it in a real-life setting where intergroup relations are under strain: Northern Ireland in the wake of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. We predicted that when the groups of Irish people and British people in Northern Ireland are perceived as more compatible, intergroup bias would be lower than when groups are perceived as less compatible. We collected data of residents of Northern Ireland before the UK's official withdrawal from the EU (N=604) and after (N=350). As hypothesized, attitudes towards British people positively related to attitudes towards Irish people when participants perceived the groups as more compatible. We found the opposite relationship at low levels of perceived compatibility. Exploratory cross-lagged panel analyses did not show that these effects occurred longitudinally, suggesting that cognitive balance does not drive judgements over time possibly because people are less likely to notice inconsistent responses across different time points. The present research demonstrates that intergroup attitudes assessed at a certain point in time follow cognitive balance principles.



British Journal of Social Psychology pp. 1-19


John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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European Association of Social Psychology IReL

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