Beliefs About Good and Evil: Literature Review

09 Apr 2018

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  • Sohila Sandher

Maggie Campbell, Johanna Ray Vollhardt, (15 Jul, 2013) Fighting the Good Fight: The Relationship Between Belief in Evil and Support for Violent Policies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol. 41. 250-267

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Maggie Campbell and Johanna Ray Vollhartd attempt to address “which forms of collective action more effectively communicate the illegitimacy of the status quo and the efficacy of a group? What are the factors that shape support for different protest strategies?” The goal of their studie was to “explore the extent to which violent and non-violent tactics convey a heightened or mitigated sense of illegitimacy and act to build or undermine a sense of group efficacy in the movement.” They also worked to “consider relationships between the use of violent and non-violent tacts and endorsement of those tacts in future action.” They also explore the existence of amoderator of prcesses, specifically focusing on allegations of corruption against authority. Their study was based on Coal Seam Mining in Australia.

The first experiment Campbell and Vollhardt conducted had three different parts. The first part was to test the hypothesis that non-violent protest is more supported than violent protest, and that conventional methods of protest receive less hostility from sympathizers. The second part of the experiment worked to consider how specific collective actions influence sympathizers perceptions of a situation in relation to Coal Seam Mining. The third part meant to connect illegitimacy and efficacy with endorsemet of future violent versus nonviolent actions via meditational analysis.

The experiment was carried out on a sample size of 192 people who were recruited through a survey research firm that was looking for Queenslanders over the age of 18 years old. The reason they picked specifically from Queensland is because it is an area that is affected by mining and is witness to ongoing anti-mining protests. Out of the 192 people, 121 were female, 50 were male, and 20 opted not to specify. The average of of participants was 46.67 years and the average Queensland residency was 30.52 years. The experiment was a one-way design that compared the effects of the independent variables of violent protest, non-violent protest, and a no protest control condition on four dependent variables. The four dependent variables were: support for the protest, hostility toward the protestors, and endorsement of non-violent, and extreme methods. The mediator variables were the illegitimacy of the issue and group efficacy about resolving the Gas situation.

The procedure included a questionnaire and reading of articles on protests, depending what group the subject was placed under. The results from experiment 1 show the possibility of protest violence being less supported than non-violent protest and that violence creates more hostility towards protestors involved. The experiment also showed that non-violence promotes future non-violence because it “effectively communicates the illegitimacy of the issue and bolsters the belief that action can be effective.” The experiment concludes that “adopting violence during a protest is, at best, a waste of time.”

Experiment 2 measured the role of corruption in a government system or authority in moderating support for violent and non-violent protest. The experiment found that allegations of corruption have paradoxical effects on perceptions not only on specific events but also on broad social change. The end result of the study is that there is little support for strategic use for violence in protest, but that is important to remember the role of the media and that different political opponents might generate different sympathizing results.

Maggie Campbell, Johanna Ray Vollhardt. Fighting the Good Fight The Relationship Between Belief in Evil and Support for Violent Policies. (15 July 2013) Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol 40. 16-33


In this article, Campbell and Vollhardt focus on the consequences of using the terms of good and evil to label people and groups and how labels effect the willingness to interact with a person or group in a violent or non-violent manner. The study “aims to examine the social psychological underpinning of beliefs in good and evil, and investigate mechanisms through which these beliefs legitimize violence against those viewed as evil adversaries.” They also acknowledge that there are different levels at which people acknowledge evil; that there is no “true evil” and “true good”. The research done by Campbell and Vollhardt suggests that the individual’s definition of good and even might predict negative intergroup attitude and support for violence towards perceived enemies. They worked towards developing measures that asses individual differences in believes about good in evil “reliably and separately, as a construct in it’s own right.” They used four different studies to analyze how the labels of good and evil work.

The goal of the first study was to provide an initial empirical investigation of beliefs regarding good and evil, and endorsement of redemptive violence. The expectation was that beliefs on good and evil and the support of redemptive violence would predict more support for violent intergroup outcomes as compared to support for nonviolent outcomes. Campbell and Vollhardt hypothesized that there would be “an indirect effect of belief in evil on intergroup policy preferences”. For this study they collected data from 349 participants living in the United States, the majority of which being European Americans. 41% of the group identified with a religious group, while 58% of the group had at least a 4-year college degree.

The study was conducted online, with participants coming in from Facebook, Craigslist and, listservs. Good and evil, endorsement of redemptive violence, measures of support for violent vs. nonviolent policies, and control variables were all measured on a seven point scale. This measure ended up mainly catching a belief in evil. Study 2 was meant to strengthen the measures on belief in good. Study 2 was based on an exploratory question of whether the belief in good or if a belief in a dichotomy would present itself. The study was conducted much in the same manner as study 1. The conclusion was that belief in good predicted two nonviolent outcomes, and that participants who believed in good viewed themselves as part of the non violent categories they supported.

Study 3A and 3B were conducted to test if a belief in evil predicts support for violent policies when effects of other cognitive processes are controlled and also established the social psychological constructs that predicted such attitudes. These studies were also conducted online. Studies 3A and 3B provide us with empirical evidence to the argument that belief in evil in conceptually different from previously studied constructs, and that it also has a predictive power that can help explain support for violent policies. This study showed the importance in looking at the beliefs in good and evil to understand attitudes towards violent or nonviolent policies in intergroup conflict. There is a promise of real world implication with this study.

Thomas Talhem, Jonathan Haidt, Shigehiro Oishi, Xuemin Zhang, Felicity F. Miao, Shimin Chen. Liberals Think More Analytically (More “WEIRD”) Than Conservatives. (17 Nov 2014 ) Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol 41. 250-267


This study is designed to test whether liberals and conservatives legitimately think about the world as if they were form different cultures because of differences in the ways they process the same set of facts. They play with the idea of temporarily changing peoples cultural thought and thereby changing political opinions. They use the term WEIRD as a category. WEIRD stands for the portion of the population that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. The researchers of this study argue that the liberals that fall within WEIRD are a even more remote part of the population. WEIRD people are considered outliers because they score analytically on measures of thought and perception as compared to the rest who think ore holistically or intuitively. They present the hypothesis that liberals think more analytically because liberal culture is more individualistic, with priority for individual identity instead of group.

The study uses four reports that tie the relationship of politics to holistic-analytic thought. The first study brings cultural thought measure into political psychology, the second distinguishes social and economic politics, the third measures thought style with cognitive tests instead of self-report scales, and the fourth tests whether thought type causes political opinions by briefly changing people’s thought styles and then measuring their political opinion. The samples were US college subjects that naturally control for age and education, large internet samples to cover diverse demographic groups and allow for control of more demographic variables, and a sample from China that has a different political climate as compared to the United States.

The first study used a triad task, and a framed-line task. These tasks were administered to the group of college studies and measured on a scale from 1 to 7. They found that social liberals had a more ‘Western’, analytic, cognitive, and perceptual style than their conservative American classmates. The socially conservative students were more relational, cognitive, and perceptual. Their styles of thinking were more ‘East Asian’. The researchers claim that study 1 add to evidence that there are cultural differences in cognition between people in the same nation. The second study was similar to the first, but it was ran on a large Internet group instead of one university campus. It replaced the information from study1 because it was a larger sample size.

Study three used date on cultural differences between students in Northern and Southern China. It was a replication of the findings in the first two studies. An important difference was that the relationship between social politics and thought was only found in more developed areas. It did find that this is not just an American phenomenon. Study four looked at if thought style causes people to be liberal or conservative. Study 4 provided the first evidence of cultural thought style causing attitudes toward political opinions that were presented in a long-form article. The different samples gives researchers some evidence that the relationship between politics and thought is not only of one particular culture.

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