Baliuta V.V.Illusion of understanding as a socio-psychological prerequisite for youth political behaviour radicalization

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Baliuta V.V. (Балюта В.В.), Postgraduate Student at the Laboratory for Mass and Community Psychology Institute for Social and Political Psychology of the National Academy for Educational Sciences of Ukraine.

People tend to have their own opinion about practically all the important issues facing society – from glaciers melting and holes in the ozone layer to poverty and econom- ic crisis in different countries all over the world. Political issues are not exceptions from this pool about which citizens cannot come to a consensus holding polarized political preferences. The fact is, quite often people, especially young people, tend to make a show of radical political behaviour manifesting their unindifference to political prob- lems facing Ukrainian society at present triggered by so to say imaginary knowledge of the problems essence, or rather illusion of understanding them.

R. Rozenblit and F. Keil’s research allows them to argue that most often people are overconfident in how well they understand lots of seemingly simple issues [2].

But at the same time being not very steady in their judgements, people are more likely to change their attitudes about political issues when they find more convincing or emotional arguments in support of some different point of view [1]. Thus radical political behaviour can be determined by illusory confidence in one’s knowledge about important political issues.

Experimental study of socio-psychological factors of youth radical political behaviour has shown that there is a direct correlation between the level of radicalism of young people’s political behaviour and the level of their confidence in the correctness of their position towards the problem which stimulated radical political behaviour revealing. There is a direct proportion: the higher the confidence in the fact that some political situation is a real problem for society is the higher the level of radicalism of youth political behaviour will be [3].

We conjectured, therefore, that argumentation of the reasons for one’s political preferences and political position can lead to greater confidence in their correctness and hence increasing one’s commitment to them. And vice versa the mechanistic explanation of what the problem indeed is and how it is implemented actualizes the awareness that there is a lack of subject matter knowledge which in turn reveals a sense of uncertainty and thus becomes a prerequisite for youth political behaviour de-radicalization.

In order to check if our prediction is true we have conducted an experimental re- search. Independent variable of our experiment was mechanistic explanation of acute political issues as a factor of youth political behaviour de-radicalization. Patterns of youth political behaviour made up the dependent variable for our research.

Generally, 74 participants took part in this experiment, where 38 participants formed the experimental group (23 men and 15 women; young people from the experimental group were tested in advance in order to reveal their predisposition to show of patterns of radical political behaviour. Participants from this group were those young men and women who were prone to behave politically radically.), and another 36 participants formed the control group (18 men and 18 women) aged from 18 to 35 years old. Among them there were students of higher educational establishments, employees of commercial enterprises and state institutions, as well as temporarily unemployed young people. The topic for mechanistic explanation was formulated as «Distrust in state authorities».

In order to confirm or refute our prediction, we first checked whether mechanistic explanation had an effect on the attitude of young people to the issue they explained. The results showed that there was statistically significant change in opinion among the participants from the experimental group between pre– and posttesting (Wilcoxon T-test, р ≤ 0,05). Most experiment participants in their posttesting answers noted that they were not sure that suggested issue was actually the problem. Most of their answers were changed from «completely agree» or «completely disagrees» to «rather agree» or «rather disagree». Young people claimed that they needed more information about the suggested issue to give unambiguous answer.

The situation in the control group appeared almost the same as it was in the experimental one. In the control group the difference between pre– and post-testing was statistically significant (Wilcoxon T-test, р ≤ 0,05). As well as for the experimental group, the most common thing for the control group participants was that the variants of their responses shifted from the polar to the averaged ones. The main difference between the experimental and the control group lay in the number of averaged post-testing answers (the number of ones was bigger in the control group).

So the results are eloquent. Giving mechanistic explanation of the suggested issue the two options were possible: (1) either participants came to the conclusion that they knew not as much as they thought they did, or (2) they became aware that their assessment of the situation was based on some subjective emotional ground. Neither first, nor second option is enough to make the final decision to act radically.

The next step in our analysis was to test the impact of mechanistic explanation on the youth political behaviour, and if such effect was actual at all. We compared the responses of young people from both groups before the experiment and after it

according to the three levels of radical political behaviour possible revealing – low, medium and high which were selected on the basis of an expert assessment of the participants’ responses.

According to the results of Wilcoxon T-test, there were statistically significant changes in the ways of political behaviour in order to resolve political issue among the participants from the experimental group (р ≤ 0,05). Based on the results of the Mann-Whitney U-criterion (the level of significance of the coefficient p ≤ 0.05), we determined that the experimental and control groups did not statistically significant- ly differ in their results of the post-experimental survey (p = 0,386). So that we can argue that experimental effect was actual for youth prone to show of radical political behaviour. It became a prerequisite for de-radicalization of youth political behaviour aligning it with the features of political behaviour of youth from the control group which was not radical from the very beginning and remained the same after the experiment.

The participants in both groups offered ways of behaviour in order to understand the problem better. They also suggested a conscious and wise approach which young people can incorporate into patterns of their political behaviour.

So in our experiment we tested the assumption that the radical nature of youth po- litical behaviour depends on overestimation of one’s knowledge, and thus a subjective understanding of the problem essence. Affecting individual confidence in one’s right- ness can also affect the level of radicalism of political behaviour. Thus, as the results of our experiment show, the impact of mechanistic explanation of the essence of the prob- lem actually performs de-radicalizing effect. At least young people showed unindiffer- ence and their desire to understand how the problems work. De-radicalizing effect of mechanistic explanation lies partly in the influence of suggestion, imitation and emo- tional contamination deactivating, lowering the level of conformity, and partly on the basis of intellectual processing of information, not emotional.


  1. Petty R. E. Attitude strength: Antecedents and consequences / R. E. Petty, J. A. Krosnick. – Manhaw, Nj: Erlbaum, 1995. – 510 p.
  2. Rozenblit L. The misunderstood limits of folk science: An illusion of explanato- ry depth / L. Rozenblit, F. C. Keil // Cognitive Science. – 2002. – № 1. – P. 521-562.
  3. Балюта В. Засоби масової комунікації як чинник радикалізації політич- ної поведінки молоді / В. Балюта // Науковий вісник Херсонського державного університету. Серія «Психологічні науки». – 2017. – № 2. Том 3. – С. 127-131.

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