Belief in Social Darwinism Linked to Dysfunctional Psychological Characteristics

Summary: Those who subscribe to the theory of Social Darwinism tend to be more hostile to others, admire power, are more exploitative, and have lower self-esteem, researchers say.

Source: PLOS

A new survey study links belief in the concept of social Darwinism with certain dysfunctional psychological characteristics, such as exploitative attitudes towards others, hostility, and low self-esteem.

Piotr Radkiewicz of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Krystyna Skarzynska of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw, Poland, present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Those who subscribe to social Darwinism view the social world as a sort of competitive jungle requiring ruthless competition for limited resources, in which only the “strongest” survive. Social Darwinism includes a negative view of human nature, holding that people are inherently selfish and that cynical manipulation is an acceptable route to get ahead.

To better understand the personal characteristics underlying belief in social Darwinism, Radkiewicz and Skarzynska conducted a four-part survey study, with each part including 624 to 853 Polish participants.

Specifically, they examined links between people’s belief in social Darwinism and their characteristics regarding attachment styles, the “Big Five” personality traits, the “Dark Triad” of personality, basic human values, and moral judgments.

Analysis of the survey results revealed links between belief in social Darwinism and dysfunctional personal characteristics—as opposed to more positive “individual resources.”

For instance, social Darwinists were more likely to display admiration for power, a desire to dominate, a desire to pursue their goals at all costs, and hostility. They were also more likely to have low self-esteem, low self-sufficiency, and a fearful attachment style in their close relationships.

This shows a moody looking woman
Social Darwinism includes a negative view of human nature, holding that people are inherently selfish and that cynical manipulation is an acceptable route to get ahead. Image is in the public domain

The results are in line with the idea that social Darwinists hold beliefs that conflict with the principles of liberal democracy, and their vision of social life is not conducive to fostering a cooperative, egalitarian society.

The authors also note an underlying “mental split,” in that social Darwinists tend to worship strength and power while also having a fragile self-image.

Future research could continue to explore the dispositional characteristics that underlie social Darwinism, as well as a broader collection of pessimistic views of the social world.

The authors add: “The belief that the social world resembles the Darwinian jungle is conflicting with the ideals of democracy that postulate maximizing citizens’ wellbeing, minimizing violence, and promoting human rights. However, it can support adversarial democracy that aims to gain an advantage over the opponents and deprive them of power, good reputation, and economic strength.”

Funding: KS PR UMO-2013/09/B/HS6/03071 Polish National Science Center (NCN) UMO-2016/21/B/HS6/03213 Polish National Science Center (NCN) Krystyna Skarżyńska Piotr Radkiewicz.

About this psychology research news

Author: Charlotte Bhaskar
Source: PLOS
Contact: Charlotte Bhaskar – PLOS
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Who are the ‘social Darwinists’? On dispositional determinants of perceiving the social world as competitive jungle” by Radkiewicz P, Skarżyńska K. PLOS ONE


Who are the ‘social Darwinists’? On dispositional determinants of perceiving the social world as competitive jungle

The naive social Darwinism, also called the Competitive Jungle Belief (CJB), according to the theory of the Dual-Process Motivational (DPM) model, is recognized as an expanded perceptual scheme acting as a cognitive mediator between deep individual characteristics and the area of socio-political attitudes and ideologies.

This article aims to show the individual differences that can be dispositional characteristics to believe in the Competitive Jungle scheme’s principles. The presented studies’ main theoretical question is to find out whether the CJB bases on positive “individual resources” or rather some psychological deficits.

In an extensive survey study, including four random-representative samples of adults Poles (with N ranging from 624 to 853 respondents), we tested the predictive power of the five categories of variables: 1) attachment styles; 2) Big Five personality traits; 3) Dark Triad of personality; 4) basic human values and 5) moral judgments.

The results showed the psychological profile of social Darwinists as clearly dysfunctional in terms of personal life quality. They express characteristics like admiration for power and desire to dominate, pursue one’s goals at all costs, exploitative attitude towards people, and hostility.

On the other hand, they reveal a fearful style in close relations with others and have low self-esteem and low self-sufficiency. From the societal perspective, such beliefs make up a vision of social life that is unfavorable for building a cooperative, helpful, and relatively egalitarian society.

The supreme idea that only those who do not sympathize with others and are ready to use them can be successful and survive is far from the principles of liberal democracy.

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