Have you ever known someone who really seemed fully convinced that their beliefs were vastly superior to everyone around them? And who not only felt that way but also felt a need to run around making sure to correct everyone?
Someone who seemed completely unable to tolerate the reality that it might be acceptable for other people to have different beliefs than them? Or that there might be other beliefs that could be just as valid?
I can think of quite a few actually — and not limited to any one set of believers. I can easily think of people who serve as examples from everywhere on the ideological spectrum. This behavior is not limited to one demographic or political affiliation.
It also turns out that there’s an empirical term for it. Researchers call it social vigilantism. A person who does this is a social vigilante. They’re not simply convinced of the superiority of their beliefs but also take it upon themselves to try to impose their views on everyone else and police other’s behaviors, even when what others are doing isn’t illegal and isn’t hurting anyone.
Social Vigilantism Is Measurable & Associated With a Resistance to Persuasion
One team of researchers set out to not only come up with a reliable measure for social vigilantism but also to explore other qualities the construct could be associated with.
After they successfully determined a way to empirically measure social vigilantism, they found the following:
- Social vigilantes not only believed that their belief systems were superior but were more likely to express the sentiment that their beliefs were superior — regardless of whether they were talking to people who agreed or disagreed with them.
- Social vigilantes were more resistant to others’ attempts to persuade them. They argued back at greater rates and were less likely to change their minds even when presented with compelling or contradictory evidence.
- These patterns were seen even after controlling for other potential confounding traits, including narcissism, dogmatism, reactance, and need for cognition (a person’s tendency to enjoy intellectual pursuits).
- There seemed to be no difference between how relevant a belief was to a social vigilante’s core values (i.e., whether it was an core or more ancillary belief) and how fiercely they defended and refused to change. Even a trifling matter could result in a dramatic dust-up.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.