Research projects

logo Narodowego Centrum NaukiSpeech of contempt. Psychological mechanisms of the spread of verbal aggression towards minority groups.

Principal Investigator: Michał Bilewicz

Project Team: Wiktor Soral, Michał Wypych, Kamila Zochniak, Mikołaj Winiewski, Dominika Bulska, Maciej Bieńkowski

Contemporary people are immensely immersed in the reality of Internet communication. Information and social networks provide information about politics, society and everyday life. However, they also transmit a number of negative phenomena. As users of Internet media, people often deal with hate speech: derogatory comments about immigrants, ethnic or religious minorities. Research to date on this issue has been limited for two reasons: the term “hate speech” itself has made it difficult to understand the actual emotional processes triggered by such comments; nor has there been any attempt to establish a mechanism responsible for the fact that the occasional use of an offensive statement turns into a social problem on such a large scale.

As part of this project, we want to fill this gap in understanding this problem. In this project, we would like to analyze the role of emotional processes in making offensive statements in the Internet reality. However, our focus is not on the emotion of hatred, but the emotion of contempt. Contempt is one of the basic emotions that arise in contact with others, perceived as inferior or not fully human. We postulate that by repeatedly encountering examples of contempt against ethnic minorities and immigrants, people form contemptuous stereotypes about these groups, which in turn leads to their dehumanization and reluctance to contact their representatives. Additionally, with repeated exposure to contempt speech, people’s sensitivity to similar statements decreases, contempt speech ceases to be regarded as harmful and offensive – just like then when people repeatedly encounter aggression in violent movies and computer games. This allows the speech of contempt to spread like an epidemic in society. We want to test these predictions through a series of studies, including experiments where we observe how repeated exposure to speech of contempt changes people’s thinking and behavior. We will check how the stereotypes of immigrants and ethnic minorities change after exposure to contempt speech, and whether people become more inclined to use contempt speech in everyday communication. We will determine how exposure to contempt speech affects functioning at the level of the brain – we will use the EEG measurement to assess changes in the brain’s responses to insulting statements, as well as in responses to the faces of ethnic minorities. The result of this project will be an epidemic model of contempt speech. It will allow us to describe and understand the rapid spread of the speech of contempt in the online reality. This basic model can prove extremely useful for organizations dealing with reducing the scale of hate speech and other dangerous phenomena related to the use of the Internet.


logo Narodowego Centrum NaukiThe origins of negative stereotypes of social groups percieved as hostile – a comparison of anti-Roma and antisemitic prejudice in Poland and Germany.

Principal investigator: Mikołaj Winiewski

Project team: Dominika Bulska, Michał Bilewicz, Joanna Matera

Jews and Roma are traditionally extremely disliked groups in both Poland and Germany. Antipathy towards them is to some extent similar (both groups are perceived as hostile, majority groups avoid contact with them), but it also differs (the Roma are perceived as incompetent, while the Jews are seen as an efficient, intelligent group, effective in realizing their goals). The main goal of our project is to analyze the sources of these similarities and differences. Moreover, the aim of our project is to see to what extent the content of the stereotype of both groups differs between individuals and what is the source of the variance. We assume that certain elements of the context – intergroup threat, economic crisis, public health crisis, history of intergroup relations – make specific elements of the stereotype of both groups more salient in the minds of Poles and Germans.

The hypotheses put forward in the project will be tested with the use of several methods: archival research (e.g. media analysis, analysis of Internet entries), survey research, including one longitudinal study (i.e. examining the same participants several times) in Poland and Germany (3 measurements conducted 6 months apart) and one representative survey, as well as a series of experimental studies. The results will significantly complement the existing theories of foreign group stereotypes, and the international nature of the research will allow us to compare the relative impact of contextual factors, including economic ones, the history of intergroup relations as well as cultural and social norms on the formation of negative stereotypes.


logo Narodowego Centrum NaukiSolidarity-based collective action and collective action against the out-group: antecedents and consequences.

Principal investigator: Paulina Górska

The current project aims to investigate the sources and consequences of two types of outgroup-related collective action. By solidarity-based collective action we understand the efforts made by the members of privileged groups to benefit the disadvantaged. By contrast, we define collective action against the out-group as the engagement undertaken by the members of high-status groups to secure their privileged position through impairing the position of low-status out-groups. We propose two models of out-group related engagement (solidarity-based collective action and collective action against the out-group, respectively) that involve contextual, structural and psychological antecedents of activism as well as the psychological and structural effects of collective action. Importantly, we adopt a processual perspective on engagement, viewing it as an activity that develops over time and results in cumulative changes in individuals.

The project involves five parallel lines of research and nine studies. Line 1, including a single, longitudinal survey (3 measurements with two 6-month lags, expected sample size: NT1 = 1000, NT2 = 600, NT3 = 360), examines the antecedents and consequences of outgroup-related engagement in the population of Poles. This part of the project aims to reveal causal mechanisms that involve variables hardly susceptible to experimental manipulation such as intergroup contact, embeddedness in activists’ networks or RWA and SDO. In this study, respondents would declare their attitudes toward 4 out-groups: Jews, Muslims, refugees and homosexuals. On the other hand, two field studies (2 x N = 600) comprising Line 2 are devised to investigate the psychological results of engagement. Using data collected from the real-life activists and unengaged individuals, we plan to check the stability of changes that follow from participation. Line 3 involves four experiments (2 x N = 200 and 2 x N = 252) and aims to rigorously test the psychological processes implied by the proposed models. Following the suggestion of Spencer, Zanna, and Fong (2005), we devise a series of experiments to establish causal chains hypothesized in the theoretical introduction. Such a strategy is superior to mediational analyses when the focal predictor and the intervening variable are easily manipulated. Line 4 includes the meta-analysis of studies on old-fashioned and modern prejudice – a data synthesis that may clarify some inconsistencies present in the area of prejudice research. Finally, Line 5 includes the meta-analysis of the research on the prejudice-reduction potential of empathy.

The results of the project may affect social psychology as the discipline in multiple ways. Most importantly, our research may conclude with the establishment of two dynamic, integrative models of outgroup-directed collective action. Although integrative, processual models have been provided in collective action literature before they limited themselves to collective action in its classical meaning, that is engagement on behalf of the in-group. Furthermore, we introduce the concept of collective action against the out-group. This step may facilitate building a bridge between collective action and collective violence literatures. Furthermore, by incorporating institutional, economic and social environment as the predictors of individuals’ engagement, we link micro-oriented, social-psychological perspective on collective action with the structural approach known from sociology and political science. Moreover, the project is designed to overcome methodological shortcomings common to collective action research such as relying on cross-sectional studies, student samples and self-report measures. Furthermore, this project may contribute to the social-psychological literature by meta-analyzing studies on old-fashioned and modern prejudice. Although the body of knowledge regarding these two types of attitudes is vast, only qualitative syntheses have been published so far. Fifth, the project may result in the meta-analysis of studies on different types of empathy – a definitely needed and surprisingly absent research synthesis within social psychology. Importantly, such a synthesis would be not only of theoretical but also of practical value – it would help in designing more efficient prejudice-reduction interventions. Finally, due to its important topic and methodological rigor, the project may result in the publication in the top-tier social-psychological journals.


logo Narodowego Centrum NaukiCollective action as a dynamic and context-dependent phenomenon.

Principal investigator: Paulina Górska

Trade Agreement (ACTA) in January 2012, Black Monday women’s strike in October 2016 or demonstrations against the judiciary bill in July 2017, to name just a few. As shown by these events, mass protests may serve as a powerful form of political involvement, able to shape decisions made by the power holders. At the same time, many protests fail in terms of mobilization and political impact. Why is this the case? What makes people abandon their daily routines and take to the streets? What makes them continue their engagement despite the lack of political results? Why are some protests successful, while the others are not? Social psychology provides responses to some of these questions. Within this discipline, protests, demonstrations and strikes are investigated as instances of collective action, the latter broadly defined as any action that promotes the interests of one’s in-group or is performed in political solidarity (Becker & Tausch, 2015). The results of past social psychological research indicate both the antecedents, as well as the psychological outcomes of collective action. However, the story told by the psychological accounts of protest behavior does not seem to be complete. In statistical terms, psychological factors explain only the modest amount of interindividual variance in collective action. Intraindividual variance – the within-person fluctuations in engagement – remains almost unexplained. These results suggest that much has to be uncovered yet. The current project aims to tell a more comprehensive story of collective action aimed to benefit one’s in-group. Our main theoretical proposition is to view collective action as a dynamic and context-dependent phenomenon. We claim that, instead of being an isolated event, collective action is a continuous process. It seems that some established sources of collective action, such as politicized identity (Simon & Klandermans, 2001), need time to develop in order to spur actual engagement. On the other hand, the outcomes of collective action may feed back to its antecedents and promote or undermine further participation. At the same time, we propose that engagement does not take place in a social vacuum, but rather emerges from the interplay of the institutional landscape, ideological climate, interpersonal relations and individual attributes. In what follows, we present our theorizing on collective action and propose a multi-method research program to verify it.


logo Narodowego Centrum NaukiConspiracy beliefs as radicalization multiplier and system justification myths.

Principal investigator: Maria Babińska

Conspiracy theories became lately a topic of public interest (e.g., Lamberty, Hellmann, & Oeberst, 2018). In Poland for instance 44% of the population believes in a politically based conspiracy theory (Babinska & Bilewcz 2018). Recent studies on conspiracy theorizing suggests that conspiracy beliefs are spreading also in other European Countries such as Hungary, France, Slovakia or Greece (Gyarfasova, Kreko, Meseznikov, Molnar & Morris, 2014). Surprisingly, the outcome of conspiracy beliefs in a political context has not been systematically investigated so far. More so, the current political situation in Poland is, compared to Germany unique. While in the latter, conspiracy theorizing is rather a domain of extremist political orientations, in Poland it became a part of mainstream politics (e.g Leszczyński, 3.02.2018).. In my project I suggest, based on previous research that conspiracy theories have a potential to become system legitimizing myths (Jost & Hunyady, 2003). Recent research on conspiracy mentality (Imhoff & Lamberty, 2018) shows, that the mechanism behind the relationship of having a “conspiracy mindset” and belief in specific conspiracies is individual need for uniqueness. I argue that this mechanism is true, when specific conspiracies are dismissed by governments. On the other hand, when conspiracy theories are supported by members of the government they become system justifying myths and the mechanism behind that would be group based need for uniqueness, a concept parallel to the individual, but resulting in different outcomes.


logo Fundacji na rzecz Nauki PolskiejLanguage as a cure: linguistic vitality as a tool
for psychological well-being, health and economic sustainability.

Principal investigators: Michał Bilewicz and Justyna Olko

Project Team: Magdalena Skrodzka, Michał Wypych, Maria Mirucka, Tetyana Rodnyenkova

[Project in collaboration with Artes Liberales Faculty at the University of Warsaw]

In recent years, for the first time in the modern history of Poland, we have witnessed large waves of migration, including at least one million immigrants from Ukraine. According to CBOS, in 2016, compared to the previous years, the attitude of Poles towards other ethnic groups deteriorated significantly: the most negative change in attitudes occurred towards the Roma, Turks, Ukrainians and Germans; however, it also concerned Jews, Lithuanians, and even Japanese, French and Dutch. We often hear about acts of discrimination and aggression, especially against Ukrainians, and also against ethnic minorities. Many individuals and groups have been stigmatized since the early post-war period, when they were subjected to particularly severe repression. Mass resettlement, labor camps and the ban on the use of language became tools in the hands of the communist authorities, which decided to turn Poland into a country that is culturally and linguistically homogeneous. The effects of long-term, if less violent, discrimination also have serious cultural, social and economic consequences. They negatively affect health and well-being. Both in Poland and in other parts of Europe, the number of immigrants is increasing and this trend is likely to grow in the near future. The economic impact of this situation is difficult to underestimate, both in terms of the productivity of migrants and minority groups and the cost of healthcare. Hence the key questions: what can be done to enable the role of migrants and members of these ethnic minorities in building a modern and innovative economy to make a greater contribution to the Polish economy and a positive, multicultural and inclusive society? How can they be protected from the multiple consequences of discrimination? Our multidisciplinary project aims to provide concrete answers to these questions and the welfare challenges of linguistic and ethnic minorities. Previous research on this issue has been disciplinary-limited and small-scale outside Europe: mainly in Canada and Australia. They only found a correlation between language loss, deterioration of the health of Indigenous / minority communities, acute or chronic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), higher rates of alcoholism and suicide.

Our project aims to establish the causal relationship between language loss and discrimination, and health and well-being, which makes it pioneering and innovative. We intend to show empirically the role of language as a component of social identity responsible for maintaining well-being, and also a means by which people better control their environment through affiliation with a specific group. Our hypothesis is that there is a mechanism for positive change: we have called it the “language medicine”. Broadly speaking, we will deal with a three-step process: 1. How trauma, linguistic discrimination, unbalanced contact and accelerated change under the influence of a dominant language lead to the disappearance of a minority language 2. How abandoning a language affects the deterioration of the health and well-being of a particular community 3. What are the negative economic effects of these processes. Most importantly, however, we will try to point out the possibilities of positive change by reversing these processes in order to better psychophysical functioning of minority and immigrant groups and their better adaptation in the host society, if the negative forces can be reduced or reversed, the result will be quite different: very favorable results. Our research methods are multidisciplinary and comprehensive – they must take into account the complex linguistic, historical, social, psychological, medical and economic factors influencing the processes under study. We plan to develop and apply an innovative set of tools, including extensive, interdisciplinary questionnaires and a multidimensional quantitative and qualitative analysis of different, mutually complementary data sets. Importantly, our research will be conducted not on, but together with communities and minority groups, including Lemkos, Ukrainians, Wilamowians and Nahua Indians. The results of the project have a chance to significantly verify and develop knowledge about the effects of language loss, linguistic discrimination and the impact of these processes on the health and well-being of minority groups, and on a wider scale – on the well-being of the entire society.

We intend to show that the positive, successful integration of immigrants and minorities based on their ethnolinguistic identities has a positive impact on the country’s economic development, sustainable relations and social cohesion. In addition to scientific studies, the project will result in practical solutions and guidelines for education, language and migration policies. This knowledge is fundamental to the development of civil society and the protection of human rights in a multicultural and multilingual social setting.