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Victims, perpetrators, or both? The vicious cycle of disrespect and cynical beliefs about human nature

On April 17 Olga Stavrova (PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Psychology, Tilburg University, the Netherlands) took part in the "Culture matters" research seminar with the report "Victims, Perpetrators, or Both? The Vicious Cycle of Disrespect and Cynical Beliefs about Human Nature".

The report was devoted to research on testing how cynicism emerges and what maintains it. Cynicism is the tendency to expect that others will engage in deception and exploitation, based on notions that people are morally bankrupt and behave treacherously in order to maximize self-interest. Given that cynicism’s defining features revolve around beliefs about others, we looked for its roots in the interpersonal domain. Drawing on social exchange literatures, the author focused on disrespect. The author proposed that being the target of disrespect gives rise to hostile affect. Hostility strengthens beliefs about people’s nefarious nature (thus inciting cynical views), which predisposes people to further disrespect by others. The end result was a vicious cycle: cynicism and disrespect fuel one another. Two large-scale longitudinal studies, spanning 4 and 9 years, showed that feeling disrespected and holding cynical views mutually give rise to each other in an escalating pattern (Studies 1 and 2). Both effects were mediated by hostile affect (Study 1). An experiment showed that to the extent that people endorsed cynical beliefs, others viewed them as being less sociomoral and, consequently, were inclined to treat them disrespectfully (Study 3). Study 4’s weeklong daily-diary study showed that cynical individuals’ experiences of disrespect resulted in an increased propensity to treat others disrespectfully, which in turn increased the likelihood of being treated disrespectfully by others. These results illustrate how experiencing disrespect gives rise to cynicism and how cynicism elicits disrespectful reactions in others, in turn reinforcing the cynicism that caused these negative reactions in the first place.