Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Political Orientation and Images of the United States in Italy

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Political Orientation and Images of the United States in Italy

Article excerpt

Political scientists have applied image theory to explain and predict international relations (see e.g., Boulding, 1956; Herrmann, 1985). Images are representations which stem from the perceived relationships between two nations, and serve both to justify one's behavioral inclinations toward the other country and to make sense of the political environment (Herrmann, 2003). Image theory has also been applied to the understanding of intergroup relations at large (e.g., interethnic conflicts; Alexander, Brewer, & Livingston, 2005).

According to image theory, people evaluate the ingroup/outgroup relationship on the basis of three structural dimensions: (a) goal compatibility, (b) relative power, and (c) relative status, namely, relative cultural sophistication (Alexander, Brewer, & Herrmann, 1999). Each image is associated with a specific set of structural attributes. The images that have been most theorized and investigated are those of enemy, ally, barbarian, and imperialist. The enemy image involves the perception of goal incompatibility, similar power, and similar status; the adversary is portrayed as hostile, opportunistic, and untrustworthy. The mirror image of enemy--ally--arises when the relationship with the other nation is marked by compatible goals, similar power, and similar cultural status; the ally nation is seen as cooperative and trustworthy. The two remaining representations --barbarian and imperialist--stem from a perception of negative interdependence. The barbarian image, which sees the other group as violent, irrational, and ruthless, is formed when the other nation is regarded as more powerful, but culturally inferior to the national ingroup. The imperialist image arises when the other group, depicted as arrogant, paternalistic, and exploitative, is perceived as having both greater power and greater status.

Image theory is supported both by experimental (Alexander et al., 1999; Castano, Sacchi, & Gries, 2003; Herrmann, Voss, Schooler, & Ciarrochi, 1997) and correlational studies (Alexander, Levin, & Henry, 2005). Moreover, archival data have also been used in testing the theory (e.g., Herrmann & Fischerkeller, 1995).

The aim in this study was to assess the images of the United States (US) as perceived by Italians with different political ideologies. The 9/11 attacks and the US decision to wage war against terrorism have engendered political and social consequences, that have considerably influenced the international scene. This has led to a growing attention to the way other countries view the United States (e.g., Glick et al., 2006; Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2002, 2004; Trifiletti, Andrighetto, Rattazzi, Visintin, & Falvo, 2011). Italy, in the past few years, has officially backed America's "war on terror". Nevertheless, not all Italians agree with the US foreign policy. America's fight against terrorism has had widespread support among right-wingers seeking to maintain cooperation with the United States. In contrast, for left-wingers the war against terrorism has renewed anti-American sentiments, traceable back to the Cold War period.

In this study, we made different predictions for right- and left-wing respondents. In considering structural attributes, we predicted that left-wing participants would perceive American and Italian international goals as incompatible, and assign greater power to the American outgroup and higher cultural status to the Italian ingroup (Hypothesis 1a). The prediction for right-wingers was that they would agree with left-wingers in terms of power and status, but perceive Italian and American goals as compatible (Hypothesis 1b). Given these constellations of structural attributes, we hypothesized that left-wingers would endorse the image of Americans as barbarians (Hypothesis 2a). The pattern of structural attributes expected for right wingers, is not predicted in image theory. Therefore, we proposed an additional image--the father--which should arise when goals are perceived as compatible and the outgroup is seen as holding greater power, but as being equal or lower in cultural status. …

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