One characteristic of research coming out of the Skitka lab, is that our research is often designed to test hypotheses in the context of real-world events (the “wild”). Although committed to laboratory research and experiments, we strive to also be alert for opportunities to test hypotheses in the context of real-world events. Sometimes this means taking real-world events and using them as stimulus materials in lab studies (e.g., Morgan, Mullen, & Skitka, 2010). Other times, this means we measure people’s reactions to real world events as they unfold (e.g., Skitka, Bauman, & Lytle, 2009; Skitka & Mullen, 2002). Some representative abstracts of research that takes this approach are provided below.

Gollwitzer, M., Skitka, L, J., Wisneski, D., Sjöström, A., Liberman, P., Nazir, S. J., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). Vicarious revenge and the death of Osama bin Laden. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. DOI: 10.1177/0146167214521466

Three hypotheses were derived from research on vicarious revenge and tested in the context of the assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011. In line with the notion that revenge aims at delivering a message (the “message hypothesis”), Study 1 shows that Americans’ vengeful desires in the aftermath of 9/11 predicted a sense of justice achieved after bin Laden’s death, and that this effect was mediated by perceptions that his assassination sent a message to the perpetrators to not “mess” with the United States. In line with the “blood lust hypothesis,” his assassination also sparked a desire to take further revenge and to continue the “war on terror.” Finally, in line with the “intent hypothesis,” Study 2 shows that Americans (but not Pakistanis or Germans) considered the fact that bin Laden was killed intentionally more satisfactory than the possibility of bin Laden being killed accidentally (e.g., in an airplane crash).

Reifen Tagar, M., Morgan, G. S., Skitka, L., & Halperin, E. (2013). Moral conviction in the context of protracted intergroup conflict: When ideology matters in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. European Journal of Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.1993.

Do people’ s policy preferences toward outgroups in intractable conflict consistently correspond with political ideology? To what extent are policy-related cleavages between the political right and left in such contexts fueled by moral conviction and emotions? Analyses of a survey of Jewish-Israelis (N=119) conducted immediately after a war between Israelis and Palestinians revealed little to no ideological differences in acceptance of “ collateral damage,” support for retribution, or support for compromise when positions about the Israeli– Palestinian conflict were devoid of moral fervor. Those on the left and right endorsed polarized policy preferences only when their positions about the conflict were held with moral conviction. Presence or absence of guilt about harm to Palestinians mediated the effects of moral conviction on policy preferences in this context.

Aramovich, N.P., Lytle, B.L. & Skitka, L.J. (2012). Opposing torture: Moral conviction and resistance to majority influence. Social Influence, 1, 21 - 34.

Even though nearly every society and moral system condemns the use of torture, and despite recent outrage about abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, over half of Americans support the use of torture when interrogating suspected terrorists. Moreover, public support for the use of torture is increasing (Sidoti, 2009). The present study tested the role of people’s moral convictions against the use of torture in resisting conforming to a majority of peers who supported the use torture when interrogating suspected terrorists. Results from an Asch-inspired conformity paradigm indicated that after controlling for other indices of attitude strength, strength of moral conviction uniquely predicted the extent that people expressed opposition to torture both publicly and privately. Implications are discussed.

Morgan, G. S., Mullen, E., & Skitka, L. J. (2010). When values and attributions collide: Liberals' and conservatives' values motivate attributions for alleged misdeeds. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 1241 – 1254.

Conservatives tend to make dispositional whereas liberals make situational attributions for social problems and alleged misconduct (the “ideo-attribution effect”). Three studies demonstrated a reversal of the ideo-attribution effect. Conservatives made stronger situational attributions than liberals for the behavior of Marines accused of killing Iraqi civilians (Studies 1 and 2) and police officers accused of wrongly killing a cougar running loose in a Chicago neighborhood (Study 3). Reversals of the ideo-attribution effect occurred because conservative values were more consistent with excusing the Marines’ and police officers’ behavior, whereas liberal values were more consistent with blaming the Marines and police officers. These results suggest that the ideo-attribution effect—and attributions more generally—are shaped by whether people’s attributional conclusions are consistent or inconsistent with their salient values.

Crandall, C. S., Eidelman, S., Skitka, L. J., & Morgan, G. S. (2009). Status quo framing increases support for torture. Social Influence, 4, 1 – 10.

Does describing torture by America’s agents as a longstanding practice—part of the status quo—increase people’s acceptance of the practice? A representative sample of U.S. adults, randomly assigned to conditions in which these practices were described as new or as having been used for more than 40 years, read about the use of torture in questioning of detainees. Torture described as a longstanding practice had more support and was seen as more effective and justifiable than the same torture described as new. Characterization of practices as longstanding—even if unpopular or disgraceful—enhances their support and increases their perceived justification.

Morgan, G. S., Skitka, L. J., & Wisneski, D. (2010). Moral and religious convictions and intentions to vote in the 2008 Presidential election. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 10, 307 – 320.

The current research investigated whether people’s issue-specific moral and religious convictions had distinct or redundant effects on their intentions to vote in the 2008 presidential election. Participants reported their levels of moral and religious conviction about the issue that they perceived as most important to the 2008 presidential election and their intentions to vote. Results indicated that stronger issue-specific moral convictions and weaker issue-specific religious convictions were associated with increased intentions to vote. In short, people’s moral and religious convictions had distinct and dissimilar effects on their intentions to vote in the 2008 presidential election.
Skitka, L. J., Bauman, C. W., & Lytle, B. L. (2009). The limits of legitimacy: Moral and religious convictions as constraints on deference to authority. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 567 - 578.
Various versions of legitimacy theory predict that a duty and obligation to obey legitimate authorities generally trumps people’s personal moral and religious values. However, most research has assumed rather than measured the degree to which people have a moral or religious stake in the situations studied. This study tested compliance with and reactions to legitimate authorities in the context of a natural experiment that tracked public opinion before and after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case that challenged states’ rights to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Results indicated that citizens’ degree of moral conviction about the issue of physician-assisted suicide predicted post-ruling perceptions of outcome fairness, decision acceptance, and changes in perceptions of the Court’s legitimacy from pre- to post-ruling. Other results revealed that the effects of religious conviction independently predicted outcome fairness and decision acceptance but not perceptions of post-ruling legitimacy.
Conway, A. R. A., Skitka, L. J., Hemmerich, J. A. & Kershaw, T. C. (2008). Flashbulb memory for September 11, 2001. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 605 – 623.

The recollection of particularly salient, surprising or consequential events is often called ‘flashbulb memories’. We tested people’s autobiographical memory for details of 11 September 2001 by gathering a large national random sample (N = 678) of people’s reports immediately following the attacks, and then by contacting them twice more, in September 2002 and August 2003. Three novel findings emerged. First, memory consistency did not vary as a function of demographic variables such as gender, geographical location, age or education. Second, memory consistency did not vary as a function of whether memory was tested before or after the 1-year anniversary of the event, suggesting that media coverage associated with the anniversary did not impact memory. Third, the conditional probability of consistent recollection in 2003 given consistent recollection in 2002 was. In contrast, the conditional probability of consistent recollection in 2003 given inconsistent recollection in 2002 was.. Finally, and in agreement with several prior studies, confidence in memory far exceeded consistency in the long term. Also, those respondents who revealed evidence for consistent flashbulb memory experienced more anxiety in response to the event, and engaged in more covert rehearsal than respondents who did not reveal evidence for consistent flashbulb memory.

Skitka, L. J., & Bauman, C. W. (2008). Moral conviction and political engagement. Political Psychology, 29, 29 – 54.

The 2004 presidential election led to considerable discussion about whether moral values motivated people to vote, and if so, whether it led to a conservative electoral advantage. The results of two studies—one conducted in the context of the 2000 presidential election, the other in the context of the 2004 presidential election—indicated that stronger moral convictions associated with candidates themselves and attitudes on issues of the day uniquely predicted self-reported voting behavior and intentions to vote even when controlling for a host of alternative explanations (e.g., attitude strength, strength of party identification). In addition, we found strong support for the hypothesis that moral convictions equally motivated political engagement for those on the political right and left and little support for the notion that a combination of morality and politics is something more characteristic of the political right than it is of the political left.
Mullen, E., & Skitka, L. J. (2006). When outcomes prompt criticism of procedures: An archival analysis of the Rodney King case. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 6, 1 – 14.
A content analysis of newspaper editorials about the trial of the four officers accused of beating Rodney King investigated when people would become concerned with procedural propriety in the case. Consistent with research demonstrating that people’ s moral convictions are important determinants of their perceptions of fairness and reactions to outcomes, results revealed that people were more critical of the procedures used in the case after learning the “unjust” verdict than before. Specifically, editorials only mentioned aspects of procedures after the verdict was announced, despite potential reasons for preverdict procedural concern. Editorials also contained more mentions of racism post- than preverdict suggesting that the “unjust” verdict also prompted concerns with institutionalized procedural problems.
Skitka, L. J., Bauman, C. W., Aramovich, N. P., & Morgan, G. C. (2006). Confrontational and preventative policy responses to terrorism: Anger wants a fight and fear wants "them" to go away.
Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 28, 375 - 384.
This study used a nationally representative sample (N = 550) to test factors that predicted support for a confrontational (an expanded War on Terror) and a defensive public policy (deporting various groups symbolically associated with the attackers) shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Results indicate that anger but not fear predicted support for expanding the war beyond Afghanistan, and fear but not anger predicted support for deporting Arab Americans, Muslims, and first generation immigrants. Political orientation was weakly or not correlated with affective reactions and policy preferences, but right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) was a strong predictor of both. RWA had a direct and an indirect effect through anger on support for war and a direct and an indirect effect through fear on support for deportation. Implications are discussed.
Skitka, L. J., (2005). Patriotism or nationalism? Understanding post-September 11, 2001 flag display behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, 1995 - 2011.
People reacted to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in a number of different ways. One reaction was to display the American flag on one's home, car, or person. The goal of this research was to understand the underlying motivations that led to this widespread behavior. Specifically, to what extent was post-9/11 flag-display behavior motivated by patriotism (love of country and in-group solidarity), nationalism (uncritical acceptance of national, state, and political authorities and out-group antipathy), or a combination of both? Results of a national survey (N = 605) provided much stronger support for the hypothesis that post-9/11 flag-display behavior was an expression of patriotism, not nationalism. Other results supported the notion that patriotism can exist without nationalism, even in the context of people's reactions to a terrorist attack.
Skitka, L. J., Bauman, C. W., & Mullen, E. (2004). Political tolerance and coming to psychological closure following September 11, 2001: An integrative approach. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 743 – 756.
This study tested hypotheses generated from an integrative model of political tolerance that derived hypotheses from a number of different social psychological theories (e.g., appraisal tendency theory, intergroup emotion theory, and value protection models) to explain political tolerance following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A national field study (N = 550) found that immediate postattack anger and fear had different implications for political tolerance 4 months later. The effects of anger on political tolerance were mediated through moral outrage and outgroup derogation, whereas the effects of fear on political tolerance were mediated through personal threat, ingroup enhancement, and value affirmation. Value affirmation led to increased political tolerance, whereas moral outrage, outgroup derogation, ingroup enhancement, and personal threat led to decreased political tolerance. Value affirmation, moral outrage, and out- group derogation also facilitated post-9/11 psychological closure and increased psychological closure led to greater political tolerance.
Skitka, L. J., & Mullen, E. (2002). Understanding judgments of fairness in a real-world political context: A test of the value protection model of justice reasoning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1419-1429.
Current theories of justice emphasize social identity reasons for why people care about justice to the relative neglect of personal identity concerns, that is, people’s need to express, defend, and live up to personal moral standards.The authors present a value protection model that predicts that self-expressive moral positions or stands (“moral mandates”) are important determinants of how people reason about fairness. Hypotheses were tested and supported in the context of a natural experiment: reactions of a national random sample of adults to the Elián González case pre-raid,post-raid,and then post-resolution of the case. Models that included strength of moral mandates, but not pre-raid judgments of procedural fairness, best predicted reactions to the raid and post-resolution judgments of both procedural and outcome fairness and were associated with expressions of moral outrage and attempts to morally cleanse.