Better the devil you know : threat effects and attachment to the European Union

Patrikios, Stratos and Cram, Laura (2016) Better the devil you know : threat effects and attachment to the European Union. Comparative European Politics, 14 (6). pp. 717-734. ISSN 1472-4790

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    Abstract

    The EU is facing unprecedented challenges and significant threats to its economic and political security. Austerity, the Eurozone crisis, rising immigration and heightened fear of terrorism all present serious challenges to the process of integration. How does this context of insecurity impact on what the EU means to its citizens? Will the public become increasingly Eurosceptic or will they discover a hitherto unrecognised attachment to the EU as the prospect of its collapse becomes real? Psychological research has demonstrated that individual exposure to threat decreases cognitive capacity, inducing a tendency towards rigidity or conservatism - a tendency to cling to the ‘devil you know’. So what might this mean for the European integration process? Using experimental techniques drawn from political psychology, the authors find a dual threat effect. The EU symbol has a negative (anti-EU) effect on EU-related attitudes when presented in neutral context. This is consonant with conceptualisations of the EU as a threat to national cultural and political norms. In contrast, however, visual priming of participants with EU symbols has a positive (pro-EU) effect on related attitudes when these are presented in a context that implies a subtle but imminent threat to the benefits of EU membership.