Threat and Challenge of Incremental and Dramatic Social Change
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Social change is an evident feature of reality. Based on the pace at which it happens, social change is divided into incremental and dramatic social change. People respond to both types with different coping mechanisms and behaviors. In this study, we aimed to investigate whether incremental and dramatic social change elicit threat and challenge responses in people. We integrated sociology and psychology by measuring threat and challenge of social change in an experimental setting, using real-world themes (global warming and immigration) that induce social change in contemporary Dutch society. 61 Dutch citizens read a text describing the status quo, followed by a text describing social change regarding both themes. Afterwards, they self-reported their threat and challenge responses, and the rate at which they perceived the social change to happen. Contrary to expectations, incremental social change (global warming) elicited a stronger threat response compared to dramatic social change (immigration). Furthermore, social change of global warming elicited a weaker challenge response than status quo of global warming, and we found no difference between social change and status quo of immigration. Finally, the perceived rate of social change was found to be related to the threat response. The results of this study shed light on the psychological responses to social change and the way people cope with it. A better understanding of these responses is crucial for perception management and an adequate distribution of coping resources, as well as to understand whether distinguishing social change in incremental and dramatic is useful to researchers interested in the psychological consequences of social change.