Empirical Validation of the Intergroup Threat Theory: Examining the Attitudes of Police Officers towards Four Minority Groups in Israel
Limor Wizman-Sagi and Joseph Schwarzwald
The empirical validity of the intergroup threat theory (Stephan, Ybarra, and Rios Morrison, 2015) is researched here by examining the attitudes of police officers towards four minority groups in Israeli society: Arab Israelis, ultra-Orthodox Jews, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and immigrants from Ethiopia. Jewish-Israelis, in the most general of terms, served as a comparison group. The theory assumes that the perceived threat aroused by an out-group evokes a negative attitude towards that group, and that the higher the perceived threat, the more negative the attitude towards the group becomes. Two types of threat – real and symbolic – are defined at both individual and group levels, and are assumed to affect the emotions, cognition, and behavior of others towards the evoking group. Situational and personality antecedents that may affect perceived threats and opinions about the out-group are also defined in theory. To examine the validity of these assumptions, Israeli police officers were asked to respond to a series of questionnaires relating to their perception of the four minority groups (perceived threat at the individual and group levels, emotional responses, cognitive responses, and aggressive behavior tendencies). Respondents also completed self-esteem and social orientation scales. The empirical validity of the theory was confirmed by testing the hypotheses derived from the theory, and by subsequently examining the goodness of fit of a consequential model that included all of the variables tested. The data indicated perceived threat and negative attitudes toward the four minority groups in the following order, from highest to lowest: Arab Israelis, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Russians, and Ethiopians. The findings were compared with other relevant research, and revealed that the perception of police officers towards the minority groups reflects prevailing trends present in the wider Jewish-Israeli population. The discussion was devoted to examining the assumptions of theory and the tensions within Israeli society.