Image Theory, Social Identity, and Social Dominance: Structural Characteristics and Individual Motives Underlying International Images

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Abstract

The present study provides an empirical test of international relations image theory and extends the theory by emphasizing that individuals’ social identity and social dominance motives contribute to such images. One hundred forty-five Lebanese participants completed a survey that assessed their perceptions of U.S.-Lebanese relations, the images they have of the United States, their social identities, and their social dominance orientations. Participants were more likely to hold the barbarian image of the United States than the enemy, imperialist, or ally images. Participants also tended to perceive the United States as having relatively superior power, inferior cultural status, and goals that are incompatible with those of Lebanon. Consistent with image theory predictions, this constellation of structural perceptions was associated with stronger endorsement of the barbarian image. Furthermore, participants were more likely to endorse the barbarian image of the United States the more they identified with Arabs and Palestinians, the less they identified with Christians and the Western world, and the lower their social dominance orientation. Results highlight the importance of considering both structural characteristics and individual motives underlying international images and demonstrate the need for scholars to move beyond the enemy image of nations when describing international relations.

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