Patriot Acts: Why the USA’s recent decrease in national glorification might be a good sign

In this blog post, I share a recent report which says that Americans are less fervent about their country now than they’ve been in the recent past. However, I also review some political psychology research on different styles of patriotism which suggests that this particular type of decrease might actually be a good thing for Americans.

This summer, the Pew Research Center put out a research report showing that Americans’ enthusiasm over their country seems to be dropping. To be precise, they found that today, only 28% of Americans surveyed believed that the U.S. “stands above all other countries in the world,” down from 38% three years ago. Overall, the demographic who were least likely to endorse the statement were young Americans (under thirty). Among this crowd, the poll saw a 12% drop since 2011. While this pattern might seem troublesome, and perhaps even unpatriotic, new political psychology research suggests that this trend might not be such a bad thing.

Scholars have long debated the positive and negative consequences of patriotism, or the love of one’s country. Recently, some researchers have proposed that patriotism can be broken down into different styles:

National glorification is the feeling of superiority that comes when a person focuses on their country’s strengths and ignores its failings (note, this is similar to the concept of nationalism). National attachment, on the other hand, is identifying with and feeling an affinity and alliance with one’s home country (Roccas, Klar, & Liviatan, 2006).

Empirical evidence shows that glorification and attachment are positively correlated, which makes sense, given that both describe an alliance to one’s nation (Roccas et al., 2006). Additionally, both glorification and attachment are positively related to commitment to country, conservative political ideology, and authoritarianism (Carter, Ferguson, & Hassin, 2011).

However, the fascinating part about these two styles of patriotism is that, despite their similarities, they predict very different behaviors and feelings. Notably, glorifying one’s nation is related to out-group devaluation, while attachment to one’s nation is not (Wagner, Becker, Christ, Pettigrew, & Schmidt, 2010). National glorifiers tend to be more prejudiced and ethnocentric, believe more in social dominance, and are more concerned with military threat and cultural contamination (e.g., Sapountzis, 2008; Spry & Hornsey, 2007). According to Social Identity Theory, this is because glorification is characterized by feelings of national superiority. In order to be superior, all other groups must be inferior. Therefore, national glorification inherently depends on out-group derogation (Mummendey, Klink, & Brown, 2001).

Roccas and colleagues (2006) have recently shown just how important this difference in patriotic style can be. Using an Israeli sample, they measured people’s levels of national glorification and attachment and then had them read paragraphs about real life conflicts that their nation participated in. The researchers found that people who glorified their country were more likely to make excuses when their country harmed others, and felt less guilty about their country’s transgressions. On the other hand, people who were attached to their nation—without glorifying it—had higher feelings of guilt and were less likely to make excuses on behalf of their country.

In addition to shaping opinions about intergroup conflict, new evidence suggests that these patriotic styles can also influence cognitive abilities, specifically, creativity. In a recent study conducted with US college students, national attachment was positively related to creative performance, while national glorification was negatively related to it (Clerkin, 2013). These findings seem to be linked with cognitive differences in openness to change among people with different patriotic styles. Research shows that people who glorify their country are more likely to stick tightly to traditions and status quo, and be uncomfortable with new and unorthodox ways of doing things (Clerkin, 2013). This in turn, could inhibit their ability to be creative when needed.

Now let’s go back to the Pew Research Center findings. They asked people whether the U.S. “stands above all other countries in the world.” Because this statement compares the US to other nations, it is essentially assessing national glorification. Considering this, the decreased endorsement of this statement--especially among younger generations--could actually be a good thing for America, and suggest that young Americans are becoming more open to new ideas and more tolerant of others.

Notably, the Pew Research Center also found that Americans are increasingly likely to endorse the statement that the U.S. is “one of the greatest countries in the world, along with some others.”  This statement, which is less glorifying (because does not degrade other counties), is actually more likely to be associated with positive outcomes. So, ironically, even though Americans are now less likely to think that they are the best, this might actually be a sign that they are better than before.


Carter, T. J., Ferguson, M. J., & Hassin, R. R. (2011). Implicit nationalism as system justification: The case of the United States of America. Social Cognition, 29(3), 341-359.

Clerkin, C. (2013). Creative we stand: Exploring the links between American national identity, multicultural exposure and creativity. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Michigan)

Mummendey, A., Klink, A., & Brown, R. (2001). Nationalism and patriotism: National identification and out-group rejection. British Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 159–172.

Roccas, S., Klar, Y., & Liviatan, I. (2006). The paradox of group-based guilt: Models of  national identification, conflict vehemence, and reactions to the in-group’s moral violations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 698–711.

Sapountzis, A. (2008). Towards a critical social psychological account of national sentiments: Patriotism and nationalism revisited. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(1), 34–50.

Spry, C., & Hornsey, M. (2007). The influence of blind and constructive patriotism on attitudes toward multiculturalism and immigration, Australian Journal of Psychology, 59(3), 151-158.

Wagner, U., Becker, J. C., Christ, O., Pettigrew, T. F., & Schmidt, P. (2010). A longitudinal test of the relation between German nationalism, patriotism, and outgroup derogation. European Sociological Review, 28, 319-332.