The holiday season is a time of giving and receiving, reflection on what is and what could be—and perhaps more than a little guilt. We all want to promote world peace and live in harmony, but what does that really mean? What does the intersection of praxis and theory look like? Is it a bumper sticker on your car, an annual donation to an international aid group, a bi-annual religious service attendance of your choice? New research attempts to quantify some of these philosophical questions. The results could shed light on everything from liberal-conservative differences to conflict resolution between Israel and Palestine. A scale developed by psychologists Sam McFarland, Matthew Webb, and Derek Brown at Western Kentucky University measures the degree to which people identify with all humans, not just their kin, local communities, or other assorted in-groups. The Identification With All Humanity Scale (IWAH) builds off of work by the towering figures Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow and attempts to measure active willingness to help those in need.
Adler and Maslow saw active and engaged “social interest,” or a sense of oneness with all humankind as a more mature and fully realized mode of being. Maslow held that each individual had a hierarchy of needs, starting with basic physiological needs, then security needs, friendship, acceptance and love, all the way up to the psychological drive toward self-actualization. Once the more basic needs are met, in this view, individuals are free to pursue higher goals of moral and personal flourishing. For Maslow, the more psychologically mature an individual was, the more they tended to identify with all of humanity as opposed to just their own family, race, or nation.
While neither psychologist developed operational measures in their lifetime, at least five scales have been established to measure social interest and moral identity in recent decades – most notably Americus Reed and Karl Aquino’s 2003 study on moral identity and expansive moral regard, and Shalom Schwartz’s nod to universalism in his 10 basic values. But these focused more on how people saw or evaluated their own morality as opposed to how actively they tended to identify and engage with humanity. Significantly, one previous paper presented at the International Society of Political Psychology in 2001, titled “Can humanity constitute an in-group?,” did directly measure active social identification. The study found that those who reported warmer feelings toward outgroups tended to have more critical ratings of whites, the predominant in-group for their Minnesota sample.
After pouring through the previous literature, McFarland and his team discovered that while some work on the concept of universalism (or a general feeling of kinship with all humanity) had been done, it was a fairly passive form of group membership which merely found that people with a greater sense of universalism tended to see themselves as part of the human family. It didn't really cover active identification or engagement--willingness to help others, willful acquisition of knowledge about international affairs and so on. They crafted their IWAH scale and then set out to test it on several different groups of people.
Building on previous work, McFarland and team established a series of ten studies, using self-reports as well as reports from close others. The researchers found that the IWAH was stable over time, distinct from a general empathy and tendency to identify with others, and was more than the mere absence of authoritarianism, social dominance and ethnocentrism. The IWAH did correlate with all these traits, but showed itself to be a distinct construct which manifested in a greater commitment to universal human rights, willingness to aid others, and greater acquired knowledge of international aid issues.