Across three studies, we examined the role of shared negative experiences in the formation of strong social bonds—identity fusion—previously associated with individuals' willingness to self-sacrifice for the sake of their groups. Studies 1 and 2 were correlational studies conducted on two different populations. In Study 1, we found that the extent to which Northern Irish Republicans and Unionists experienced shared negative experiences was associated with levels of identity fusion, and that this relationship was mediated by their reflection on these experiences. In Study 2, we replicated this finding among Bostonians, looking at their experiences of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. These correlational studies provide initial evidence for the plausibility of our causal model; however, an experiment was required for a more direct test. Thus, in Study 3, we experimentally manipulated the salience of the Boston Marathon Bombings, and found that this increased state levels of identity fusion among those who experienced it negatively. Taken together, these three studies provide evidence that shared negative experience leads to identity fusion, and that this process involves personal reflection.
Bibliographical noteThe full text is also available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0145611
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