Caught in a social crossfire: Exploring the social forces behind and experience of ambivalence about potential social change

Gonneke Marina Ton*, Katherine Stroebe, Martijn van Zomeren

*Corresponding author for this work

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Social psychological research on societal debates about potential social change (e.g., abortion, racial segregation) often focuses on those who take clear positions in these debates. Yet, little is known about the often invisible yet potentially influential group that experiences ambivalence in societal debates. Extending and integrating ambivalence and social change research, we explore the relation between social forces in societal debates and the experiences of ambivalence about social change within these debates. Thematic analysis of extensive interviews with 15 Dutch students experiencing ambivalence in a heated Dutch societal debate revealed that different social forces (e.g., interpersonal relations, groups people belong to, societal systems) facilitate felt ambivalence about potential social change. Moreover, this ambivalence was often experienced as feeling caught in a social crossfire. Our work contributes to a richer psychological understanding of ambivalence about potential social change and reveals the complexity of decision making in the context of societal debates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-159
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2022


  • felt ambivalence
  • polarised debates
  • social change
  • societal debate

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