Theories of subjective and relative (psychological) deprivation are often used to explain political action. Extremist tendencies have often been linked to objective deprivation (reflected in material conditions such as poverty, unemployment, and low socioeconomic status). However, evidence for its role in extremism and radicalization has been inconclusive (Kunst & Obaidi, 2020). This led us to study perceived relative deprivation as a main psychological driver of violent extremism, as social inequalities in many societies are becoming increasingly apparent.
What is Relative Deprivation in Psychology?
From a psychological perspective, relative deprivation involves the perception that one’s group or oneself as a person is undeservingly worse off than other people in a relevant social context. Humans acquire information about themselves and their social standing through social comparison. Perceived relative deprivation is the result of social comparison and unmet expectations. In line with this, we defined psychological relative deprivation in the following way in a recent article:
“A central way by which humans obtain information about themselves and their social standing in society is through social comparisons, and relative deprivation describes a negative evaluation resulting from this. Specifically, relative deprivation involves the perception that oneself or one’s group does not receive valued resources, goals, ways or standards of living, which others possess and one feels rightfully entitled to.”
According to relative deprivation theory, when individuals face exclusion from social, political or economic opportunities, this experience may make them aware of their disadvantaged social identity and alienate them from others in society.
How to Psychologically Measure Perceived Relative Deprivation?
Subjective, psychological experiences of perceived relative deprivation may lead to a range of possible outcomes. Therefore, it is important that the measure of perceived relative deprivation matches the outcome of the analysis (e.g., comparison with a relevant outgroup). It is also important to determine whether a particular behavior of interest serves the group or the individual (e.g., the distinction between personal relative deprivation and group-based relative deprivation).
Moreover, previous research suggests that it is not the perception of injustices (the cognitive component) but feelings (affective component) that matter most for political violence (i.e., extremism either by low power groups to improve their situation and challenge the hierarchy, or by high power groups to uphold the status quo). As Pettigrew puts it: “(a) People first make cognitive comparisons, (b) they next make cognitive appraisals that they or their ingroup are disadvantaged, and finally (c) these disadvantages are seen as unfair and arouse angry resentment. If any of these three requirements is missing, relative deprivation is not operating” (2016, p. 9).
The Relative Deprivation Scale for Psychological Assessment
Previous measures of perceived relative deprivation tended to ignore one or more of the key components of perceived relative deprivation leading to low predictive power. This inspired us to develop a scale based on Smith et al. (2012), which can be found below. The scale is free to be used and includes validated translations.
The scaling format is a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 7 (totally agree), but this can be altered if needed. The scale can be used to describe the social-psychological processes that might lead to violent extremism. It can help explain why certain Islamist terrorist plans have been coordinated by Muslims born and raised in Western countries but can also be used in other contexts.
Article to Cite When Using the Relative Deprivation Scale:
Obaidi, M., Bergh, R., Akrami, N., & Anjum, G. (2019). Group-Based Relative Deprivation Explains Endorsement of Extremism Among Western-Born Muslims. Psychological Science, 30 (4), 596-605. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797619834879 [PDF]
Additional Articles on Relative Deprivation:
Kunst, J. R.., & Obaidi, M. (2020). Understanding violent extremism in the 21st century: the (re)emerging role of relative deprivation. Current opinion in psychology, 35, 55-59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2020.03.010 [PDF]