Maybe, according to one of the studies. In that study the students were given fake data indicating that many Stanford students held conservative, anti-alcohol views. Pro-alcohol participants who were confronted with evidence that they were likely in the minority were far less likely to voice their opinions, let alone shout them from the rooftops.
That study suggests that highly vocal proponents of alcohol needed to believe they were speaking for the majority to take a public stand. It's not enough to be right. You've also got to have broad support from the so-called "silent majority."
Morrison said she believes the findings apply beyond the college campus, and the same need for moral support among one's peers is essential in many fields, including politics.
Other research suggests that bombastic political rhetoric may strengthen the role of an extremist by discouraging more moderate voices. Andrew Hayes, a colleague of Morrison's at Ohio State, found in a separate study that persons who are reluctant to express their opinions are easily intimated.
"In a polarized, hostile political climate some people decide not to participate because they're afraid of the social ramifications of doing anything that might reveal their opinion to others," Hayes said in releasing his study.
That, of course, would reinforce an extremist's belief that he or she is reflecting a majority opinion since so few are speaking out in opposition.
It's probably safe to assume, however, that the volume is being turned up in political rhetoric these days largely because of an ancient human drive. As my column pointed out last week, insecurity can drive a person to extreme limits, even to the abuse of coworkers. Maybe that's what drives so many political extremists these days.
Maybe they are just bullies.