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New research asks: ‘If Welsh speakers are more likely to back independence, what about the non-Welsh speakers?’

23 January 2009

Welsh speakers are more likely to support political independence than non-Welsh speakers, according to new research from Cardiff University.

The research was conducted by the Social Identity and Social Action in Wales research group based in the School of Psychology, and was outlined at a seminar at the National Assembly this week. It examined how Welsh identity is defined, and investigated how this orients people to different political projects concerned with Welsh development, including assimilation with England, devolution and independence.

Among the report's key findings is the link between Welsh language ability, national identification, and support for national autonomy. The research found that Welsh speakers have a stronger Welsh identification and are more likely to be positive towards political autonomy than non-Welsh speakers.

Principal investigators Professor Russell Spears and Professor Tony Manstead said: "We were interested in the relation between Welsh language ability and attitudes to political autonomy and the role played by national identification in this relationship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our research confirms that the Welsh language plays an important role in national identity in Wales, providing an important source of national distinctiveness, heritage, and pride.

"Welsh language ability also has the potential to impact on support for political action - such as Welsh national autonomy. In particular, we found that being able to speak Welsh is associated with stronger Welsh identification, and with more positive attitudes towards political autonomy.

"A flip side however is that lower Welsh language ability is associated with lower Welsh identification, which in turn predicts lower support for autonomy."

More surprisingly, the Group found that in Welsh speaking regions, low Welsh language ability is associated with greater English identification, even among those people who consider themselves Welsh. In these regions, Welsh people with low Welsh ability have a strong Welsh identity, but at the same time they have a higher English identification than their counterparts who are fluent speakers. This predicts lower support for political autonomy, making them less positive about greater autonomy for Wales.

"This link between Welsh ability and English identification suggests that although non-Welsh speakers living in Welsh-speaking areas still feel very Welsh, they can also start to see themselves as somewhat English. This reflects their position as relative outsiders in strongly Welsh-speaking contexts - something that obviously is not the case in non-Welsh speaking areas in the South and East", said Professors Spears and Manstead.

The research, Social Identity and Social Action in Wales: The role of group emotions also examined the connection between politics and protest, concluding that there is support for more radical action when Welsh identity is both perceived as vulnerable in communities and where identity is most defined in terms of the Welsh language.

For more information on Social Identity and Social Action in Wales: The role of group emotions visit:


Notes to Editors

Social Identity and Social Action in Wales: The role of group emotions was a three year research project commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Research Programme on Identities and Social Action.

Objectives of the research were:

• To assess the structure and range of Welsh identities, particularly in relation to other important identities (e.g., English).

• To see how emotional reactions to identity-related events mediate and moderate behaviour, and more specifically orientations to social change and political autonomy.

• To see how features of the Welsh context, in particular the presence of bilingualism, affect the relation between identity and action as mediated and moderated by identity and emotion.

• To distinguish and test different routes to social change, based on emotion vs. efficacy beliefs, and examine how these paths are influenced by the forms of Welsh identity and interact with each other.

• To assess whether emotion can itself provide a basis for a Welsh identity through shared emotional responses to events.

School of Psychology

The School of Psychology at Cardiff is one of the largest departments of psychology in the United Kingdom. There are currently over 50 academic staff, 100+ research staff and a further 20+ Research Fellows (including Royal Society, BBSRC, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust and British Academy Research Fellows). The School also has over 120 full-time students studying for Doctorates, both in research and on our professional Doctorate programmes. Each year it admits around 200 students to the Undergraduate degree programmes in Psychology and Psychology with Professional Placement.

The general resources in the School are excellent and the provision of equipment is second to none. The School’s strengths are aligned with six themes which encompass the range of research interests in the School and reflect the commitment to studying psychology from a scientific perspective whilst covering topics from synapse to society: Behavioural Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology, Health and Mental Health, Perception and Performance, Social and Developmental Psychology.

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

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Further information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Lowri Jones
Public Relations and Communications
Cardiff University

T: 02920 874 499