Online Social Pressure and Citizens’ Attitudes toward Nuclear Armament in Japan: Survey Experiment

Satoshi Machida, University of Nebraska at Kearney [About | Email]

Volume 20, Issue 2 (Article 6 in 2020). First published in ejcjs on 14 August 2020.


Scholars have suggested that Japanese citizens have been strongly opposed to nuclear weapons. This study examines the robustness of the anti-nuclear norm among Japanese citizens from the perspectives of social psychology and communication theories. Asch’s (1951) study suggests that people tend to change their views so that they can conform to the majority’s view. In the same way, the “spiral of silence” theory indicates that people are less likely to disagree with the majority in a group setting out of the “fear of isolation” (Noelle-Neuman, 1974). Based on these insights, I hypothesise that Japanese citizens are more likely to support the option of Japan’s nuclear armament if they are presented with the scenario in which the majority in Japanese society embrace this option. However, survey experiment based on the data in Japan does not support this hypothesis. The results indicate that Japanese citizens tend to develop their own views on nuclear weapons independent of the stimulus given to them. Closely dissecting the process through which Japanese citizens form their opinions about nuclear armament, this study generates critical implications that are essential in understanding the discourses surrounding nuclear weapons in Japan.

Keywords: Internet, online discussion, nationalism, peer pressure

1. Introduction


The security culture of Japan has long been a focus of intense debates in the fields of political science and international relations since it has significantly influenced Japan’s foreign policy. Japan’s stance in the security arena has posed a critical puzzle. While realists predict that a state with a strong economy will attempt to achieve a “hegemonic” status (Mearsheimer, 1990, 2001), Japan’s stance in the security field has remained rather passive. Accounting for this situation, Katzenstein (1996) emphasised the role of Japan’s “peaceful” culture that has been deeply embedded in its society. Consistent with this perspective, a number of studies have examined the implications of Japan’s identity as a pacifist state in the international system (Hagstrom & Gustafsson, 2015; Oros, 2008).

The importance of the peaceful culture has been especially critical in the issue of nuclear weapons. Japan has maintained a non-nuclear stance in its foreign policy. One of the most important arrangements on this matter is the three non-nuclear principles, which state that “Japan will not possess, manufacture, or allow the deployment or transit of nuclear weapons” (Tanter, 2005, p. 170). In addition to these institutional arrangements, the Japanese have been strongly opposed to nuclear weapons due to their experiences in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Some may argue that this situation can be described as the “nuclear allergy,” which would not allow people openly to discuss the option of nuclear armament (Hook, 1984). Accordingly, public opinion polls in Japan have consistently indicated strong resistance against nuclear weapons (Sekai Shuhou, 2006). Observers have suggested that the anti-nuclear stance in Japan will remain robust because this is one of the most important elements that defines the nature of its security culture in the post-World War II period (Kase, 2001; Mochizuki, 2007).

While scholars emphasise the strong opposition to nuclear weapons in Japan, one should not assume that this stance will be permanently stable. It is important to recognise that people’s commitment to the anti-nuclear norm may not be as deep as it seems. One critical issue that requires attention is the levels of sophistication among Japanese citizens. Scholars have long engaged in a debate regarding citizens’ ability to comprehend and engage in the democratic process (Bartels, 1996; Caplan, 2011; Somin, 1998). Although evidence on this matter seems to be somewhat mixed, there is no question that this is one of the most critical issues in the social sciences. This matter is also relevant in the context of Japan in understanding its security culture. Although the Japanese people have been strongly opposed to nuclear weapons in the post-World War II era, it is still not clear how deep their commitment to this norm is. There is a possibility that Japanese citizens may reconsider its anti-nuclear stance under some circumstances. Therefore, it is essential to explore the degree of commitment that they exhibit to the anti-nuclear norm.

Although there are several factors that can critically affect the anti-nuclear stance, this study focuses on one specific factor: social pressure among the Japanese. The literature of social psychology provides important implications regarding this issue. A series of experiments conducted by Asch (1951) demonstrate the importance of social pressure from a majority group in forming people’s opinions about certain issues, suggesting that individuals tend to conform to a majority’s view in a group setting. In the same manner, the “spiral of silence” theory proposed by Noelle-Neuman (1974) contends that individuals conform to the majority’s opinion out of the “fear of isolation.” Numerous studies have verified the effectiveness of this perspective, demonstrating the importance of social pressure in shaping one’s attitudes toward various issues (Gonzenbach, 1992; Moy et al., 2001; Nadeau et al., 1993; Salmon & Neuwirth, 1990; Scheufele, 1999).

The dramatic rise of the Internet has provided a critical context in which social pressure plays an even more important role. Studies in the field of communication provide critical implications on this matter. For instance, Askay (2015) indicates that individuals tend to follow cues from the majority in an online review system because of strong social pressure. Similarly, Stoddard et al. (2012) found that “online peer pressure” influences youths’ decisions to use alcohol and drugs. However, some studies provide implications that may require some modifications of the spiral of silence theory. Examining people’s behaviour in online discussion forums, Yun and Park (2011) contend that individuals tend to be attracted to the views that are similar to theirs. Ho and McLeod (2008) show that online communication tends to entail lower levels of pressure to conform to a majority’s view compared to face-to-face interactions (see Laporte et al., 2010). Although more work is needed to examine the relationship between the Internet and social pressure, there is no question that the Internet has significantly transformed the way people interact with each other. Considering the critical effect of the Internet, it is imperative to examine how online communication shapes one’s views toward some of the important issues in society.

The case of Japan provides an important context in which researchers can effectively test the impact of social pressure online. In recent years, the Internet has become one of the most important communication tools in Japan (The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication in Japan, 2017). As the Internet emerged as essential means for communication, scholars have widely analysed the impact of the Internet in various issues. One of the issues that has attracted a significant amount of attention is the relationship between the Internet and nationalism in Japan. Studies show that online discussion forums have provided an important arena in which Japanese citizens can anonymously express their opinions, thus contributing to the rise of nationalism in Japan (Fujita, 2011; Tsuji & Fujita, 2011). Some observers maintain that discussions on these forums can potentially translate into public opinion (Tanabe, 2006; for a skeptical view, Hirai, 2007b). However, the literature still suffers from a critical flaw. While a growing number of studies examine the impact of the Internet on nationalism, we still do not know how online discussions shape Japan’s security culture. More importantly, very few studies have analysed how social pressure in the online sphere influences people’s attitudes toward nuclear weapons, which is a core element of the security culture of Japan. Therefore, this study addresses the gap in the literature.

The main goal of this study is systematically to investigate Japanese citizens’ attitudes toward nuclear armament by applying implications from the fields of social psychology and communication. In understanding individuals’ attitudes toward nuclear armament, it is critical to capture human behaviour in a social setting. Since individuals develop their attitudes by weighing others’ opinions, it is essential to examine how social pressure can influence people’s opinions about various issues (Asch, 1951; Noelle-Neuman, 1974). This is especially the case in Japan in which people are extremely sensitive to what others think (Nakane, 2009; Yoneyama, et al., 1986). Accordingly, one can hypothesise that Japanese citizens’ support for nuclear armament will depend on a majority’s view regarding this matter (Noelle-Neuman, 1974). The present research examines this hypothesis by launching an online experiment. For a stimulus in the experiment, I adopt a scenario that describes the situation in which the majority of the respondents in a certain survey support the option of nuclear armament. After dividing the samples into the control group and treatment group, I expose the subjects in the treatment group to the stimulus while subjects in the control group would not receive any stimulus. If the subjects in the treatment group indicate higher levels of support for nuclear armament than those in the control group, it becomes possible to verify the significant impact of social pressure on people’s opinions of nuclear armament. However, the result of the statistical analysis does not support this hypothesis, suggesting that Japanese citizens tend to make their decisions independent of what they read online. Findings from the present research significantly advance our understanding of security issues by dissecting the fundamental structure of the Japanese security culture, providing important implications that are highly useful in understanding current discourses surrounding Japan.

This study proceeds as follows. Following this introduction, I present a theory and hypothesis by considering how social pressure online can influence Japanese citizens’ attitudes toward nuclear armament. Then, I explain the research design that makes it possible to test the hypothesis. After presenting the research design, I implement a statistical analysis and discuss the results. Finally, I conclude this study by summarising the findings and discussing possible directions for future studies.

2. Social Pressure in the Online Arena and Support for Nuclear Armament in Japan

The issue of social pressure has been one of the most important themes in the field of social psychology. Numerous studies have widely examined the factors that shape individuals’ attitudes toward various issues. One of the pioneering studies in this field was conducted by Asch (1951). According to him, individuals tend to conform to pressure from a majority group, rather than making their own decisions. Asch’s (1951) study makes an important contribution to the field of social psychology by revealing a critical nature of human beings who are willing to give up their own judgement in the face of social pressure from a majority group.

Building upon the insights provided by Asch (1951), studies have documented that social pressure from a majority group can significantly shape individuals’ opinions about a variety of issues. Research conducted by Noelle-Neuman (1974) has been especially influential, setting a direction for subsequent studies in this field. Noelle-Neuman (1974) presented the spiral of silence theory, which contends that people tend to conform to the majority opinion out of fear of isolation. This perspective has provided critical implications regarding human behaviour in social settings. Various studies have presented evidence that verifies the spiral of silence theory in different issues (Gonzenbach, 1992; Matthes, et al. 2012; Moy et al., 2001; Nadeau et al., 1993; Salmon & Neuwirth, 1990; Scheufele, 1999; for studies skeptical of this thesis, see Arnesen et al., 2017; Porten-Chee & Eilders, 2015). These studies highlight the critical importance of social pressure in understanding the process through which individuals develop their opinions in social settings.

One of the most important factors that have greatly influenced individuals’ opinions on different matters is the dramatic growth of the Internet. The emergence of the Internet has drastically changed the way people interact with others. In order to understand the impact of social pressure on individuals, it is essential to examine how the Internet affects the process through which individuals form their opinions. The number of studies focusing on the Internet has considerably grown in recent years in the field of communication. Among different topics, the issues surrounding the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been widely explored. As more and more people use social media, it has been reported that social media can significantly influence people’s opinions (Kwon et al., 2015; Hampton et al., 2014; Price, 2006). Accordingly, the issues involving social media have emerged as a critical problem that requires immediate attention. For instance, it has been documented that “fake news” widely distributed on social media may influence people’s opinions about important issues, as trust in the mainstream media declines (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). Similarly, Balmas (2014) suggests that exposure to fake news can indirectly influence viewers’ political attitudes. These studies highlight the importance of the Internet as a communication tool that can directly and indirectly affect people’s opinions on various matters.

Recognising the importance of the Internet, this study examines how the information presented online can influence individuals’ opinions. Put differently, it is important to examine how the spiral of silence theory can hold in the online arena. The emerging literature in this field provides important implications regarding this matter. Some studies support the spiral of silence theory in the online arena. For instance, studying individuals’ behaviour on Facebook, Kwon et al. (2015) suggest that people who are exposed to diverse opinions are more likely to engage in self-censorship in expressing political opinions, thus restraining their willingness to speak in public. Similarly, Hampton et al. (2014) found that people were less likely to discuss a controversial issue on social media than in person. In analysing individuals’ behaviour on Twitter in the case of Japan, Ogawa et al. (2014) show that those individuals who recognise that their views are closer to the majority view tend to be more active on Twitter.

While evidence supporting the spiral of silence theory exists, some studies present implications that are not entirely consistent with the theory. Yun and Park (2011) contend that individuals tend to be attracted to views that are similar to theirs, a perspective that can be termed as “selective posting.” In the same manner, Ho and McLeod (2008) show that online communication entails lower levels of pressure to conform to the majority’s view compared to face-to-face interactions. Moreover, Laporte et al. (2010) suggest that various types of online communication expose individuals to different levels of pressure to conform to the majority. Finally, several studies deny the applicability of the spiral of silence theory in explaining the process through which people form their opinions (Arnesen, 2017; Porten-Chee & Eilders, 2015). In this way, evidence regarding the spiral of silence theory in the online arena remains inconclusive, thus suggesting the need to conduct more studies on this matter.

The case of Japan provides an important setting in which researchers can test the effectiveness of the spiral of silence theory in the online arena. Numerous studies have suggested that the Internet significantly influences the content of public opinion in Japan. Among various issues, studies have found that online communication shapes nationalist feelings among people in Japan. Online discussion forums such as “2 channel” have provided platforms through which people can freely express their nationalistic feelings (Tsuji & Fujita, 2011). Tanabe (2006) contends that posts on these anonymous discussion forums can potentially turn into actual public opinion in Japan [1]. Similarly, Taka et al., (2015) suggest that the use of the Internet leads to more biased attitudes toward Korean nationals living in Japan. Furthermore, research conducted by Fujita (2011) indicates a positive correlation between one’s activity to post comments on these online forums and his/her tendency to express a nationalistic view. Although nationalistic feelings in Japan have been traditionally restrained in Japanese society, these online platforms have served as important arenas in which Japanese citizens can engage in more candid discussions on nationalism (Sasada, 2006).

While the Internet has been widely used in various fields, scholars have pointed out the negative impact of the Internet on society. Recently, the phenomenon called “enjo” (flaming) has been attracting a significant amount of attention. The term enjo refers to the situation in which some issues go viral on the Internet, rendering the online discussions intractable, with numerous users attacking the target with critical comments (Endo, 2009; Hirai, 2007a, 2012; Yamaguchi, 2015). There is no question that social media plays an important role in these tendencies, thus causing negative outcomes in society (Nakao, 2017). Given the situation in which youth in Japan tend to develop their identities through close relations with social media, the negative outcomes of social media have serious implications in Japanese society (Narita, 2012). Reflecting the closed nature of Japanese society, communication on social media can seriously strain human relations.   

Scholars have shown that a cross-national difference regarding levels of social pressure to conform to a majority group exists (Matthes et al., 2012) [2]. Considering the issues surrounding the Internet in Japan, it is obvious that people in Japan who engage in online communication are exposed to high levels of social pressure to conform to a certain norm. Accordingly, the case of Japan provides a critical context in which researchers can systematically test the spiral of silence theory in the online arena. The spiral of silence theory emphasises fear of isolation as a primary factor determining individuals’ tendency to conform to a majority (Noelle-Neuman, 1974). Social interactions in the online arena are no exception. Since individuals who deviate from accepted norms tend to be excluded in Japanese society, those who engage in online discussions face high levels of pressure to conform to the view that the majority holds. Accordingly, it is important to examine how discussions in the online arena can potentially influence individuals’ views in various issues.

Highlighting the importance of social pressure in the online arena, this study examines the relationship between online social pressure and people’s attitudes toward nuclear weapons. As discussed above, the issue surrounding nuclear weapons has been one of the most important elements that constitute the security culture of Japan. Recognising the centrality of this subject in the Japanese security culture, the present research analyses how individuals express their opinions about nuclear armament in the face of social pressure from a majority [3]. If the spiral of silence theory holds in the online arena, it is possible to hypothesise that people are more likely to follow the opinion that the majority holds. Previous studies document that individuals are less likely to give in to social pressure in issues that they think are vital (Kinoshita, 1964) [4]. If an analysis were to show that social pressure online influences one’s attitude toward nuclear weapons, it would become possible to verify a significant impact of social pressure because the issue of nuclear weapons is one of the most important elements of the security culture of Japan. The next section explains the research design for a survey experiment that makes it possible to examine the hypothesis.

3. Research Design

In order to test the hypothesis, this study implements a survey experiment. In recent years, an increasing number of survey experiments have been conducted in various fields (Gaines et al. 2007). Consistent with this tendency, the experimental design has been widely adopted in the field of political science in Japan (Sakaiya, 2014; Taniguchi, 2014). The most important advantage of the experimental design is that researchers can draw a causal inference by isolating factors under investigation (McGraw, 1998). By randomly assigning a stimulus across several groups, it becomes possible to verify the impact of key factors (McGraw, 1998). Considering the advantage of the experimental method, this study employs an online survey experiment. The survey experiment was conducted in August, 2018. In conducting the experiment, I purchased responses from Questant, an online survey company in Japan [5]. Participants had to meet two criteria to be eligible for the experiment. First, they had to be at least 20 years old. Second, they had to reside in Japan at the time of the study [6]. Those respondents who were eligible were compensated for their participation in this study. The survey took place in August, 2018. Through the service provided by Questant, this study collected a total of 220 responses. The proportion of female respondents was 37.32%, while that of male respondents was 62.68%. 25.84% of the respondents were under 40 years old. In terms of educational attainments, 49.54% of the respondents held at least a bachelor’s degree.  

Examining the impact of social pressure from a majority group, it is necessary to divide the subjects into the two groups: the control group and the treatment group. While the control group would not receive any stimulus, subjects in the treatment group were to be exposed to a stimulus. Since the goal of this study is to investigate how social pressure from the majority group influences individuals’ attitudes toward nuclear weapons, it is important to employ a valid stimulus for this research design. For this purpose, I assign the following scenario to the subjects in the treatment group as a stimulus:

According to a survey conducted by an online news site (the number of responses =5840), 79.2% of the respondents express their support for Japan’s nuclear armament, whereas 20.8% of them were against this option. As this result shows, the majority of the respondents clearly support the option of nuclear armament in Japan.

The above scenario was a summary of an article published in a news site called NewsCafe, which publishes various kinds of news stories adopted from different news companies [7]. The survey described above was conducted by NewsCafe. One of the sections in NewsCafe examines people’s opinions on various topics by adopting a simple survey method. Those users who are registered in NewsCafe can post questions, and anyone can anonymously answer the questions by using “ari” (yes/ support) or “nashi” (no/ do not support). Also, enrolled users are allowed to post their comments, and the question regarding Japan’s nuclear armament was also asked in this section. Since the way NewsCafe collects samples is not rigorous, findings from their surveys may not be as reliable as other surveys conducted by other survey companies. Yet, the stimulus above does not explicitly mention which company conducted the survey since the main goal of this study is not to examine the reliability of the survey; the subjects are to be presented the information indicating that the majority of the respondents in a certain survey expressed their support for nuclear armament by a large margin.

This scenario above meets several criteria to be a valid stimulus. First, it is important that the stimulus has to be somewhat counter-intuitive to the subjects in the experiment (Asch, 1951; Noelle-Neuman, 1974). To verify the impact of social pressure on individuals’ opinions, the analysis needs to reveal that the stimulus has induced a change among the subjects despite the fact that the stimulus is counter-intuitive. Since conventional knowledge suggests that Japanese people are traditionally opposed to nuclear armament, the above scenario is clearly counter-intuitive to the subjects who read this story. Second, the stimulus needs to reflect a majority’s view in a given setting. Since the purpose of this study is to examine the impact of social pressure from a majority group, the stimulus explicitly has to indicate that the majority in a given group support the option of nuclear armament. Finally, it is important that the stimulus gives an impression that the scenario presented in the experiment is widely applicable in society. The stimulus in this study meets this requirement since the survey was conducted among a large number of respondents. In this way, the scenario above serves as an effective stimulus for this study. After the subjects in the treatment group are exposed to this content through the function of random assignment provided by Questant, I asked the following question to the subjects in both control and treatment groups:

• Japan should obtain nuclear weapons in the future in order to protect itself from foreign threats.

The subjects are asked to answer this question by using one of the following choices: “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “somewhat disagree,” “strongly disagree,” and “don’t know/refuse to answer.” In order to make the interpretation easier, I coded these answers so that higher values indicate stronger support for nuclear armament. The choice of “don’t know/refuse to answer” was coded as a missing value. The next section discusses the results of the statistical analysis based on the research design described here.

4. Empirical Analysis

Table 1

In order to test the hypothesis above, it is necessary to conduct a statistical analysis. More specifically, it is essential to examine how the stimulus affects respondents’ opinions of Japan’s nuclear armament. For this purpose, I have implemented a t-test relying on the survey data obtained in Japan. A t-test is a statistical technique that allows researchers to compare means across two groups. Since the main goal of this study is to analyse how the recognition of the majority opinion affects respondents’ views toward nuclear armament, t-test is an appropriate method, making it possible to compare the means across the control group and the treatment group. Table 1 shows the result of the t-test. As can be seen in the table, the mean for those respondents in the control group is 1.94 while the mean among those in the treatment group is 2.09. These results suggest that respondents who were exposed to the stimulus tend to express higher levels of support for Japan’s nuclear armament. However, the result of the t-test is not statistically significant (p=0.30), which suggests that the higher mean in the treatment group could simply be random. Put differently, respondents in both groups are expected to behave in the same manner. The stimulus highlighting the presence of strong support for Japan’s nuclear armament does not induce attitudinal changes among respondents in the treatment group. These results are not consistent with the spiral of silence perspective, which claims that people tend to conform to the majority view. In this way, the statistical analysis does not support the hypothesis above. It seems that respondents in the survey experiment failed to behave in a manner that the spiral of silence framework prescribes.

Although the above analysis fails to show a statistically significant effect, there is a possibility that some groups of people are more susceptible than others to the stimulus in the experiment. Therefore, it is important to further examine how the stimulus interacts with some of the demographic variables such as gender, age, and educational attainments. Regarding gender, some studies indicate that gender can significantly influence the way adolescents react to social pressure although the relationship between gender and peer pressure seems to be complex (McCoy et al., 2019; Rosander & Erickson, 2012). In addition to gender, Steinberg and Monahan (2007) indicate that age is an important factor determining respondents’ susceptibility to peer pressure. Finally, respondents’ educational attainments may provide a critical context in which the stimulus influences their views. For instance, Moy et al. (2001) contend that education tends to boost people’s willingness to speak out. Insights from these studies suggest the importance of these demographic variables in analysing the impact of the stimulus on the respondents [8]. 

Considering these findings, I have analysed how different groups of people react to the stimulus depending on their demographic factors. After dividing demographic variables, I have implemented an identical analysis as above. However, the analysis fails to detect evidence showing these demographic variables significantly influence respondents’ behaviour in the experiment [9]. Consequently, it is possible to conclude that the stimulus does not have a significant effect on the respondents. It seems to be the case that respondents expressed their opinions independent of the stimulus given to them, thus highlighting their ability to make their own decisions.

5. Conclusion

The main goal of this study has been to examine the robustness of the anti-nuclear norm among Japanese citizens. Specifically, the present research has explored the possibility that the Japanese may express support for nuclear armament under some circumstances. Relying on the insights from social psychology, this study has investigated how social pressure from a majority group can influence people’s attitudes toward nuclear weapons (Asch, 1951). As the spiral of silence theory prescribes, it is possible that the Japanese may shift their opinions of nuclear armament, conforming to a majority opinion out of the fear of isolation (Noelle-Neumann, 1974). In addition, I have employed insights from the literature of communication, which has widely shown the significant impact of online social pressure (Askay, 2015; Hampton et al., 2014; Kwon et al, 2015). Building upon these insights, I have hypothesised that online social pressure significantly shapes people’s attitudes toward nuclear armament in Japan. According to this perspective, if individuals are informed that the majority in a group support nuclear armament, they are expected to conform to this view, indicating stronger support for the option. In testing this hypothesis, the present research has implemented an online survey experiment in which the respondents in the treatment group were exposed to the stimulus describing the presence of strong support for Japan’s nuclear armament. Yet, the results of the survey experiment failed to support the hypothesis above. Respondents in both control and treatment groups have been shown to behave in the same manner.

These findings provide critical implications in understanding the nature of Japan’s security culture. Most importantly, the survey experiment seems to verify Japanese citizens’ ability to think critically about security issues. Although the spiral of silence theory suggests that individuals tend to conform to a majority view, the analysis in this study did not support this perspective. Even though respondents in the treatment group were informed that the majority in another survey support Japan’s nuclear armament, they did not simply conform to this view; they answered the question independent of the stimulus given in the experiment. This is a sign indicating some degrees of maturity among Japanese citizens. One can expect that Japanese citizens tend to make their own decisions on the issue of nuclear armament. Given the findings from this study, it is unlikely that Japanese citizens would suddenly embrace the option of nuclear armament just because they are exposed to an argument online that calls for a more aggressive approach. In this way, the survey experiment has shown that Japanese citizens possess the ability carefully to consider defense issues and make their own decisions on these issues.

Yet, one needs to be cautious in interpreting these findings. There may be several reasons why the stimulus in the survey experiment failed to indicate a statistically significant effect. Although respondents in the treatment group were asked to read a scenario regarding nuclear armament in Japan, the result might be different if the stimulus is provided in a different manner. One can think of various ways through which respondents are exposed to different kinds of information. For instance, the wide use of social media has dramatically altered the way people receive information (Messing & Westwod, 2014; Spohr, 2017; Valentino et al., 2009). The environment that social media provides is drastically different from the experimental setting where respondents simply read the written scenario. It is possible that some stories online can significantly influence individuals’ attitudes toward nuclear weapons under different circumstances. Therefore, it is imperative systematically to examine various contexts in which online discussion influences individuals’ views toward defense issues. The framework that was adopted in this study can serve as a foundation for future studies.


“This study was supported by the Diversity Seed Grant by the Research Services Council (RSC) at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.”


1. While acknowledging the importance of anonymous discussion boards, Hirai (2007b) suggests that the possibility that discussions in “2 channel” translate into actual public opinion is low.

2. Some studies document the particularity of Asian culture compared to the Western culture (Bond & Smith, 1996; Lee et al., 2004).

3. There have been attempts to apply theories of social psychology to the issue of nuclear weapons. Rublee (2009) contends that social identity theories can effectively account for states’ behaviour with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, suggesting that states are bound by psychological factors such as “persuasion,” “social conformity,” and “identification” with the regime.

4. Regarding the issue of how social pressure influences people’s opinions of important issues, scholars have presented different findings. In analysing high school students in Japan, Kinoshita (1964) contends that social pressure is less likely to affect individuals’ preferences in an important issue. Kim (2003) suggests that those people who recognise the importance of certain issues are more likely to speak up. Yet, Baron et al. (1996) suggest that the relationship between the importance of the task and degrees of conformity is rather complex, involving other factors. Although it is impossible to dissect a intricated relationship between social pressure from the majority group and the subjects’ attitudes toward nuclear weapons, it is important to test the hypothesis that online content can actually influence people’s opinions about nuclear armament, which constitutes the core aspect of the Japanese security culture.

5. More information about Questant can be found at:

6. Participants were presented with the consent form clarifying these two criteria. Only those who verified them were able to take the survey.  

7. The article that described the result of the survey was published on June 30, 2014. The actual date when the survey was conducted was unknown. For details, see:

8. Also, studies have shown that these demographic variables influence people’s perceptions of defense issues. Eichenberg (2005) indicates that men tend to be more supportive of the use of force. Regarding age, Sasada (2006) contends that younger generations in Japan are more comfortable with discussing defense issues. Finally, Allison (2011) shows that those respondents with higher education tend be more hesitant to the option involving the use of force.

9. Results are not shown in this study. They are available from the author upon request. Regardless of the way the demographic variables are divided, the analysis does not show a statistically significant effect.


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About the Author

Satoshi Machida  is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. His research focuses on security issues in East Asia. In recent publications, he has examined the relationship between nationalism in Japan and the use of force against foreign states. He teaches courses in comparative politics, international relations, and international political economy.

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