Tag Archives: leadership

Uprising in Egypt: Social Identity in Motion

By: Christopher C. Duke, Ph.D.

Shared identity in action in Egypt

The recent sustained uprising in Egypt has captured the world’s attention in evocative and dramatic form, with the final resolution still in question. The uprisings are also a case-study of psychology in motion, touching on topics of intergroup conflict, collective crowd behavior, and leadership, to name just a few. The situation in Egypt is enormously complicated and prone to oversimplification, but I would like to explore a few of the underlying events through the social identity approach, which is comprised of Self-Categorization Theory and Social Identity Theory.

First, a little background… According to Self-Categorization Theory, people belong to many different social groups (their nation, employer, or school, for example). When people identify with a group and that particular identity is made salient, people are more likely to act as a stereotypical ingroup member and less as an individuated person. You can see this at a sports game where fans dress and act more as a single social group rather than an aggregate of individuals. Right now in Egypt, a very salient identity is that of a self-determined national people. Other group differences, such as those of ethnicity, class, or sex, are likely to recede in the face of the shared salient identity, supported by this account. The norms, thoughts, and actions typical of the salient social group will be particularly influential on group members (the Egyptian public) as long as that identity remains activated.

Social Identity Theory relates to how different groups interact with each other. Once a social identity is active, the group is seen as an extension of the self. While early crowd behavior theorists, such as Le Bon, believed crowds to be mindless and violent mobs, crowds can be better understood through the lens of social identity, acting toward group goals.  In contrast to the image of a violent mob, people in crowds often display extraordinary restraint and vigilance as they look after the well-being of fellow ingroup members. Until the recent arrival of violent pro-Mubarak supporters, it was amazing how peaceful an emotionally-charged crowd of over one million people acted, going to great lengths to peacefully protect fellow members and ancient artifacts. However, once Mubarak fades from power, the unified national identity will likely recede, and other identities may come to the fore, such as those based on ethnicity, religious beliefs, or political alignment. With some skill, Egypt’s leaders will be able to cultivate a unified over-arching national identity that will encompass the nation’s different peoples and minimize conflict in what is sure to be chaotic times ahead. On the other hand, if intergroup differences are inflamed, national stability could be further threatened.

Political outcomes like this are always difficult to predict, and complicated by many non-psychological factors, so I will not make any claims as to Egypt’s future. We can, however, better understand who the Egyptian people are most likely to view as legitimate leaders. According to the social identity approach, the best leaders gain social influence by being entrepreneurs of social identity. They tend to exemplify the norms and common features of their social group, such as through their dress, speech, and actions. They build upon and affirm ingroup identities so that group members can take pride in their identity. And, sometimes nefariously, they sharpen intergroup boundaries (the “us” and the “them”), bolstering ingroup identification at the expense of the outgroup. Egypt’s fate — and it’s leaders fates — will heavily depend on the types of identity-management strategies that are deployed in the weeks ahead. Any prospective leader of Egypt will need to exemplify the essence of the prevailing national social identity, or they will be in for a very bumpy ride indeed.

The psychological theory is much more nuanced than can be explained in a blog post, so check out the references below for more.

Reicher, S. D. (1996). ‘The Battle of Westminster’: developing the social identity model of crowd behaviour in order to explain the initiation and development of collective conflict. European Journal of Social Psychology, 26, 115-134.

Reicher, S. D., Haslam, S. A., & Hopkins, N. (2005). Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: Leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 547-568.

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. J. (2010). The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence, and power. Psychology Press.

Glass ceiling or labyrinth? Reexamining the gender gap at the top

By Kevin R. Betts

I was recently asked to give a talk in an organizational psychology course about the gender gap in leadership positions. In determining the approach I would take for this talk, I asked several colleagues for their thoughts on the issue. The near immediate response from many of them was stated directly, “The glass ceiling!” Ostensibly, an invisible barrier referred to as a glass ceiling prevents women from securing positions of power. I imagine that this metaphor resonates with many readers as well. Ever since the Wall Street Journal’s Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt coined this term in 1986, perceptions of a glass ceiling have been central to the public’s understanding of gender inequality in the workplace. But how accurate is this metaphor today?

Emerging evidence now suggests that the glass ceiling metaphor inadequately depicts the experiences of women in the workforce (Eagly & Carli, 2007). For example, the glass ceiling metaphor implies the presence of an impenetrable barrier to top leadership positions. Today, it is clear that this barrier is no longer impenetrable. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi serve as examples of women at the top (Hoyt, 2010). Additionally, the glass ceiling metaphor leaves challenges faced by women at lower- and midlevel positions unaccounted for. Women do not progress through the ranks unimpeded before reaching these top positions. Rather, they face a series of challenges and problems along the way. Considering these limitations, Eagly and Carli (2007) have proposed that the challenges faced by women in the workforce can be better understood through the metaphor of a labyrinth. Consistent with traditional uses of the term, women aspiring to attain top leadership positions must navigate routes that are full of twists and turns. Some problems encountered within the labyrinth include prejudice, resistance to women’s leadership, issues of leadership style, demands of family life, and underinvestment in social capital. Although certainly more complex, the metaphor of a labyrinth seems to better depict challenges faced by working women today.

One can also better understand how to address the leadership gender gap using the metaphor of a labyrinth. If resistance toward women’s leadership is a primary obstacle, then interventions should target attitudes of those who are resistant to women’s leadership. If demands of family life are deemed problematic, then interventions might target the nature of relationships at home. As obstacles are identified and overcome, the leadership gender gap can be expected to shrink at a faster and faster rate.

Read more:

Where is the female Steve Jobs? (New York Times)

Glass ceiling not the obstacle it was (Yuma Sun)

Eagly, A.H., & Carli, L.L. (2007). Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women become Leaders. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Hoyt, C.L. (2010). Women, men, and leadership: Exploring the gender gap at the top. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4/7, 484-498.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Gordon Brown– hot or not? Physical appearance and election outcomes

As David Cameron, Gordon Brown, and other candidates prepare for the UK general elections, voters must decide whom to support. Although political ideology is (hopefully) a major influence on voting habits, a number of other factors about the candidates may sway voters as well. For example, many election observers have noted the seeming link between candidate height and election outcome– with taller candidates winning more. The BBC recently reported on how lately UK candidates have been emphasizing their exercise routine and physical fitness to the public; perhaps hoping that physical fitness translates into a perception of leadership fitness for voters. Or, candidates may be hoping to boost their perceived attractiveness (since perceived attractiveness has been linked the perception of other positive trait attributes) by spending a few extra hours in the gym.

Much research on first impressions has reiterated the importance of physical features in influencing judgments about a number of traits, including competence– which is strongly linked to voter support. Research altering the images of famous US presidents showed that subtle changes to their faces could greatly change perceptions of them.  Recent research in Political Psychology tried to examine more specifically the ways that first impressions (non-verbal at least) might influence social judgments other than competence and how those judgments may influence actual election outcomes. Just as previous research has suggested, judgments of competence were highly positively correlated with winning in a real election. However, somewhat surprisingly, when paired with judgments of incompetence, judgments of physical attraction were actually correlated with a lesser chance of winning an election than judgement of incompetence alone. In other words, if a first impression of incompetence is made, being seen as physically attractive actually makes your chance of winning even worse. So, according to this research if candidates are hoping to boost their physical appeal in order to sway voters, maybe they ought to make sure they are being seen as relatively competent first.

Read More:

Mattes et al. (2010). Predicting Election Outcomes from Positive and Negative Trait Assessments of Candidate Images, Political Psychology, 31, 1.

BBC– The election fitness trail – exercising power or PR?

Keating et al. (2002). Presidential Physiognomies: Altered Images, Altered Perceptions. Political Psychology, 20, 3.

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