Tag Archives: protests

What is it about groups that promotes aggression?

Protesters urge Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to leave office

By Kevin R. Betts

Looking at recent news events, it seems apparent that acts of aggression often involve groups. For the past two weeks in Egypt, thousands of anti-government protesters have maintained control over Tahrir Square demanding that their president step down from power. On a flight this weekend from the Canary Islands to Belgium, dozens of passengers became so enraged about oversized baggage fees that law enforcement officers were called to the scene. In Ohio, two men shot into a Youngstown State University fraternity house this weekend, later claiming that they were angry about being ejected from a party. These recent events suggest that group contexts might promote aggressive behavior. But what exactly is it about groups that promotes aggression?

Meier, Hinsz, and Heimerdinger (2007) present a framework for explaining aggression involving groups. They suggest that given a competitive or aggressive context, groups can be expected to react more aggressively than similarly treated individuals. This is because group contexts contain situational elements that stimulate their members to act aggressively. For example, hostile cognitions and negative affect are known to promote aggression among individuals. It is probably easy for most of us to imagine instances in our own lives where provocation (hostile cognitions) or a bad mood (negative affect) led us to act aggressively. Meier et al. (2007) suggest that in group contexts, both hostile cognitions and negative affect are more likely to emerge and therefore promote aggressive reactions. Disinhibition, or the loss of one’s individuality, self-awareness, or self-evaluation apprehension, is another mechanism that might promote aggression in groups. There are many situational factors that promote disinhibition, and thus aggression, among individuals (e.g., alcohol). Meier et al. (2007) suggest that group contexts on their own may promote disinhibition among their members, which might release social constraints against aggression. The researchers identify other situational variables that might influence aggression in groups as well, including group accentuation, arousal, and individual differences.

The framework presented by Meier et al. (2007) supports the notion that groups are more likely than individuals to react aggressively given a competitive or aggressive context, and identifies situational elements that promote aggression among groups. Readers may be able to detect the influence of these situational elements in their own lives. Hostile cognitions, negative affect, disinhibition, and other factors likely influenced the protestors in Egypt, the passengers angry over baggage fees, and the shooters at Youngstown State University. Can you think of a time when these factors influenced you or someone you know to act aggressively in a group?

Read more:

Egypt’s new Cabinet to meet for first time as protests persist (CNN)

Passenger’s ‘mutiny’ over Ryanair bag fee (CNN)

Party ejection led to Ohio frat house shooting, police say (CNN)

Meier, B.P., Hinsz, V.B., & Heimerdinger, S.R. (2007). A framework for explaining aggression involving groups. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 298-312.

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On the effectiveness of intergroup apologies

By Kevin R. Betts

A common theme of my previous posts concerns intergroup conflict and its resolution. Some conflicts I have examined include clashes in Bangkok between anti-government protestors and the Thai government, relations between the LAPD and bicycle commuters, immigrant relations in Arizona, conflict on the Korean peninsula, and reciprocal determinants of terrorist and counterterrorist actions. The nature of these conflicts is complex, and accordingly, the interventions I proposed have sometimes been complex as well. But a recent article by Blatz and Philpot (2010) suggests that some of these conflicts may not require complex solutions. Rather, a simple public apology may sometimes be all that is needed to restore peace.

Blatz and Philpot (2010) suggest that intergroup apologies can improve intergroup attitudes, restore trust, and promote forgiveness. Additionally, they identify nine moderators (intentionality, time since harm, severity, privity, costliness, time since apology, trust, power, and identification) and four mediators (remorse, sincerity, empathy, and assigning responsibility) that influence apology-outcome relationships. Although it is beyond the scope of this brief post to examine all of these factors, one can imagine how each might relate to the conflicts discussed above. Take whether or not the perpetrators intended to harm the victim (intentionality) as an example. This past summer, I wrote about an incident where an LAPD officer was filmed kicking a bicycle commuter during the monthly mass bicycling event Critical Mass. As an organization, the LAPD reacted to this incident by condemning the actions of the officer and expressing their support of lawful bicycle commuting. Framing this incident as unreflective of the LAPD as an organization (unintentional) may have aided their attempt to restore relations with bicycle commuters in the city. In contrast, intergroup apologies should be less effective when transgressions are clearly intentional. For example, the North Korean government openly takes credit for their recent attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. Although an official apology is certainly warranted for this attack, it is unlikely to be effective in achieving the immediate forgiveness of South Koreans.

Clearly, not all intergroup conflicts can be resolved with an apology. What should be taken from this research is that when certain conditions are met, the power of a simple public apology for improving intergroup attitudes, restoring trust, and promoting forgiveness should not be underestimated.

Read more

Blatz, C.W., & Philpot, C. (2010). On the outcomes of intergroup apologies. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 995-1007.

Destruction on island at center of Korean barrage (CNN)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts