Tag Archives: self-awareness

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.

See more posts by Kevin R. Betts

NHL San Jose’s Dan Boyle wins the game for the other team and supports “choking” phenomenon.

Last Sunday night during Game 3 of the San Jose Sharks/Colorado Avalanche NHL Western Conference playoff series, the Sharks took three times as many shots as the Avalanche, kept the puck on Colorado’s end, and generally owned the game. Nonetheless, the score remained at 0-0 almost a minute into overtime. And then the worst possible dose of bad luck (or insane miscalculation?) befell San Jose’s Dan Boyle: he inadvertently scored the winning goal for the Colorado Avalanche. According to CBSSports.com columnist Ray Ratto, the deflection of Boyle’s clearing pass to defenseman Douglas Murray, “to the amazement of all living things… whipped into a tiny hole between the right post and San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov.”

Thing is, Dan Boyle is in pretty good company. Time after time, we witness acts of “choking under pressure” – especially in sports, but also in other anxiety-eliciting domains of life such as during testing situations, presenting to a group of colleagues or superiors, or performing a musical instrument. Choking, otherwise known as failing in the clutch or performing at suboptimal levels under pressure conditions, happens to the best of us and social psychologist Roy Baumeister has determined the conditions under which the phenomenon is most likely to occur.

Baumeister labels four pressure variables – audience pressure, competition, performance-contingent rewards and punishments, and ego-relevance of the task – as determinants of choking; needless to say, all of these variables were present in full-force at Dan Boyle’s mishap on Sunday. Further, Baumeister notes that choking may result from a self-focused attention that interferes with the execution of automatic, routinized processes (such as, oh I don’t know, moving around a puck during a professional hockey game in which you are a professional hockey player). In particular, Baumeister suggests that pressure makes the person want to do well, so the performer focuses conscious attention on the process of performance. However, since skills are responses that are overlearned and automatic, attending to them consciously interferes with or inhibits them; conscious attention to an automatic behavior paradoxically causes misalignment between brain and behavior and, frequently, ultimate failure at the task. Other theories suggest that having to perform under pressure causes a self-awareness that precludes awareness of the environment in which one is surrounded, thereby causing the performer to fail to process task-relevant information.

Whatever the case may be, no matter how we social psychologists attempt to rationalize and intellectualize the antecedents of choking, we’re sure that none of this is making Dan Boyle feel any better. Good thing he has an old Stanley Cup lying around somewhere to make up for it.

Footage of Dan Boyle’s goal for other team

Sharks own track record to fit Boyle’s own goal

A review of paradoxical performance effects: Choking under pressure in sports and mental tests