Category Archives: Group/Intergroup Processes

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

Emotions as a Source of Motivation

Walk proud… walk like an Egyptian!

I was in Egypt from Tuesday 25 January through Saturday 29 January 2011, i.e. the first five days of the people’s up rise.  I witnessed a series of events, actions that have left me flabbergasted.

Cairo at 11.00 am on the day of the peaceful protests that were to start at 02.00 pm seemed  busy and peaceful all at once — like it always is. It seemed that the day would develop as usual. 

For the larger part of the day, I stayed tuned to Al Jazeerah and Al Arabiyah  — two cable new channels — to keep track of the walkout that was about to begin.  The crowds began to gather in and around Tahrir Square.  They came from all social strata.  Most people carried peaceful signs that pronounce five clear-stated demands:  that the President steps down; that neither he nor his son run for office again; that the Government Cabinet be dissolved and new Ministers be appointed; that the Shura Council be dissolved and new fair elections take place; and that the Constitution be amended. There was a lot of security on the streets but there was no engagement between them and the protesters.  Surrounding streets were closed off from vehicles to prevent needless confrontations.

For several hours, the events were developing rather peacefully.  Many of my family members and friends were amongst the demonstrators and I felt envious of their strong sense of civic engagement, patriotism and willpower.  A strong sense of identity dawned on each and every Egyptian, as well as anyone who has any link to Egypt.

Shared identity in action in Egypt Then as the early hours of the evening kicked in and the tone of the events was slowly shifting.  Tension was building up. People did notdisperse and go home.  People declared they would remain and their tone became far more hostile.  The protest went on into the late hours.  Outside, you could hear the sound of ad hoc gunshots and glass breaking.

Day two of the uprise seemed a mixture of patriotic youth still making the same demands in addition to hungry people demanding change to be able to feed their families.  These were two distinct groups.  Yesterday’s protesters had split.   Additionally, one could notice the huge number of security guards on the streets, especially on the streets leading to Tahrir Square and important Government offices.  However, they only stood there, anticipating problems that may arise on this second day of demonstrations.

How did this all start?  A few people on Facebook and other social networks thought they could arouse the interest, the anger, the despair, the humiliation and the revolt of the Egyptian people towards the 30-year Mubarak regime.  Did they not realize that Egypt has a population of 80 million of which only a small percentage would be able to grasp the ideologies they were voicing and would know how to respect the boundaries dictated by what is termed “peaceful protest”?  Did they not realize that there were many angry and suppressed people who would take advantage of the situation to escalate it into the adversity it has become today?  Now what???

Day three was filled with mixed feelings:  people were left confused between their sense of solidarity and fear from the turn of events. Emotions led their motivation.  The same three distinct groups prevailed.

People remained glued to their television screens if they were not physically present at the protest.  People waited.  What were we waiting for?

I suppose we waited to see the reaction of the Presidency… where was President Mubarak?  Why had he not yet addressed the people of Egypt?  The people of Egypt were waiting and so was the world.

Late into the night, the mobile networks and internet networks were halted.  People felt angry, cut off from the world.  It was the first time that we all realised that  for over 10 years now, we have grown to be dependent on our mobile lines and most of us did not know anyone else’s landlines! 

Day four was labelled Angry Friday. History was in the making.  The afternoon progressed fairly quietly and well into the people’s newly developed routine for the past three days our eyes remained focused on television, television and more television.  The events were escalating and the tension was mounting.  Another caliber of people had hit the streets of Cairo:  people were breaking and entering shops and companies, looting them of their goods.  Banks, ATM machine, airline offices, etc… everything was being raided!  What happened to the peaceful protest?  Where did the Facebook community and other social networks go?  They were being replaced and outnumbered by a number of street bullies who seized the opportunity to disrupt the peaceful protest and transform it into the “up rise of the thieves” as it was now being labelled.  Chaos was everywhere and the only conceivable response was to instate a curfew from 6.00 pm to 7.00 am the next morning in attempt to limit the people’s movement on the streets.  Did it work?  Not really for protesters remained camped out in Tahrir Square and chanted “We will not leave until he (the president) leaves!”

The weight of the situation was taking its toll on everyone.  Everyone sat quietly watching the live feeds on television.   People’s tolerance was hitting rock bottom.  People were upset at the way the protest was turning into a confrontation amongst protesters.  Some newcomers who supported the Government challenged the crowd that was striving for it to be dissolved.  People were being influenced by the president’s speech.  Egyptians are emotional people and their position may be swayed if their emotions are triggered.

Gunshots continued well into the night… a sound that everyone had grown accustomed to for four nights straight now.

I left the next morning to the airport as soon as the curfew was lifted.  

This journey seemed to take “forever”… this same route I had enjoyed four days before in the opposite direction.  However this time, frantic pedestrians filled the highway.  Most of them walked with nude torso swaying their arms in the air with pocket knives, and other arms. They were attacking passing cars.  They banged on the hoods and trunks of the cars in attempt to scare the drivers into stopping so they could loot them.  Meanwhile a”City Center” was going up in flames… that same shopping mall that stood tall and busy a few days before was slowly melting away.  In the midst of this sad scene, the-hungry-people-of-Egypt-turned-thieves robbed whatever goods and food they could get hold of from the inflamed stores.

I went through several road blocks until reaching the toll stations preceding the entrances to Cairo International Airport.  There I was subjected to a thorough car search before being allowed to proceed.  Inside the terminal, I battled my way through people sitting, laying, sleeping on the floor waiting for news of their flights that had not even flown in; people rioting in front of airline offices demanding answers to their million and one questions regarding their flights; and security guards trying to keep everything under control!  People were angry, tired and confused.

What other emotions will they feel next?

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.

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.

On the effectiveness of intergroup apologies, part II

Gov. Robert Bentley apologized for discriminatory remarks on Wednesday

By Kevin R. Betts

In late November, I wrote about the effectiveness of apologies for reducing intergroup conflict. Based on research by Blatz and Philpot (2010), I suggested 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. Examining reactions to a recent public apology made by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to non-Christians in the state provides for a nice test of the ideas presented in this prior post.

Let’s start with a little background for those unacquainted with this story. Shortly after being sworn into office last Monday, Alabama’s governor met with supporters at a local church where he said bluntly, “Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.” Because not everyone residing in Alabama is Christian, many people wondered whether the new governor would treat all citizens fairly. Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham was among the many people who felt disenfranchised by Gov. Bentley’s words. In a letter to Gov. Bentley, Rabbi Miller wrote, “Our great nation, by law and tradition, provides us with religious freedom. And even though we do not believe exactly alike, we ought to see each other with brotherly affection, and as equals in conscience and human worth.” For a time following Gov. Bentley’s words, Rabbi Miller and other non-Christians were enraged.

Two days later, Gov. Bentley apologized to both community leaders and the public. He organized meetings on Wednesday with concerned community leaders (including Rabbi Miller) and the press. Among his words to the press, Gov. Bentley said, “The terminology that I used I believe seemed to disenfranchise other religions and it certainly was not meant to do that. And what I would like to do is apologize. Anyone who heard those words and felt disenfranchised I want to say that I’m sorry. If you’re not a person who can say that you’re sorry than you’re not a very good leader.”

What was the result of Gov. Bentley’s apology to non-Christians in the state? As predicted in my prior post, intergroup attitudes improved, intergroup trust was partially restored, and forgiveness was attained. Consider the words of Rabbi Miller about Gov. Bentley following the meeting. “He’s looking to fix the thing. He was apologetic. He’s clearly looking to reconcile himself. All of us have put out words we wish we could take back.” In later comments, Rabbi Miller went on to say about Gov. Bentley, “We certainly expect from his words and deeds today that he will not be a governor who will divide us over religious issues.”

Relative to other conflict resolution strategies that I have written about, intergroup apologies are simple and easy to implement. This does not mean that they are always effective; under many conditions, they will not be. Yet, the result of Gov. Bentley’s apology to non-Christians in Alabama points out that their value should not be underestimated. In certain cases, a simple apology may effectively resolve serious conflict between groups.

Read more:

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

Alabama’s new governor apologies for Christian comments, Rabbi accepts (CNN)

Alabama governor touches off controversy with Christian comments (CNN)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Partitioning Sudan: Failure or Successful Resolution?

Voter registration line in Abyei

People lined up to register to vote in Abyei, Sudan, 18 November 2009. Photo courtesy of U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan. The views expressed here have not been endorsed by the Special Envoy.

A vote for independence from the north is the expected outcome of the referendum in southern Sudan, which was held from 9-15 January 2011. Sudan’s fractured history goes much deeper than the more recent killing and displacement in the Darfur region, including two civil wars between the more developed Islamic north and the impoverished tribal south. The latter conflict was mainly over the religious autonomy of the south and division of oil revenues. (The majority of Sudan’s oilfields are in the south while refineries and pipelines to the seaports are in the north). The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement established tentative peace and mandated a referendum for independence.

Some consider the partitioning of a country to be a failure of diplomacy and intergroup contact.  For southern Sudan gaining independence, although fraught with many new challenges, might be an opportunity to gain equal status with the north. According to Gordan Allport’s intergroup contact hypothesis, equal status is one of the four necessary preconditions for decreasing intergroup prejudice and anxiety. Commentary on Allport’s work (Esses, Jackson, Dovidio, & Hodson, 2008) claims that reducing competition for tangible resources and attenuating symbolic conflict over issues such as identity and religion need to happen simultaneously. In fact, decreasing tension over sovereignty and religious freedom might create more political space to negotiate sharing oil revenues.

On the Ground: Answering Your Sudan Questions, Take 1

Esses, V. M., Jackson, L. M., Dovidio, J. F. and Hodson, G. (2008). Instrumental relations among groups: Group competition, conflict, and prejudice. In J. F. Dovidio, P. Glick and L. A. Rudman (Eds.), On the nature of prejudice: Fifty years after Allport (pp. 227 – 243). Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK.

Priming racist symbol promotes racist voting

By: Erica Zaiser

Since the media is already beginning to review the last US presidential election in order to predict the next one, I thought it would be a good time to discuss a recent article in Political Psychology about the 2008 election. In their pre-election study, the researchers found that priming images of the confederate flag decreased white voters willingness to vote for Obama. Even when assessing a hypothetical black candidate, white participants evaluated the candidate more negatively after being exposed to the confederate flag. However, this wasn’t just an increase in negative attitudes in general, because there was no effect on attitudes towards white candidates.

This isn’t particularly surprising when you think about it. As the authors explain, by priming the confederate flag,  negative attitudes towards blacks are more accessible. However, these studies are good examples of how something somewhat obvious for psychologists in the lab is still striking when you think about the ramifications it can have in the “real world”. Especially when you realize that the results were controlling for political orientation and personal racial attitudes. So it wasn’t that people who already held strong racist views were reminded of their own beliefs; instead, people exposed to the image accessed a set of racist cultural beliefs that the flag represents, regardless of their personal attitudes towards race or politics.

I wanted to write about this because it’s interesting and important to be aware of. I am also worried that psychologists shouldn’t draw too much attention to this effect or we are going to see this type of priming used (or used more) on the campaign trail.

Read more: Exposure to confederate flag affects willingness to vote for Obama

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Did intergroup threat act as a precursor to the Arizona shooting rampage?

Jared Loughner's Pima County booking photo

By Kevin R. Betts

Twenty-two year old Jared Loughner stood in a Phoenix courtroom yesterday faced with federal murder and attempted murder charges. Although much is still being learned about why he targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in a shooting rampage on Saturday, his actions appear politically motivated. At a past political event, he asked Giffords questions along the lines of “What do you think of these people who are working for the government and they can’t describe what they do?” and “What is government if words have no meaning?” Loughner’s political leanings are unclear, but friends say he expressed dissatisfaction with Giffords and her views. Could perceptions of threat posed by the views of Giffords and her constituents have contributed to Loughner’s violent rampage?

The essence of intergroup threat theory is an expectation that future intergroup relations will be harmful in some way to the ingroup (Stephan, Renfro, & Davis, 2008). These threats may be realistic in that they threaten political power, economic power, or well-being, or they may be symbolic in that they threaten values, beliefs, or a worldview.  It is possible that Loughner perceived the views of Giffords and her constituents as threatening in one or more of these ways. He expressed dissatisfaction to his friends and others regarding her views and ability to lead. More importantly, affected individuals react to threats both psychologically and behaviorally. Psychological reactions may include fear, anger, resentment, or helplessness. Behavioral reactions may be avoidant or aggressive in nature. Although avoidant reactions are most common, aggressive reactions become more likely with negative previous interactions and a strong ingroup identity. Loughner’s friends describe contentious interactions between him and Giffords at past political events, but his association with opposing groups is unclear. Nonetheless, his actions were clearly aggressive.

It is probably too soon to draw firm conclusions about whether intergroup threat acted as a precursor to the Arizona shooting rampage. More information about Loughner’s political leanings,  formal or informal associations with any political groups, history of prior contact with Giffords and her constituents, and perceptions of threat posed by the views of  Giffords and her constituents are all needed. Yet, intergroup threat is worth considering as a possible precursor to the incident as the case unfolds.

Read more:

Shooting suspect’s nihilism rose with isolation (AP)

Stephan, W.G., Renfro, C.L., & Davis, M.D. (2008). The role of threat in intergroup relations. In U. Wagner, L.R. Tropp, G. Finchilescu, & C. Tredoux (Eds.), Improving intergroup relations (pp. 55-72). Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Cyber attacks: A unique threat to national security

By Kevin R. Betts

Political discussions about national security most commonly focus on threats of violence, such as those posed by nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, or suicide attacks initiated by terrorist organizations abroad. But not all threats to national security are violent. Michael Chertoff, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, recently addressed the cybersecurity challenge faced by modern counterterrorism organizations. In contrast to traditional violent attacks, cyber attacks may be capable of affecting a wider region by shutting down essential government services, stopping business operations, jeapordizing the security of financial institutions, and disrupting electronic communications (Chertoff, 2008). Cyber attacks are unique in that they threaten the social infrastructure of target regions.

Although major cyber attacks are uncommon today, they are increasing in frequency, sophistication, and scope. For example, Russia launched a denial of service attack against Georgia in early 2008 that restricted the access of many Georgians to information about what was occurring in their country. Additionally, websites associated with the Georgian government were defaced and government services were curtailed. Russia is not the only country capable of such attacks; the U.S. intelligence community contends that multiple nations currently possess the technical capability to target and disrupt the social infrastructure of Western nations. Nor is Russia the only nation willing to launch a cyber attack against an enemy; terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah have all expressed desire to initiate these types of attacks against Western nations. Although we can only speculate about the future, these types of attacks will likely continue to increase.

What can be done to protect against this unique threat to our social infrastructure? Chertoff (2008) identifies several actions that are currently being taken by the U.S. government, as well as actions that citizens can take to protect themselves. According to Chertoff, the responsibility of the government in preventing cyber attacks is to assess vulnerabilities in the government’s civilian domains, reduce points of access to the Internet that allow for inappropriate intrusion, employ tools that reduce the possibility of an attack, and consistently monitor potential threats. For citizens, Chertoff recommends activating antivirus software on personal computers, changing passwords frequently, and avoiding suspicious emails and websites. Fulfilling these government and citizen responsibilities should reduce unnecessary vulnerabilities.

Read more:

Chertoff, M. (2008). The cybersecurity challenge. Regulation and Governance, 2, 480-484.

Estonia, Google Help “Cyberlocked” Georgia (Wired)

Talks on Iran’s Nuclear Program Produce…More Talks (TIME)

North Korea’s Nuclear Program (New York Times)

Life among U.S. enemies: Embedded with the Taliban (CNN)

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts