Tag Archives: interindividual-intergroup discontinuity

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

Responding to violence in U.S. hospitals

By Kevin R. Betts

For several years, I worked at a psychiatric hospital as a mental health technician. For the most part, I found this job to be very fulfilling. Watching patients who arrived in disarray leave feeling content left me feeling that what I was doing was worthwhile, and the occasional thank you card or call from a previous patient didn’t hurt either. However, there were certainly challenges inherent to this job. One such challenge concerned how best to react to patients who became angry or aggressive. When confronted by such a patient, a common response among the staff was to corral other staff members in an attempt to intimidate the patient into submission. In contrast to staff expectations, however, these attempts were often met by the patient with obstinance, and they sometimes even appeared to encourage further aggressive behaviors.

The media has recently given increased attention to violence in U.S. hospitals like that captured in my account above. Events such as the recent shooting at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, as well as a recent Joint Commission report about increasing rates of violence in hospital emergency rooms, has earned the attention of health care workers and the general public alike. Unfortunately, one thing that can be gathered from these reports and my account above is that most hospital staff members receive only limited training in how to respond to angry or aggressive patients.

Research on the interindividual-intergroup discontinuity informs us that corralling other staff members to confront an angry patient who is alone, as often occurred at my workplace, will likely be ineffective in reducing that patient’s anger or aggression. The interindividual-intergroup discontinuity suggests that interactions between groups, or between groups and individuals, will be more competitive and aggressive than interactions between individuals alone (Meier, Hinsz, & Heimerdinger, 2007). There are three mechanisms that are believed to be responsible for this effect. One mechanism suggests that we fear and distrust other groups more than other individuals. A second mechanism suggests that group members can provide social support for antisocial actions, whereas individuals cannot. The third mechanism concerns identifiability, meaning that our (antisocial) actions are more identifiable when we act alone than when we act in a group. What is the implication of this research for health care workers? When it can be safely done, angry or aggressive patients should be confronted one-on-one.

Read more:

Violence in U.S. hospitals (CNN)

Violence on the rise in U.S. health care centers (Businessweek)

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.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts