Elad Strenger, Julia, et al. “Differentiation from the Ideological Out-group as Reference for the In-group’s Emotions in Conflict.” PsyArXiv, 17 Aug. 2020. Web.
Background & Theory
We live in a world of political polarisation where there is deep mistrust between either side of the ideological spectrum. Hence, studying the psychology of ideological social groups is more important than ever. When there are two competing groups who think differently about the same issue, their behavior in relation to each other is interesting to observe in the event that one of them starts thinking similarly to the other. Because the in-group’s identity is defined by how different it is from the out-group, its identity can be threatened if the out-group acts similarly.
Inspired by the social identity approach (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner et al., 1987), according to which individuals strive to distance themselves from oppositional outgroups, these studies are the first to demonstrate the role of the differentiation between ideological groups in shaping their positions towards their shared rival in conflict.
The authors seek to answer the following questions in their study:
- Do ideological in-group members express more content when their ideological out-group expresses a non-stereotypical emotional response towards a political stimulus compared to when it expresses its stereotypical response to the stimulus?
- Do ideological in-group members differentiate themselves from the outgroup by shifting their emotional response to the stimulus farther away from the prototypical out-group response when their ideological out-group response is non-stereotypical versus stereotypical?
- Is the hypothesized shift in emotional response motivated (moderated) by participants’ self-reported desire for distinctiveness from their ideological out-group, such that the effects of the non-stereotypical (vs. stereotypical) out-group collective anger response will be stronger under high (vs. low) desire for intergroup distinctiveness?
Two experiments were conducted among 513 Jewish-Israeli leftists and rightists, focusing on their experience of group-based anger towards stimuli associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The goal of Study 1 was to examine the hypothesis that leftists’ and rightists’ emotional responses to a political stimulus will shift in the direction of the in-group prototype when their ideological out-group expresses non-stereotypical (vs. stereotypical) responses to this stimulus, despite being more content with the out-group’s non-stereotypical (vs. stereotypical) response.
This dynamic was examined by exposing self-identified Jewish-Israeli leftists and rightists to a speech by Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, in which he threatens to “un-recognize” the state of Israel. Participants then read a bogus survey, in which their ideological out-group supposedly expressed either a stereotypical or a non-stereotypical collective anger response to the speech: Leftists were exposed to stereotypically high versus non- stereotypically low collective anger of rightists, whereas rightists were exposed to stereotypically low versus non-stereotypically high collective anger of leftists.
The goal of Study 2 was to conduct a high-powered, pre-registered replication of Study 1, with an extended measure of desire for intergroup distinctiveness, as a potential mechanism underlying the relation between the out-group’s collective anger response to the stimulus and participants’ own anger responses.
Consistent with H1 (hypothesis 1), both leftists and rightists were significantly more content with their out-group response when it was non-stereotypical versus stereotypical, with the difference being slightly larger among rightists.
Consistent with H2, participants’ anger levels were more extreme in the direction of their in-group’s prototype when their out-group response was non-stereotypical versus stereotypical.
Contrary to H3, the effects of the out-group’s collective anger response on the extremity of participants’ anger ratings were found to not be moderated by the desire for intergroup distinctiveness.
The results of Study 1 indicate that, as expected, Jewish-Israeli leftists and rightists were more content when their ideological out-group’s anger response to a conflict-related stimulus was non-stereotypical versus stereotypical. Nevertheless, leftists’ and rightists’ own anger at the stimulus shifted based on their ideological out-group’s perceived collective response. Consistent with the basic premises of the social identity approach, both leftists and rightists expressed more extreme anger responses in the direction of their in-group prototype (i.e., leftists expressed lower anger and rightists higher anger) when their out-group ostensibly reported non-stereotypical versus stereotypical anger levels.
How This Translates for the Workplace:
In a workplace setting, two competing groups could be within an organization or between two organizations. If the out-group acts non-stereotypically, the in-group may become envious or be tempted to sabotage the growth of the former because they are so used to identifying as different from them.
Awareness of this distinctiveness bias is very important in order to mitigate it and be able to work cooperatively with the out-group. In the study, even though the groups were more content when the out-group expressed nonstereotypical response, they still tilted more strongly towards their existing view as a defense mechanism against losing their distinctiveness. Trying to find like-mindedness with the opposing party is a common method of improving cooperation and deescalating conflict. Finding a greater mutual goal through which each group can transcend group boundaries in order to cooperate and work towards outcomes is ideal.
- Inter-Team distinctiveness within one workplace: Employees may disagree on the company vision, strategic decisions, and their shared rival could be a rival firm or the problem that the company is trying to solve for clients. This can cause internal factionalism within the workplace, perhaps between different departmental teams (finance, legal, communications) or teams within one department. Office politics is a common phenomenon due to this. Employee productivity can significantly go down if they are stuck in this natural irrationality of identity distinctiveness, and they must be reminded of their common goals as a company. The mutual goal here is effective problem solving for clients and company success. Foresight and maturity of leadership are important to try to get the two groups to see their ideas as interactive so that they consciously try to find more in common and desire growth for one another. Employee engagement programs can also go a long way in improving these dynamics or solidarity amongst employees.
- Inter-Organization distinctiveness between two different companies: Competitive markets and limited resources make organizations compete with each other. Differences arising from wanting to acquire a greater market share, differing methods of problem-solving, business practices to convert more leads, etc. can lead to rivalry. Their shared rival could be solving the same problem for customers in the niche that they are operating in. For example, it may happen that for PR reasons, the rival organization changes its policies or values to have a better image, which may be similar to the values of the “in-group” company. In the context of the study, this led to greater contentment for the in-group since the two were not in contact with one another and the ideological differences were publicly known, but in a workplace setting, this can lead to resentment, because it may seem like an imitation of the in-group’s idea. This might reduce the ingroup’s reputation of being known as the more ethical organization and it is natural for them to feel that their identity is threatened or that their niche is “stolen”. The intent of the rival or “out-group” organization may be unknown, which can also make it more difficult for the in-group organization to trust that this change is for the right reasons. Industry stalwarts must advise either organization to share mutual strengths, partner more frequently, and work for the greater good, which can be the advancement of that specific professional field in this case. Both organizations can set norms around ethics, boundaries, and fair market share.