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Title: The impact of intra-group interaction on identity and action
Author: Smith, Laura Grace Elizabeth
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2008
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The unifying theme of the chapters presented in this thesis is that intra-group interaction impacts on in-group identity content, and this content provides a foundation for social action and social behaviour. The primary goals of this thesis are first, to demonstrate that social realities can be established and transformed through interaction; and second, to investigate why the process of intra-group interaction can spark and exacerbate social conflict. In Chapter 1, I review and attempt to theoretically integrate the disparate literatures on group discussion, identity and action. In Chapter 2, I investigate the effect of interaction on the positive-negative asymmetry effect (PNAE). In Study 2.1, participants were more likely to discriminate on rewards than fines, and find allocating rewards to be a more legitimate and pleasant act than allocating fines. Conversely, participants thought allocating fines would have a more negative effect on recipients and felt more negative about allocating fines than rewards. In Study 2.2, when in-group advancement was obstructed, no PNAE was found: obstruction was sufficient justification for out-group punishment in its own right. When in-group advancement was not obstructed, the PNAE reversed after group discussion, such that more hostility occurred when participants administered fines than when they awarded rewards. This reversal was mediated by processes of norm formation. In Chapter 3, I describe three studies which show that consensual intra-group discussions about a negatively regarded out-group increased inter-group hostility. Study 3.1 compared group discussion about immigrants with individual reflection. Results showed that group discussion informed the content of stereotypes, which led to support for anti-immigrant policies. In Study 3.2, participants discussed either an irrelevant topic, the out-group stereotype, or the out-group stereotype plus what concrete actions should be taken towards that group. Only discussion of the stereotype significantly increased hostility, suggesting that the psychological products of discussion per se (cohesion, identification, etc.) are not solely responsible for hostility. Rather, social validation of the stereotype explained why its discussion increased hostility. Study 3.3 replicated these results with a behavioural measure. In Chapter 4, I present two studies which controlled for the content of interaction by showing participants short films of similar others having a group discussion. Study 4.1 investigated the paradoxical finding that when groups discuss potential courses of action against an out-group, they are less likely to act than when they discuss simply the out-group stereotype (Chapter 3). Results suggested that when group discussions imply that there is social consensus about a course of action, even the advocacy of extreme actions can increase support for (more moderate) social action. Study 4.2 manipulated whether or not the discussants consensualised on the out-group stereotype, whilst controlling for discussion content. Only when the discussion ended in consensus did participants identify with the discussants and perceive norms for social action. In Chapter 5, I address how social identities and their associated (self-) stereotypes can disadvantage members of low status groups, but how they can also promote social change. The data demonstrates that consensualisation in small groups can transform (or reconfirm) such stereotypes, thereby eliminating (or bolstering) stereotype threat effects. In Study 5.1, female participants were asked why men are (or are not) better at maths. They generated their answers individually or through group discussion. Stereotype threat was undermined only when they collectively challenged the stereotype. Content analyses suggest that discussions redefined in-group and out-group stereotypes, providing the basis for stigma reversal or confirmation. In Study 5.2, male and female participants confirmed or challenged the stereotype in same-gender discussion groups or no discussion, baseline conditions. After a discussion that confirmed the stereotype, women displayed signs of stereotype threat and men’s performance was “lifted”. When they challenged the stereotype, the difference between men and women on the maths test was eliminated. Overall, the results reported in this thesis suggest that intra-group interaction enables group members to develop an understanding of their common ideology, which may establish the consensual basis of their identity content. If such consensualisation occurs, this provides them with a sense that their perceptions of reality are socially valid, and gives rise to (implicit or explicit) in-group norms. This provides individuals with a solid foundation upon which they may act. The implications of these conclusions are discussed in Chapter 6.
Supervisor: Postmes, Tom Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Social psychology ; Communication ; Social identity ; Inter-group relations ; Stereotypes ; norms