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International Winners of SPSSI's 2007 Social Issues Dissertation Awards

Social Identity Threat and Performance Motivation :
The Interplay Between Ingroup and Outgroup Domains

by Belle Derks, now on the faculty at Leiden University, who received the 2007 SPSSI Social Issues Dissertation Award

In my dissertation, I examined how members of socially devalued groups (women, ethnic minorities) can maintain their motivation in contexts that threaten their social identity. Previous research showed that work and educational settings that threaten social identity lead members of stigmatized groups to disengage from domains in which their group is negatively stereotyped (e.g., academic achievement, leadership ability). In eight experimental studies, I show that members of stigmatized groups are more able to maintain their motivation on these status-defining dimensions when they are able to affirm their social identity. That is, focusing members of stigmatized groups on positive characteristics of their group (e.g., their group’s superiority in other performance domains) keeps them from disengaging from performance domains in which high status groups (e.g. men, ethnic majorities) excel.

The first two experiments show that stigmatized group members maintain their motivation in threatening settings when they themselves affirm their social identity. That is, group members who attached high value to their ingroup’s success in alternative performance domains also displayed the highest performance motivation on the status-defining dimension. Interestingly, a third experiment revealed that social identity affirmation also worked when it was offered by the performance context: When they were told that the positive characteristics of their group were highly valued within that context, group members showed higher persistence on status-defining dimensions (Derks, Van Laar & Ellemers, 2007a). Experiments 4 and 5 showed that this motivational effect of social identity affirmation held up even in threatening intergroup contexts in which high status outgroup members were present (Derks, Van Laar & Ellemers, 2006). Moreover, these experiments revealed the psychological process that explains why members of devalued groups withdraw from contexts that threaten their social identity: Threatening performance contexts induce a cognitive focus on avoiding failure, rather than a focus on approaching success. However, when devalued group members were offered social identity affirmation (i.e., outgroup members acknowledged positive characteristics of the devalued group) they became focused on approaching success. Importantly, the final three experiments showed that social identity affirmation has beneficial effects over and above the effects of self-affirmation of one’s personal identity. Although both types of identity affirmation were shown to improve the performance motivation of stigmatized group members, affirming the personal vs. social self affected the degree to which group members remained concerned with the outcomes of their group: Whereas self-affirmation led devalued group members to be concerned with their individual outcomes only, affirming group identity stimulated group members to challenge their group’s low status through collective action (Derks, Van Laar & Ellemers, 2007b).
This work consistently shows that social identity is an important factor in the performance motivation of members of stigmatized groups. By communicating value for social identities rather than focusing exclusively on personal identities, members of stigmatized groups become focused on success and become challenged to improve their personal outcomes as well as the outcomes of their group (Derks, Van Laar & Ellemers, in press).

Derks, B., Van Laar, C., & Ellemers, N. (2006). Striving for success in outgroup settings: Effects of contextually emphasizing ingroup dimensions on stigmatized group members' social identity and performance styles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 576-588.

Derks, B., Van Laar, C., & Ellemers, N. (2007a). Social creativity strikes back: Improving motivated performance of low status group members by valuing ingroup dimensions. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37, 470-493.

Derks, B., Van Laar, C., & Ellemers, N. (2007b). Working for the self or working for the group: How personal and social self-affirmation promote self-improvement among members of devalued groups. Paper submitted for publication.

Derks, B., Van Laar, C., & Ellemers, N. (in press). The beneficial effects of social identity protection on the performance motivation of members of devalued groups. Social Issues and Policy Review.


Social-Psychological Paths to Protest: An Integrative Perspective

by Martijn van Zomeren, now on the faculty at Vrije University, recipient of the 2nd prize in the 2007 SPSSI Social Issues Dissertation Award program

When and how do people engage in collective action against collective disadvantage? Because the collective action literature is large, multi-disciplinary, and heterogeneous, there are many diverse answers to this question. The main aim of my Ph. D. thesis was to find some “general simplicity” among the “specific complexities” in the literature. In my thesis, I propose an integrative perspective that encompasses different theoretical approaches to collective action. In four empirical chapters, containing nine empirical (mostly experimental) studies and a comprehensive meta-analysis, I tested this integrative perspective that proposes two distinct “paths to protest”, conceptualized as emotion-focused and problem-focused coping with collective disadvantage.

As a first test of this perspective, in Chapter 2 (based on Van Zomeren, Spears, Fischer, & Leach, 2004) three experiments show that disadvantaged group members` feelings of group-based anger and their group efficacy beliefs independently predict their collective action tendencies. Moreover, experimental manipulations of procedural unfairness and emotional support predicted group-based anger, whereas an experimental manipulation of instrumental support also predicted group efficacy. Indeed, the two proposed coping processes are context-dependent, and their activation depends on the emotional and contextual resources people have available and put to use.

Furthermore, in Chapter 3 (based on Van Zomeren, Spears, & Leach, in press) a field study of a “real-life” demonstration and a follow-up experiment show that group identification facilitates emotion-focused coping (i.e., higher identifiers are more likely to act because of stronger group-based anger), and moderates problem-focused coping (i.e., lower identifiers depend increasingly more on their group efficacy beliefs to engage in collective action). Extending this integrative perspective, three experiments reported in Chapter 4 (based on Van Zomeren, Spears, & Leach, submitted) suggest that group-based anger is not only a major motivation for collective action but also a communicative tool to mobilize the disadvantaged group, or to challenge the authorities. Group-based anger is not an “irrational” response to collective disadvantage – rather, group-based anger in response to collective disadvantage appears to be multi-functional.

Finally, Chapter 5 (based on Van Zomeren, Postmes, & Spears, revised and submitted) corroborated my integrative perspective by showing meta-analytic evidence that injustice, efficacy, and identity predict collective action very well. Results confirmed that injustice and identity are more strongly related to each other than to efficacy, and that emotional measures of injustice (like anger) are better predictors of collective action than non-emotional measures. The “dual pathway model of coping with collective disadvantage” thus fits with the literature across very different measures, methods, populations, and contexts.

In the concluding chapter, I therefore argue that my perspective provides an integrative answer to the question when and how people engage in collective action. This is important in fostering further theoretical integration, and it has major implications for practice and policy. For example, lower identifiers with a disadvantaged group can be mobilized most effectively by focusing on group efficacy rather than on group-based anger. Moreover, results also point to possible antecedents of group efficacy like instrumental in-group support. Finally, the multi-functionality of group-based anger suggests multiple ways for its strategic expression, which all aim for influencing the emotional and contextual resources group members have available to battle their collective disadvantage.
Van Zomeren, M., Spears, R., Fischer, A. H., & Leach, C. W. (2004). Put your money where your mouth is!: Explaining collective action tendencies through group-based anger and group efficacy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 649–664

Van Zomeren, M., Spears, R., & Leach, C. W. (in press). Exploring psychological mechanisms of collective action: Does relevance of group identity influence how people cope with collective disadvantage? British Journal of Social Psychology
Van Zomeren, M., Spears, R., & Leach, C.W. (submitted). Challenging the powerful: Explaining the strategic expression of group-based anger. Manuscript under review.
Van Zomeren, M., Postmes, T., & Spears, R. (revised and resubmitted). Toward an integrative Social Identity Model of Collective Action: A quantitative research synthesis of three socio-psychological perspectives. Manuscript under review.
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