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The path of most resistance

How groups cope with implicit social identity threat
PhD ceremony:Ms J.A. (Jolien) van Breen
When:June 19, 2017
Supervisor:R. (Russell) Spears, Prof
Co-supervisors:T. (Toon) Kuppens, Dr, dr. S. de Lemus
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
The path of most resistance

In a world characterised by social inequality, belonging to social groups is not always a positive experience. When someone belongs to a group that is considered inferior within the larger societal context, this can lead to experiences of social devaluation, such as discrimination or stereotyping. How members of disadvantaged groups deal with such experiences is the central question underlying this dissertation. Recent research has shown that social devaluation of disadvantaged groups can take very subtle forms, and can in fact occur subconsciously. Such implicit cues of social devaluation are very difficult to recognize, and as a result, it seemed that resistance to implicit social devaluation was not possible.

In this dissertation, we examine the hypothesis that members of disadvantaged groups can nevertheless resist implicit cues of social devaluation. Indeed, the empirical chapters show that resistance to subconscious identity threat is possible, and that resistance can take several forms. Exposure to subconscious gender stereotypes, for example, can motivate women to behave counter-stereotypically. Such resistance is driven by identity concerns: in the context of gender, resistance to implicit devaluation cues occurred specifically amongst women who are strongly identified with feminists, but not with the broader group of women. Resistance to implicit devaluation can be compared to resistance in the physical immune system, preventing disease without the need for conscious awareness. In sum, by demonstrating that people can resist implicit cues of social devaluation, this dissertation shows that members of disadvantaged groups are more resilient than previously thought.