If group members display deviant behaviour, that influences the identity of the group as a whole and is therefore undesirable. After all, positive self-respect is related to the group having a good reputation, and aggressive behaviour does not contribute to this. However, instead of banishing the members in question, groups ensure that their behaviour changes so that the group can remain intact. This has been revealed by research conducted by social psychologist Margriet Braun, who investigated which factors influence the reactions to deviant behaviour. She will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 21 June 2010.
People partially derive their identity from the various social groups to which they belong. Braun: ‘People can be members of a sports club, a church, committee or group of friends. Group members consider it important to think positively about each other and have good expectations of each other. It is interesting to observe how people deal with a group member who displays deviant behaviour, and how they subsequently try to maintain the positive evaluation of the group.’
Braun investigated which factors influence the reactions if a group member is harmed. What emerged is that in addition to the relationship between the victim and the offender, the offender’s intentions also play a role. Braun: ‘People react extremely negatively to aggressive behaviour, whether or not the offender is part of the same group. Sometimes it’s not clear whether somebody really intended to cause harm. I’ve discovered that the offender is given the benefit of the doubt if he belongs to the same group as the victim and his intentions need not necessarily be interpreted as negative. However, if it becomes clear that the group member caused harm deliberately, a very strong negative reaction follows. That reaction is even stronger if the offender is not part of the same group.’
The role of intentions appears to be irrelevant when group members are not psychologically able to properly assess the intentions of an aggressive group member. This is because people revert to the automatic principle that group members must behave positively towards each other. Braun: ‘Imagine an Orange supporter in a packed stadium being suddenly shoved by an unknown person. Because there’s so much going on around him, he’s not really able to judge if it was deliberate. If the Orange supporter then sees that the cause of the problem is also wearing an orange T-shirt, he will react mildly.’ If people do not have the opportunity to understand what has happened, they will automatically assume that group members will not harm each other because that would harm the group as a whole.
Deviant behaviour by a group member has direct consequences for the positive evaluation of the group. People can take various measures to protect the group identity against a negative assessment. Braun: ‘A group can choose to expel a group member with deviant behaviour from the group. However, my research has revealed that that is not the preferred option. They prefer to ensure that the behaviour of a deviant member is adapted so that the group can remain intact.The more that group members feel bonded with other group members, the more clearly they will chose re-education over banishment.’
Margriet Braun (Enschede, 1981) studied applied communication studies at the University of Twente and conducted her PhD research at the Kurt Lewin Institute of Social and Organizational Psychology at the University of Groningen. The research was financed by NWO. Braun’s supervisors in Behavioural and Social Sciences were Prof. S. Otten, Prof. E.H. Gordijn and Prof. D. Stapel. Her thesis is entitled ‘Dealing with a deviant group member’. Braun currently works as a researcher in the Community Care & Youth department of the Saxion University of Applied Sciences. She is also a lecturer there for the Master’s degree programme in Health Care and Social Work.
Contact: Margriet Braun, tel. 06-2695 8098 (mobile), e-mail: margriet.braun telfort.nl
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