- Top of page
- EXPERIMENT 1
- EXPERIMENT 2
- GENERAL DISCUSSION
How do group members respond when their group wrongfully punishes a group member? In two experiments, participants were presented with an ingroup member who argued for group change on moral (Experiment 1, N = 73) or scientific grounds (Experiment 2, N = 94). Despite being right, the member was treated as deviant by the group. We manipulated whether the group retained its former opinion or adopted the deviant's position, and whether the deviant's punishment was ongoing or whether the deviant was reinstated. We tested opposing predictions about how these group actions would affect group members' negativity towards the deviant. Both studies showed that negativity towards the deviant was highest when the group opinion was unchanged and the deviant was not reinstated. Further, opinion change or reintegration defused negativity towards the deviant. Implications of groups rejecting or embracing change, and their effects on the evaluation of wrongfully accused deviants are discussed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
E pur si muove [And yet it moves]
Allegedly, Galileo Galilei muttered these words under his breath, as he was forced by the Catholic Church in 1633 to recant his claim that the Earth moves around the Sun. Despite this, Galileo was vindicated in the end. Popular culture admires individuals such as Galileo for standing strong and for sticking to their beliefs despite the obvious costs associated with doing so. Indeed, the story of the mistreated, undervalued and misunderstood geniuses, whistleblowers, superheroes or ordinary people who are ultimately vindicated is not just a popular theme in literature and cinema (e.g. the movie, 12 Angry Men), but also determines our evaluation of politicians and freedom fighters (see Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1996; Hornsey & Jetten, 2004). Arguably, the prestige of heroes like Nelson Mandela accrues because he remained true to his cause in the face of torture and imprisonment.
We often admire such individuals (known as deviants; Festinger, 1950; Morrison & Miller, 2008) who are defiant in the face of considerable conformity pressure. However, it is also clear that we appreciate those who accept group influence, follow group norms and do not rock the boat (Monin, Sawyer, & Marquez, 2008; Near & Miceli, 1986). It thus appears that there is no guaranteed glory for those who defy conformity pressure, even in situations when they are obviously right in pushing for change. Indeed, groups often reject and mistreat deviants who are morally and scientifically correct (Moscovici, 1976).
We may understand why a group finds it difficult to change their position openly. For example, despite the fact that the Catholic Church's position that the Sun moves around the Earth proved to be untenable, it was only in the 20th century that the Catholic Church apologized for Galileo's persecution. While the apology seems late, it is important to note that Judeo-Christian thinking retained the idea that the Earth was the centre of the universe as a core belief for centuries. Thus, adopting Galileo's position also meant distancing from biblical texts, and this, of course, would have far reaching consequences. In Galileo's case, the Inquisition's ban on his planetary motion writings was rescinded only in 1835. Other acts were more indicative of full reintegration: Galileo was given a prominent reburial in a Catholic chapel in 1737. These events demonstrate that groups can be ultimately responsive to changes promoted by deviants. However, groups may resist admitting being wrong as long as they can for fear of damage to their image and reputation (Branscombe, Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 1999).
How do group members respond to mistreated deviants? More specifically, what factors influence how group members react to a deviant who has been wrongly mistreated by the group? The present paper examines group members' responses to the wrongfully accused in relation to two novel independent variables concerning the treatment of the deviant by the group: (a) whether the group rejects changes to its own opinion, or embraces a deviant's opinion; and (b) whether the group continues to punish and marginalize the former deviant, or reintegrates him or her. Both group opinion change and reintegration involve often observed group responses to wrongfully accused deviants. However, these responses differ in that group opinion change involves the repositioning (or not) of the group and this has broader implications for group beliefs and norms. The second response – reinstating of the formerly accused or not – involves a more isolated response, mostly changing the treatment of the individual deviant. The latter response affects group members to a lesser extent because it does not necessarily change the group as they know it. In our research, we examined the independent and interactive effects of these two forms of group responses. In this way, we were able to assess which response to a wrongfully accused deviant would have most impact on group members' evaluations of the individual.
In the face of evidence that the deviant was clearly right and the group was wrong, one possible outcome is that group members' negativity towards the deviant would be eliminated – given that the deviant was right, it would be morally wrong to continue to mistreat them, regardless of group opinion or its current treatment of the wrongfully accused (e.g. Hornsey, Majkut, Terry, & McKimmie, 2003; Packer, 2008). Group members may be quick to abandon hostility towards the deviant who has been marginalized. Indeed, in hindsight, group members may not understand how they could have been blinded by group rhetoric (Janis, 1982), and how no one questioned the consensual condemnation of the wrongfully accused. In situations like these, one would expect punitive groups to lose their power to influence group members. In particular, evaluations of the deviant should be most positive if groups continue wrongful treatment of the deviant by refusing either (a) to adopt the deviant's views or (b) to reinstate the deviant.
However, we also know that groups are central in defining norms and values that guide individuals' actions (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, 1991). Even though group members are able to accept the deviant's opinions, it may be held against the former deviant that they tackled group beliefs that are perceived as self-defining (Sani, Todman, & Lunn, 2005). Although group members admit that the deviant was right, they may feel uncomfortable in accepting the deviant because the deviant damaged the very foundation that provides the group with its raison-d'être (Sani, 2005). It is therefore not surprising that the whistleblowing literature suggests that because group members feel damaged by the whistleblower's actions, they may act negatively or even aggressively towards the whistleblower (e.g. Near & Miceli, 1986). In other words, an alternative hypothesis would be that, even if the accused is perceived as wrongfully punished, negativity may persist towards the former deviant among those who identify as group members. This negativity will be most likely if the group is sticking to its guns, refusing to (a) adopt the deviant's position, or (b) reinstate the wrongfully accused.
These opposing predictions were tested in two experiments. Specifically, we examined whether, in the face of overwhelming evidence that a deviant is right and has been punished wrongfully, group members compensate by lowering their hostility towards the accused, or continue to downgrade the deviant. The treatment of the deviant by the group was proposed to play a critical role in shaping group members' reactions. When the group shows reluctance to admit being wrong by (a) not adopting the deviant's position, and (b) by refusing to reinstate the wrongfully accused, the first hypothesis suggests that evaluations of the formerly accused would be most positive, as group members compensate the deviant's sacrifice and strive to correct the group's error. An alternative hypothesis is that evaluations of the former deviant would be most negative under these conditions. This happens if group members conform to the rejecting signals provided by the group and refuse, in the face of the evidence, to admit their mistakes. The main dependent variable was negativity towards the deviant, but we also examined effects on group identification. More negativity towards the formerly accused might protect or even increase group identification whereas lower negativity might damage (and thus lower) group identification (Eidelman & Biernat, 2003).
- Top of page
- EXPERIMENT 1
- EXPERIMENT 2
- GENERAL DISCUSSION
While much research has focused on why people decide to rebel, how they are treated and why groups respond harshly to deviants (Marques & Paez, 1994), not much is known about how group members respond when they know in their heart that the deviant in their midst was morally right (Experiment 1) or factually right (Experiment 2).2 We examined how group members' negativity towards the former deviant is affected by whether or not the group tries to make up for its former mistakes. The classic movie, 12 Angry Men, suggests that the moral or factual correctness of an opinion ultimately can sway people's attitudes from an incorrect group consensus. But contrary to the happy ending movie-makers often give us, our findings suggest that this does not necessarily imply that group members will become less hostile toward the former deviant if the group was obviously wrong and the deviant was right. Indeed, in such cases, group members were harshest to the wrongfully accused.
Our finding is consistent with well-established research showing that group members conform to group norms (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, 1991). Importantly, however, the present paper makes a novel contribution to the literature by showing that negativity was significantly defused in both studies as soon as the group was able to reach out to the deviant either by adopting their position directly or by reinstating them. In other words, negativity towards the deviant was not reduced incrementally, with less negativity the more the group had done to admit being wrong. Rather, the data provide some evidence for an all-or-nothing process whereby the group that compensated in any way for having been misguided signalled to group members that it was time to lift the ban, and this allowed more positive evaluations of deviants.
Opinion deviance research has typically focused on evaluations of the deviant in isolation, and has not examined the impact of the group's past and ongoing reaction to the deviant and his or her ideas (but see, Chan, Louis, & Hornsey, 2009). This research has yielded contradictory results. In some cases group members defer to the group (see Asch, 1955; Nemeth & Wachtler, 1983), yet at other times, group members support deviants (e.g. Hornsey, 2005; Packer, 2008; Rink & Ellemers, 2009). Our data add to the literature by showing that the treatment of deviants by the group plays a critical role. Specifically, we highlight the interactive effects of two novel independent variables, showing that negativity can be defused when groups adopt the deviant's opinion (even if punitiveness is maintained) or reintegrate the deviant as a group member (even if the group opinion is unchanged).