SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. EXPERIMENT 1
  4. EXPERIMENT 2
  5. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSIONS
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

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).

EXPERIMENT 1

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. EXPERIMENT 1
  4. EXPERIMENT 2
  5. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSIONS
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

In Experiment 1, participants responded to a deviant who argued for change at a cost to the group on a moral position. We manipulated (a) whether the group adopted the deviant's opinion, and (b) whether the deviant was reintegrated, and examined the effects on negativity towards the target.

Method

Participants and Design

Seventy-three first-year psychology students at a large Australian university were recruited. The sample had a mean age of 18.95 years (SD = 2.65), of which 61.8% were females. All participants received course credit in exchange for their time.

The experiment used a 2 × 2 between-groups factorial design with group opinion (unchanged/changed) and reintegration (low/high) as independent variables.

Materials and Procedure

Participants were recruited for an experiment ostensibly on ‘thinking styles’ and academic performance. They then were given information on deductive and inductive ‘thinking styles’, and proceded to complete computerized word and number associations for the group induction task (see Doosje, Spears, & Koomen, 1995). After finishing the task, all participants were told they were ‘deductive thinkers’. In addition, they were asked questions as a deductive thinker throughout the experiment to maintain the salience of this ingroup. Participants then read that research funding at their university favoured deductive thinkers (who received 70% of the funding) over inductive thinkers (30%). An academic in the participants' department had disputed the policy and had labelled it as institutional discrimination because it did not represent the 50% proportion of each thinking style in the population. Instead, the target advocated an even split of funding. Participants read that, despite the fact that the deviant was morally right, the deviant was marginalized because the department was biased towards research on deductive thinkers.

Participants were then informed that the departmental research committee had held a meeting on allocating funding to thinking styles. Depending on condition, the committee rejected the deviant's proposal and maintained the 70–30 allocation (group opinion unchanged), or shifted to equal distribution (opinion changed). Independently, the deviant was described as remaining unpopular as a result of the incident (low reintegration), or returning to popularity (high reintegration).

Negativity towards the target was measured with three items (e.g. ‘I feel that this person should be promoted’ [reversed]), on scales ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. The items were averaged with higher scores indicating more negativity towards the target (α = .78).

Group identification was measured with 12 items adapted from the scale developed by Cameron (2004): 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree. For example, participants rated whether they had ‘a lot in common with other deductive thinkers’ (α = .84).

As a check that the deviant was perceived to be morally right, we examined agreement with the item: ‘I support the distribution of research funds at 50% deductive/50% inductive thinking’ (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree).

Results and Discussion

Perceptions That the Deviant's Position Is Right

Preliminary analyses confirmed that the deviant's position was recognized as morally right: agreement with the deviant's position was well above the midpoint of the 7-point scale (M = 6.07, SD = 1.24), t(72) = 14.26, p < .001. Importantly, support for the deviant's egalitarian position was unaffected by the manipulations. Any changes in negativity to the deviant could therefore not be explained by differences between conditions in the rejection of the deviant's moral argument.

Predicting Negativity

A 2 × 2 analysis of variance on negativity to the deviant showed no significant main effects. However, the interaction was significant, F(1, 69) = 4.88, p = .031, equation image. As seen in Figure 1, negativity was highest in the low reintegration and group position unchanged condition (M = 3.88, SD = 0.84) – compared to the opinion changed and low reintegration condition, M = 3.12, SD = 1.02, F(1, 69) = 6.17, p = .015, equation image and compared to the high reintegration condition and opinion unchanged condition, M = 3.00, SD = 0.82, F(1, 69) = 9.08, p = .004, equation image.

thumbnail image

Figure 1. The interaction of group opinion and reintegration on negativity towards deviant, Experiment 1

Download figure to PowerPoint

Predicting Identification

A 2 × 2 analysis of variance on identification showed no effects of group opinion change, reintegration, or their interaction (all Fs < 1.66, ps > .202). Thus, group members' loyalty to the group was unaffected by the group's treatment of the deviant.

These results demonstrate that group members were inclined to remain hostile towards a wrongfully accused deviant when their group stuck to its guns. Unless the group signalled change either by directly adopting the deviant's position or by reintegrating the deviant within the group, negativity remained high. These results are striking in that support for the deviant's position was high and unaffected by the group manipulations. Group members were expressing negativity towards someone who they themselves agreed was proposing a morally right alternative to the status quo. However, there was no evidence that the more negative ratings were associated with a boost in identification.

One potential limitation of these findings is that moral opinions entail subjective judgements. This raises the question whether these effects hold when the group is factually wrong. Therefore, in Experiment 2, we examined support for the same hypotheses in a context where a deviant argued for change based on scientific facts.

EXPERIMENT 2

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. EXPERIMENT 1
  4. EXPERIMENT 2
  5. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSIONS
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

In Experiment 2, self-identified Catholic participants were given information about Galileo's dispute with the Catholic Church. Again, we tested opposing predictions – the ‘going with the group’ hypothesis versus siding with the wrongfully accused.

Method

Participants and Design

Ninety-four first-year Catholic participants of a large Australian university were recruited. The mean age was 19.76 years (SD = 4.76). Females made up 62.8% of the sample. The participants were given course credit in exchange for their time. The design of the study was identical to Experiment 1.

Materials and Procedure

Participants were recruited without mentioning religious affiliation for a study about how people relate to historical or contemporary figures. On arrival, participants were asked their religious affiliation amid other demographic questions, and only Catholics were retained.

All participants were given a scenario detailing Galileo's strong endorsement of planetary motion. They also were informed about the Church's contrasting position of a stationary Earth, and its condemnation of Galileo's views (i.e. banning his writings and putting Galileo under house arrest). Thereafter, participants read a paragraph on the progress of astronomy that vindicated Galileo. All participants were thus informed that the deviant was right in his scientific argument.

Depending on conditions, participants then read that the Church continued to ban Galileo's works (group opinion unchanged), or stopped prohibiting public access to them (opinion changed). Independently, half were informed that Galileo was not given a Catholic burial, while half were told that he was given one (reintegration: low or high).

Two items assessed negativity: ‘Galileo should be disciplined by the Catholic Church for advancing heliocentrism against its wishes’ and ‘Galileo should be fully credited with advancing heliocentrism’ (reversed) used 7-point Likert scales (1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree). The items were averaged such that high scores showed more negativity towards Galileo, r = .43, p < .001.1 Identification was measured with six items from Cameron (2004) (e.g. ‘I often think about the fact that I am a Catholic’; α = .77).

At the end of the experiment, knowledge of Galileo's life was checked. No one indicated any suspicion that the information provided was inaccurate.

Results and Discussion

Predicting Negativity

A 2 × 2 analysis of variance showed a main effect of group opinion, F(1, 90) = 7.91, p = .006, equation image. Participants expressed less negativity towards Galileo when their group's opinion changed (M = 1.83, SD = 0.85), than when it did not (M = 2.41, SD = 1.30). Reintegration had no main effect, but the interaction was significant, F(1, 90) = 3.98, p = .049, equation image. As seen in Figure 2, either group opinion change or reintegration of the deviant sufficed to eliminate negativity, as in Experiment 1. Simple effects indicated that, when reintegration was low and group opinion did not change, negativity was significantly higher (M = 2.82, SD = 1.43) than when group opinion did change (M = 1.76, SD = 0.93), F(1, 90) = 10.78, p = .001, equation image, or in the reintegration high and unchanged opinion condition (M = 2.08, SD = 1.11), F(1, 90) = 5.09, p = .026, equation image.

thumbnail image

Figure 2. The interaction of group opinion and reintegration on negativity towards deviant, Experiment 2

Download figure to PowerPoint

Predicting Identification

A 2 × 2 analysis of variance showed no effects of group opinion, reintegration and no interaction (all Fs < .78, ps > .379).

In short, Experiment 2 replicated the findings of Experiment 1. Group members continued to be hostile toward the deviant when their group retained its incorrect position in the face of scientific evidence. However, either a group position change or deviant reintegration reduced negativity towards the deviant. Group members' identification with the group was again unaffected by the group's treatment of the deviant.

GENERAL DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. EXPERIMENT 1
  4. EXPERIMENT 2
  5. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSIONS
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

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).

CONCLUSIONS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. EXPERIMENT 1
  4. EXPERIMENT 2
  5. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSIONS
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

The present study provides a new framework to understand the inconsistency between anecdotes and research of intractable group conservatism – the harsh rejection of whistleblowers (Near & Miceli, 1986) or punishment of those who resist conformity pressure (Monin et al., 2008) – and research and theory that highlight groups' functional adaptation to change (e.g. Packer, 2008). Unfortunately, even though we like to think of those who stick to what they believe in despite tremendous costs as heroes, our actual treatment of them is different when our own group is not able to admit its past mistreatment. Groups who cannot admit to error with formal opinion change can defuse group members' negativity by reinstating the deviant, or vice versa. However, the more our groups are unable to adapt and take on board the message of those who push for change and provide new insights, the less group members are able to appreciate the deviants. Such harsh evaluation may then continue despite the fact that the deviants' position is indisputably right and the group is wrong.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. EXPERIMENT 1
  4. EXPERIMENT 2
  5. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSIONS
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES

We would like to thank Karen Douglas, Naomi Ellemers, Matthew Hornsey, Eric Vanman and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

  • 1

    The low correlation is in part a result of using reverse-scoring of one item. More sensitive measures should be used in future research to address this limitation.

  • 2

    The effects on outgroup samples of group opinion change and reintegration on negativity were tested in separate studies of ‘inductive thinkers’ (N = 79) and non-Catholics (N = 97). No effects were found: ‘inductive’ thinkers did not respond to the deductive thinkers' group opinion change and reintegration of the deviant, and non-Catholics did not react to Catholics' opinion change and reintegration of Galileo; Fs < 1.57, ps > .214. This provides evidence that group processes are at play and that only ingroup actions affect negativity ratings.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. EXPERIMENT 1
  4. EXPERIMENT 2
  5. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  6. CONCLUSIONS
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. REFERENCES
  • Asch, S. E. (1955). Opinions and social pressure. Scientific American, 193, 3135.
  • Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (1996). Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
  • Branscombe, N. R., Ellemers, N., Spears, R., & Doosje, B. (1999). The context and content of social identity threat. In N.Ellemers, R.Spears, & B.Doosje (Eds.), Social identity: Context, commitment, content (pp. 3558). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science.
  • Cameron, J. E. (2004). A three-factor model of social identity. Self and Identity, 3, 239262.
  • Chan, M. K. H., Louis, W. R., & Hornsey, M. J. (2009). The effects of exclusion and reintegration on evaluation of deviant opinion holders. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 16191631.
  • Doosje, B., Spears, R., & Koomen, W. (1995). When bad isn't all bad: Strategic use of sample information in generalization and stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 642655.
  • Eidelman, S., & Biernat, M. (2003). Derogating black sheep: Individual or group protection? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 602609.
  • Festinger, L. (1950). Informal social communication. Psychological Review, 57, 271282.
  • Hornsey, M. J. (2005). Why being right is not enough: Predicting defensiveness in the face of group criticism. European Review of Social Psychology, 16, 301334.
  • Hornsey, M. J., & Jetten, J. (2004). The individual within the group: Balancing the need to belong with the need to be different. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 248264.
  • Hornsey, M. J., Majkut, L., Terry, D. J., & McKimmie, B. M. (2003). On being loud and proud: Non-conformity and counter-conformity to group norms. British Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 319335.
  • Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascos. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Marques, J. M., & Paez, D. (1994). The 'black sheep effect': Social categorization, rejection of ingroup deviates, and perception of group variability. European Review of Social Psychology, 5, 3768.
  • Monin, B., Sawyer, P. J., & Marquez, M. J. (2008). The rejection of moral rebels: Resenting those who do the right thing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 7693.
  • Morrison, K. R., & Miller, D. T. (2008). Distinguishing between silent and vocal minorities: Not all deviants feel marginal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 871882.
  • Moscovici, S. (1976). Social influence and social change. London, England: Academic Press.
  • Near, J. P., & Miceli, M. P. (1986). Retaliation against whistleblowers: Predictors and effects. Journal of Applied Psychology, 71, 137145.
  • Nemeth, C. J., & Wachtler, J. (1983). Creative problem solving as a result of majority vs minority influence. European Journal of Social Psychology, 13, 4555.
  • Packer, D. J. (2008). On being both with us and against us: A normative conflict model of dissent in social groups. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12, 5072.
  • Rink, F. A., & Ellemers, N. (2009). Temporary versus permanent group membership: How the future prospects of newcomers affect newcomer acceptance and newcomer influence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 764775.
  • Sani, F. (2005). When subgroups secede: Extending and refining the social psychological model of schism in groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 10741086.
  • Sani, F., Todman, J., & Lunn, J. (2005). The fundamentality of group principles and perceived group entitativity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 567573.
  • Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G.Austin, & S.Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 3347). Monterey, CA, US: Brooks/Cole.
  • Turner, J. C. (1991). Social influence. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.