Why Do the Privileged Resort to Oppression? A Look at Some Intragroup Factors


  • We thank Janelle Jones and Thomas Kessler for comments, and Helen McKean for her help with the data collection. The research was supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (RES-062-23-0135) to the first author, and a studentship from the ESRC to the second author.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Tom Postmes, Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands [e-mail: t.postmes@rug.nl].


This article shows that (intergroup) oppression can be strategically motivated by (intragroup) processes. It is often assumed that high-status groups oppress when their social position is declining (relative deprivation). Counterintuitively, research shows that oppression also occurs when their position is improving (gratification): a curvilinear relationship referred to as “the v-curve effect.” We test the hypothesis that this relationship is due to intragroup processes within the high-status group: individuals respond strategically to elite norms. Two experiments manipulated participants’ future prospects: to join the nation's elite in future (relative gratification), social stasis, or status decline (relative deprivation, Study 2). Elite norms toward immigrants (positive, negative) were manipulated independently. The curvilinear relationship was only found when norms were negative. In other words, those who anticipate joining the elite tailor their actions to the norms of their prospective in-group.