Deindividualization, Interpersonal Affect and Productivity in Laboratory Task Groups1


  • 1

    This article is based on the author's doctoral dissertation submitted to the Ohio State University. The guidance of Milton Hakel, committee chair, Richard Klimoski, and Robert Billings is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks are due also to Gail Nottenburg and John Hunt who helped collect the data.

2 Requests for reprints should be sent to Elizabeth Weldon, Department of Business Administration, 1206 South Sixth Street, Champaign, IL61820.


In pursuit of efficiency, formal organizations often create deindividualized, uniqueness-depriving environments. The laboratory experiment reported here tests the effects of another's failure to acknowledge one's individuality on interpersonal affect and willingness to help that person. Undergraduate business students were shown a set of bogus ratings representing their task group leader's perceptions of them on 30 personality traits and 10 occupational interests. The ratings indicated that the group leader believed the subject was extremely similar (non-unique) or somewhat similar (unique) to the typical college student. In a highly individualistic culture another's failure to recognize one's uniqueness should be experienced as unwarranted harm and evoke responses mediated by the negative norm of reciprocity. As expected, subjects receiving non-unique feedback volunteered fewer hours to help the group leader perform his or her duties and were less productive when the group leader was believed to benefit from their effort. In spite of these behavioral effects, attitudes toward the leader were not influenced by the uniqueness feedback. After recognizing limits to generalizability, implications for behavior in deindividualized organizations are discussed.