EASP Summer School 2016
22.12.2016, by Sibylle Classen in meeting report
Exeter, UK, August 1-13; Organisers: Andrew Livingstone, Joanne Smith, Tim Kurz, Joe Sweetman
EASP Summer School Organisers’ Report
During the business meeting of the 2014 EASP General Meeting, it was formally announced that the University of Exeter would host the 2016 EASP Summer School. For us, this was thankfully only a little bit unexpected. It did mean, though, that the process of organising the summer school was officially underway, signalling two years of planning. Those two years saw many foreseeable challenges, and one or two unforeseen. A case in point: part of the stereotype of British people is that irony forms a big part of their sense of humour, so there was probably something predictable, and awkwardly appropriate, about hosting such an explicitly European event at a UK university less than six weeks after the UK had voted to leave the European Union.
For our part, though, this impeccable timing simply added an extra layer to our pride in facilitating the summer school. If anything, to call the summer school ‘European’ underplays the global flavour of the event: at our count, our student participants originated from 23 different countries spread across every single continent bar Antarctica. This diverse set of participants were brought together for two weeks in August 2016, and were spread across five different work streams. Each of these was led by a teaching team of eminent social psychologists from different European and international institutions, supported by members of our social and organisational psychology research group here at Exeter. The work stream themes and teachers were as follows:
- Workstream 1: Researching prosocial and antisocial behaviour in public spaces was led by Nick Hopkins (University of Dundee), Mark Levine (Exeter), Avelie Stuart (Exeter), and, in absentia, Miriam Koschate-Reis (Exeter) who was unable to attend the summer school due to the arrival of baby Leah – congratulations Miriam!
- Workstream 2: Communication and the emergence of identities was led by Tom Postmes (University of Groningen), Anna Rabinovich (Exeter), and Tim Kurz (Bath).
- Workstream 3: The group dynamics of unequal status positions was led by Jolanda Jetten (University of Queensland), Andrew Livingstone (Exeter), and Joe Sweetman (Exeter).
- Workstream 4: Using theory to inform behaviour change interventions was led by Martin Hagger (Curtin University) and Joanne Smith (Exeter), with guest appearances by Charles Abraham and Mark Tarrant (both Exeter).
- Workstream 5: Humanization and dehumanization: Process and application in contemporary societies was led by Maria Paola Paladino (University of Trento), Manuela Barreto (Exeter), and Teri Kirby (Exeter).
The opening welcome function on the Sunday evening in a bar in downtown Exeter provided students and teachers alike with a chance to start becoming acquainted with a sea of new faces, as well as catching up with one or two old friends in some cases. The opening day of the summer school itself was one of further introductions, orientation (literally, in the case of many participants who managed to get a bit lost on the way to the opening session!), and agenda-setting. After the introductory session and a quick tour of the Psychology building, the work streams gathered for the first time. These early sessions focused on getting to know one another, and setting the scene for what was to come over the two weeks of the summer school, including the focus and structure of activities within each of the work streams. The first day concluded with a hybrid ‘virtual’ poster session. In advance of the summer school, participants were requested to submit an electronic copy of a poster. These were then displayed in sequence on screens in the main plenary room, along with small-format printed copies spread around the room. This allowed both students and teachers to share their research interests and to begin to get to know one another in a relatively informal manner before the first evening meal signalled the end of the opening day.
Each subsequent day consisted primarily of separate work stream activities, supplemented by plenary sessions on most mornings and some of the afternoons. These plenary sessions included an excellent series of lectures by our external teaching team. Tom, Paola, Jolanda, Martin, and Nick each gave inspiring and impressively varied talks on their own research, providing talking points and inspiration that were truly shared across all summer school participants. Other plenary sessions consisted of panel-led discussions of other key aspects of life as a social psychology researcher: Tom, Jolanda, Nick, and Martin led a session on communicating research from a journal editor’s perspective, while Nick, Mark, and Avelie led a session on the opportunities and risks of conducting research involving populations and methods outside the lab – research ‘in the wild’, to use a phrase borrowed from Avelie via colleagues in computer science. The Friday of the first week also saw a special session led by Roger Giner-Sorolla (University of Kent) on emerging themes, standards, and debates regarding ethics, data analysis, and scientific integrity. Monday of the second week also saw a session delivered by Manuela Barreto on the history, purpose, and activities of EASP. As for the work streams themselves, the accompanying student-written reports give a much fuller flavour of the activities within each of these; suffice to say here that they were as fun, intense, and varied as one would expect from our teaching team. They also all culminated in presentations by each work stream subgroup on the final day of the summer school – more on the excellence of these below.
As is typical on the summer school, there was a ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos, with the social side of things playing just as important a role as the academic side. Some of this focused on organised events: a walking tour of Exeter on the first Wednesday, a leisurely barbeque lunch at the Double Locks pub on the banks of the canal just outside Exeter on the middle Saturday, and a day trip to the UNESCO world heritage town of Bath on the middle Sunday (from which, miraculously, everyone returned despite some rather ‘academic’ timekeeping!). The less organised daily socialising was just as enjoyable though – lunch times were often spent picnicing in the sun on the beautiful campus grounds, while in the evenings the Imperial pub became a second home in which students and teachers could discuss and digest the day’s talks and activities, or even just that evening’s meal (anyone for pasta…?). All of this was facilitated by a rather unexpected outbreak of un-British sunshine during most of the two weeks. The sunshine is also our best explanation for the flash-mob ‘Macarena’ that popped up during the presentations on the final day.
The social side of things culminated in some style with the farewell banquet on the last day. This was a memorable event and a fitting close to the summer school. In truth, though, the meal itself was almost incidental; simply an interlude between the pre-dinner drinks reception enjoyed on the sunny terrace overlooking the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside, and the quick descent (or ascent?) into full party mode with the help of the awesome DJ skills of Tim Kurz.
After such a positive, intense, and collective experience, it is natural that there are a lot of people who deserve thanks. We are deeply grateful to our teaching team for committing so much of their time, energy and expertise to the summer school. The experience and atmosphere of a summer school is very much shaped in the image of the work stream teachers, and the fun, creative, and inspiring atmosphere created over the two weeks of this one is truly testament to their efforts – given, we should add, without receiving payment. The wonderfully good spirit maintained throughout an undeniably intense couple of weeks is in large part down to the perfect example they set.
On the organisational side of things, we extend huge thanks to our local students: Denise Wilkins, Matt Richins, Tina Keil, Richard Philpot, and Melika Janbakhsh. They led something of a challenging double-life during the summer school, taking full part in the activities of their work streams while also offering tremendous support in lots of other organisational tasks before and during the summer school, including welcoming students on their arrival at Exeter, and slipping out of work stream sessions to ensure that steady supplies of coffee, tea, and cookies were available to sustain everyone else. Jo Smith also deserves a special mention here for sourcing everything for the coffee breaks – including, with sustainability in mind, supplying everyone with their own reusable mug, and a set of particularly bright marker pens with which to personalise them. Others in our research group pitched in with support too: Josie Cooper, Mark Atkinson, Thekla Morgenroth, and Antonia Sudkämper helped to ensure that the coffee kept flowing during breaks, while Michelle Ryan very kindly hosted a lovely dinner-and-drinks gathering for summer school teachers at her home during the first week.
Thanks are due also to the EASP committee – and, as ever, Sibylle Classen in particular – for their financial support and practical advice throughout; to the finance team at the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter for their help with all things money-related; and to our administrative team (Helen Clarke, Gill Golding, and Karen Swanston in particular) in the Psychology department for ensuring we had the right facilities for all of our sessions.
We would also like to offer a special, additional word of thanks to Tina Keil, who dedicated huge amounts of her time and design skills to develop not one, but two excellent resources: the online poster gallery and research portal, to which students could upload their posters along with extended abstracts and related papers to share with other participants; and the summer school handbook. This handbook – produced together with Elena Dimitriou, who also deserves great thanks for her contribution – provided a lovely introduction to (and souvenir of) the summer school, the university, and the city of Exeter for participants. Showcasing Elena and Tina’s handiwork, the handbook has also been uploaded to the EASP website (see below).
It is fitting to close this report with one abiding experience, and for us it is how optimism won out over pessimism during the summer school. At different points over the two weeks, everyone was acutely aware that early-career researchers are currently entering our discipline at a time of particular uncertainty and flux. The challenges they face in seeking to conduct and communicate meaningful research from a place of personal and professional security are both daunting and shifting, and arguably quite different to those faced by earlier generations of academics. Yet, after seeing the uniformly excellent presentations by each work stream subgroup on the final day of the summer school, we felt as optimistic about the future of our discipline as we have done for some time. To see what these groups – strangers in most cases only two weeks earlier – were able to produce together from a standing start in such a short space of time was really something. As organisers, the best possible outcome of the summer school would be for the students who took part to in turn feel similarly energised and galvanised, able to develop their own research passions and meet any challenges by drawing on the expertise and support of new-found colleagues and friends. We hope that such an outcome was at least partly achieved, and look forward to seeing it in action starting in Granada.
Andrew Livingstone, Joanne Smith, Tim Kurz, Joe Sweetman
University of Exeter
The Great Adventures of Workstream 1: Researching prosocial and antisocial behaviour in public spaces ...a Summer School Experience
Our adventures started on August 1st. That day, thirteen students and three teachers from different backgrounds met each other for the first time and introduced themselves and their research interests. We all had heard a lot of stories about other Summer Schools, but we weren’t very sure about what it would be to really attend one (a lot of expectations, and some fears too!). The truth is that things went very well from the beginning. In fact, during the course of the week we had the opportunity to know each other better and a great atmosphere was created in the class.
Regarding the topic of our workstream, we focused on pro- and antisocial behaviour in public spaces. We approached it in a widespread manner as we addressed questions of identity expression in online and offline spaces, human-environment interactions, bystander behaviour, as well as methodological aspects. Together with our teachers, Avelie Stuart, Mark Levine, and Nick Hopkins, we discussed these and more topics in-depth during two very intense but fun weeks. Not only the topics were diverse but also the research background and expertise of the PhD students were very varied. Thus, we found ourselves in intense and very stimulating debates.
In addition to discussing lots of literature we especially got inspiration for research ideas by talking to people about “real-life problems”. On Friday of the first week we met with people from different institutions that were all dealing with homelessness in Exeter. They shared their perspective on this problem from their positions in the police department, Council and social organisations. Their experience gave us valuable input and highlighted the complexity of developing social programmes that target homelessness effectively. At night we then went on a field trip to Exeter’s so-called “triangle of terror” to actually observe antisocial behaviour in public spaces and see how different people and institutions are handling it. Meeting the street pastors that volunteer to help drunk or injured people in the nightlife was very inspiring. We also went through the streets with a policeman and were able to visit the CCTV control room.
At times, we found ourselves faced with sudden feelings of exhaustion that stood in our way of proceeding with our research projects. Gladly, we were fortunate enough to have such distinguished scholars as Mark, Nick and Avelie as teachers, since they provided us with multiple brain-activity enhancing resources during the breaks, such as water pistols, frisbees and soap bubbles. Our group projects would never have reached the intellectual level they did without these stimulating activities! On the last day, we all presented our research projects on homelessness, “piropos”, expression of identity, effect of cctv surveillance, and place identity.
In the end, the whole Exeter Summer School was an incredible experience, from barbeques to discussion groups, research projects to pub nights. We would like to thank the organization team for all their commitment and hard work towards an amazing 2 weeks, the teachers for sharing their knowledge and expertise with us, and all the students for having the disposition to always have a great time!!!
Workstream 2: Communication and the emergence of identities (led by Tom Postmes, Anna Rabinovich, and Tim Kurz)
Workstream number 2 “Communication and the emergence of identities” approached processes by which people perform, conceal, and negotiate identities during social interactions. From the beginning, workstream leaders employed a bottom-up approach that promoted the emergence of ideas through open discussion. Tom, Anna, and Tim structured the daily work around our suggestions, and encouraged us to question, refute, and challenge their positions and advice. To this end, the actual work itself drew upon our own expertise and the process of generating collaborative research ideas together. The first day consisted of all members sharing their specific thesis topics, and the workstream leaders recording the overlapping areas and relevance to the workstream core themes. By reason of the broad methodological spectrum of all members, we ended up approaching the discussion from very different perspectives. We proceeded through a day-by-day analytical procedure for systematizing ideas into testable research questions. We became involved in a recursive rather than a linear process for the entire first week. We split into different groups each day, tasked with picking up a research area of interest from the panoply of themes already emerged or refining rough ideas from the previous day. At the end of each day, we were asked to give small presentations of our daily achievements, and in a very short time, we had collaboratively established six potential research questions ready to be addressed in the following week. This process was exhaustively creative, incredibly challenging, and fast paced, with each day functioning like a snapshot (or harbinger) of the work looming ahead in week two.
Our collaboration throughout week 1 allowed us to break up into teams immediately and begin the process of preparing projects and presentations for the final day. At that time, we had the misleading impression of being far further ahead in our endeavor than the other workstreams. Quite the opposite, as Tom, Anna, and Tim used this ‘luxury of time’ to thoroughly question, critique, and challenge our progress during the last critical days. Forged by the fires of constant revision, the tears of darling ideas left by the wayside, and the constant fight against sleep deprivation, our groups managed to prepare quality presentations that demonstrated our own, and our stream leaders’, determined efforts.
Throughout the two-weeks experience, workstream leaders fulfilled very different but complementary roles: Tom served as the catalyst of workstream two, challenging each of us with new ideas, new perspectives, and a constant critical eye towards implementation and implications of our projects - he also did not hold back on the word ‘crap’. Anna provided a strong counterpoint, working with us to anchor each project adequately in theory, and staying focused on the tasks both at hand and those ahead of us. Finally, Tim aided us with a focus on methodology and the process through which we generated ideas, constantly helping us talk through and clarify our arguments. All three of them helped, challenged, and encouraged us consistently throughout the exhausting (emotionally, intellectually, sometimes physically) and incredibly rewarding two weeks. We were also inspired to adopt many of these techniques into our PhD thought and writing processes. Interesting also, was watching the communication between the workstream leaders. Rather than having a fixed idea about what our workstream embodied, they would discuss, contest, and negotiate this identity, its norms, values, and content. We don’t know who came off best during these encounters, but they certainly did something right! The fruits of our combined efforts resulting in three intertwined yet distinct projects entitled:
- The strategic use of meta-stereotypes in political rhetoric. (Yvana Bocage-Barthélémy, Mengyao Li, Emma Nortio)
- Identity dissimulation and displaying: Consequences for low and high status group members (Joe Firnhaber, Richard Philpot, Emanuele Politi, Antonella Ludmila Zapata Calvente)
- Identities, values, and wellbeing: Relating identities and values in existing nation-wide surveys (Damien Crone, Ana Levordashka, Yasin Koc, Geetha Reddy).
Besides our daily activity during the scheduled hours, the EASP Summer School offered something more. We engaged in thoughtful conversations (as well as small talk about the fine quality of British food). We plunged with gusto into the traditional British pub culture, averaging two or more pints a night. We created bonds with colleagues and friends that we hope will last for many years to come. Both the University of Exeter and the city itself offered a beautiful, and welcoming home away from home. Though infamously temperamental, we experienced some of the best weather an English summer can offer as we worked many days outside under pristine blue skies.
Workstream 3: The Group Dynamics of Unequal Status Position
All members of Workstream 3 contributed equally to this post.
Contrary to Workstream 3’s theme, the group members’ dynamics was rather equal in status position. This included our three wonderful professors: Jolanda Jetten, Andrew Livingstone, and Joe Sweetman. Although some might think that such well-reputed academics of high status would not interact with us lowly graduate students, they did not miss any opportunity to have lunch with us on the grass in the sun (however limited it was in Exeter) or share a drink at The Imperial. Of course, having two summer school organizers (Andrew and Joe) as instructors had its benefits and costs. We had their votes for the alternative summer school certificate, and indeed we won. But at the same time, they (strongly) insisted that we design and submit an alternative certificate. It turned out that we were the only workstream that did that.
Over the course of two weeks, our workstream discussed various topics regarding status differences within and between groups. In the first week, we had comprehensive discussions of all the reading materials. We first discussed three major theoretical perspectives (i.e., social identity theory, social dominance theory, and system justification theory), which provided us with different lenses to understand the rest of the readings. We started with the low status perspective, examining the conditions under which the status quo is challenged and accepted. We then moved to the high status perspective and discussed how high status individuals maintain their status. Then we discussed how such processes play out within groups. Finally, we examined how inequality is perceived. With the brilliant view of the scenic campus, the city of Exeter from the Washington Singer building, and the rather sunny weather (again, as much as Exeter could afford), we had many thought-provoking discussions throughout the days that carried onto dinners. In the second week, we had a short speed dating session in which we realized who shared our interests. Three groups were eventually formed and the projects are described below.
Project 1 (Matt Richins, Boaz Hameiri, & Marloes Huis)
Inspired by our discussions of intragroup marginalization, we set about designing a project to investigate the role of status positions in intragroup dissent. Specifically, we were interested in measuring the motivation to dissent (vs disengage) from the psychological group when faced with a prototype that marginalizes some of its members. Boaz had the genius, if not controversial, idea to present this work in the context of the changing landscape in social psychology. In short, high-status members have made a convincing case that the reproducibility crisis in psychology requires a top-down reexamination of our field. Their solution, adopt an approach to psychological scholarship that shifts the prototype of social psychology towards the natural sciences. Whilst we do not take issue with the notion, per se, we are interested in the psychological effect this may have on individuals who identify as a social psychologist. For example, graduates, assistant professors, and early career folks have begun to leave (i.e., to disengage) the field whereas more senior faculty have resolved to stay and fight (i.e., to dissent). So, fuelled by our own investment in the question (and by a little caffeine) we developed a pilot questionnaire and distributed it to the Summer School. We presented some promising results, suggesting that perceived status within a group influences the willingness to disengage or dissent. We hope to run a larger scale investigation and disseminate our findings to a variety of interested parties. Our aim is to lay the foundations for understanding schisms that occur within our discipline or indeed any group.
Project 2 (Sébastien Goudeau, Iniobong Essien, Marija Brankovic, Nils Reimer, Nóra Lantos, Jin Goh, Jenny Veldman)
In our initial discussions, we were all intrigued by some apparent cases of double standards in judging the same type of behavior depending on who does it, particularly whether the actor is a person from a higher- or lower-status group. When thinking about collective action behaviors, similar public protests have been characterized as either “uprising” or “riot”, depending on the group that organized them. We therefore chose to investigate how perceptions of collective action could depend on the societal status of agents performing the action as well as people judging the action. Since higher-status groups typically control both framing of events and outcomes pertinent to most groups in society, such differing status-related standards could contribute to widening status gaps and societal injustice. We proposed to investigate this potential acceptability gap experimentally. Participants from higher- and lower-status groups would rate the acceptability of actions ranging from less to more disruptive (e.g., signing a petition, organizing a protest to arson and attacks against other people) depending on the agent status (higher vs. lower). We also wanted to look into possible explanations of the acceptability gap among higher-status group participants. One idea we thought of was the sense of group entitlement - to the extent that one feels that their group is a “pillar of the society” they can also feel it has right to behave against its’ own norms. After having enjoyed working together and encouraged by the feedback from the presentation, we are determined to try and address these issues empirically.
Project 3 (Roberta Capellini, Leonor Pereira da Costa, Thia Sagherian-Dickey)
A cleaning lady always cleaned the tables and collected the trash in the company office. One day, someone asked her harshly not to do it while he was working there. Ever since that day - quite often - the bin of that office is full.
Collective action is described as any action, moderate (e.g., petitions or peaceful demonstrations) or violent (e.g., violent protests or property damage), that promotes the group’s interests. This has been largely investigated through a number of various theoretical approaches (e.g., Klandermans, 2002; van Zomeren et al., 2008). However, there is a dearth of research in social psychology that focuses on what at first may appear to be a lack of action or engagement. In general, the research assumes that those who don’t engage in collective action are low identifiers or are hindered by physical or psychological barriers to engage. We were interested in exploring this idea of “inaction”, and whether it denotes a lack of action, or whether something else is at play. Our leading question was whether social inaction can be a form of “action”. Is social inaction understood as a strategic form of protest? What are the motivations to engage in “strategic” inaction? Are all “non-actors” low identifiers, or might they highly identify with their group but engage in a different kind of protest or resistance? Are the low-power groups more likely than high-power groups to use “inaction” as a form of protest? We proposed an exploratory pilot project, which aims to test whether participants would perceive different kinds of social inaction situations as “strategic inaction” or as simply a lack of action, and whether this would be more likely for ingroup members more than outgroup members. We suggested testing this through a series of scenarios, manipulating the ingroup-outgroup perspective. We expect that participants in the condition of inaction by an ingroup member would be more likely to perceive that inaction as a form of protest, compared to those who are in the condition of inaction by an outgroup member. We are currently developing a pilot study to test our scenarios of social inaction, as well as potential follow-up studies.
Throughout the two weeks, most of the group members also presented their own research with extremely helpful feedback from everyone else in the group. Interestingly, we all study group dynamics in one form or another, and seeing the similarities and differences in our research was both enlightening and engaging. But as we all probably agree, the discussions that benefited all of us the most did not stem from the confine of a classroom. Rather, the most memorable and beneficial discussions were the casual and light-hearted ones we had over breakfasts and dinners, on the way to class every morning, on the bus ride to and from Bath, at The Imperial, and every late night we spent desperately trying to do the reading and presentation for the next day. Although the two weeks went by in the blink of an eye, friendships and collaborations were formed and these are perhaps the best lessons we gained from the EASP Summer School.
Our two weeks on the beautiful and sunny Exeter campus were filled with fun, a lot of hard work, many discussions, reading, and lunch-stealing seagulls. The University of Exeter campus is a registered botanic garden, and has been described as the ‘best-gardened campus in Britain’, so walks from the dorms to the lecture halls were a very pleasant routine. Other activities included a weekend boat tour, a BBQ party, and a trip to Bath.
On the first day of the Summer School, we were introduced to all the tutors and student helpers - students from the Exeter University who volunteered to help with the organisation. That afternoon we became more acquainted and discussed our PhD projects during a poster session. On the second day, we had already started to work in our separate research streams. Workstream 4: Using theory to inform behaviour change interventions was led by Martin Hagger from the Curtin University and Joanne Smith from the University of Exeter. The first week was devoted to learning about the theoretical foundations of psychological interventions and we discussed the papers that we had read before the Summer School. We evaluated the importance of theories from social psychology in informing the development of behaviour-change interventions. We examined the processes by which theories from social psychology assist in building an evidence-base for effective interventions to change behaviour in health, clinical, and social contexts. Additionally, we discussed ways in which applied research and the evaluation of interventions can help to advance theory. We covered many topics during the Summer School, ranging from the intention-behaviour gap to a surprise lecture on the Whys and Hows of conducting meta-analyses. In a team effort to help us prepare for our upcoming projects, we also developed and pitched a fictive intervention for the reduction of river waste and pollution in illegal settlements in Brazil. Another worksteam highlight was a visit from Prof. Charles Abraham, University of Exeter Medical School, who talked to us about important aspects of designing and testing interventions to change behaviour.
During the second week, we were encouraged to put the theory into practice and to design our own interventions. Workstream members were divided into small groups, each tackling particular societal issues such as reducing loneliness among the elderly by sharing stories during intergenerational meetings or reducing the need for payday loans. Another group focused on the observed gender disparity when asking questions and making comments in Q&A sessions during scientific meetings and conferences. This group went on to conduct a small research project amongst participants of the Summer School and proposed a mobile application that facilitated women and young members in academia to ask questions. Last, but not least, another group addressed the timely issue of reducing the consumption of sugary beverages. All in all, the projects were very ambitious. It was great fun to brainstorm and discuss such a variety of topics. Indeed, some discussions became quite heated! Students were encouraged to develop collaborative research ideas, with the possibility of turning these into actual research projects. Indeed, some workstream members are continuing to work on their proposals, with the ultimate aim of conducting research in the “real-world” (and maybe even getting a publication!).
On the last day, the intervention models and experiment ideas generated during the two weeks of the Summer School were presented to a large audience which included all other participating workstreams. It was interesting to see how many creative and well-developed ideas emerged during these two weeks. At the end of the school, all students were awarded a certificate of attendance that confirmed their diligence in reading academic papers, eating mushy Friday night pasta, and strolling for a 60-minute walk to the Double Locks Pub!
In addition to the immediate educational benefits, enduring friendships and research collaborations were formed. Considering recent political events, such as the Brexit poll, it was great to collaborate and strengthen ties among fellow junior (and senior) researchers from all over the world. Thank you to all organisers, especially Joanne Smith and Martin Hagger, for their enormous work, insightful comments, and patience! And also thank you goes to all Workstream 4 members for this fun and inspiring time! Hopefully, we will stay in touch and work toward a future of increased collaboration.
Mike Keesman, University of Utrecht, Irena Domachowska, Technical University Dresden, Joanna Grzymała-Moszczyńska, Jagiellonian University, Tina Keil, University of Exeter, Joanne Beames, University of New South Wales
Workshop 5 dealt with the topic of dehumanization; how it functions in society, the role of language and emotions, technology and humanity, as well as measuring humanness and dehumanization. Situated in the beautiful English countryside, in the small city of Exeter, thirteen participants from universities across the globe gathered enthusiastically on Monday morning and began our formal introduction to the topic. Having already received a reading list in the weeks prior to the summer school, we already knew that we had a stimulating fortnight ahead of us.
During the first week, we discussed the topics of the workshop. We aimed to create common knowledge within the group, as well as generate new ideas and research questions. Guided under the expert leadership of Paola Paladino, Manuela Barreto and Teri Kirby, the meeting room was quickly filled with post-it notes containing interesting and meaningful research questions. We also had the opportunity to deliver oral presentations about our own PhD work; one hour each day was given to the delivery of presentations during the first week. In addition to providing a great opportunity to practice communication skills and get valuable feedback from a group of motivated researchers, these presentations also allowed us to learn from each other’s expertise and gain an understanding of the backgrounds of everyone in the group. This information was of particular use in week two when we were required to organised ourselves into subgroups. By the end of week one, we had a common knowledge about the topic, a background about our fellow participants’ interests and expertise, as well as an array of intriguing research questions. We felt mentally stimulated and ready to begin week two.
The second week was dedicated to further developing our ideas in smaller subgroups and making the research questions empirically testable. At the beginning of the week we had the challenge of grouping the wealth of research questions together into smaller common topics, we then worked in subgroups to design a research proposal to answer our selected research question. Expertise was on hand each day from the workshop teachers, who also kept us well-supplied with a range of sugary snacks and much-needed coffee. At the end of each day there were lively feedback sessions where each subgroup presented their work to the room and invited comments and suggestions from the other participants. By the end of week two, each subgroup was ready and eager to present their proposal to the whole summer school. The presentations were an excellent experience that showed-off our hard work and brought everyone further together. A summary of each research proposal can be found below.
The first subgroup of workstream 5 (Blomster, J., Gramazio, S., Gul, P., Retsin, E., & Sasse, J.) set out to explore the defense function of dehumanization. Inspired by initial (mostly correlational) evidence that dehumanization occurs in situations that are anticipated to be emotionally exhausting (Cameron, Harris, & Payne, 2015; Vaes & Muratore, 2013) we wanted to explore whether dehumanization is used to reduce distress. While existing literature suggests that dehumanization is a result of emotional exhaustion avoidance we suggest that it is used to overcome strong aversive emotions. In other words, we propose that dehumanization is not a result of emotional exhaustion avoidance but rather a tool to avoid or reduce it. Investigating this hypothesis shall shed light on the question why people dehumanize. In addition to further exploring the functions of dehumanization our research shall also advance our understanding of the interplay between emotions and dehumanization. Already during the second week of the summer school we began to develop a study to test our hypothesis and we are happy to say that we continued to work on our ideas afterwards. In a first study, we are planning to directly manipulate distress and give or withhold participants the opportunity to dehumanize the victim and see whether this affects levels of distress. We are certain that several factors had an influence on the work of our group, among them coffee and sweets (in increasing amounts over the course of the summer school) but most importantly the great atmosphere in our workstream.
The second subgroup (Haessler, T., Reimer, A., & Wilkins, D.) aimed to examine the dehumanization of disadvantaged group members, specifically whether exemplar members of disadvantaged groups are dehumanized. Throughout history and cultures, people from disadvantaged groups have been dehumanized. However, the media often presents the public with outstanding exemplary members from disadvantaged groups; these exemplar members are outstanding individuals who have made a big impact on society or who are particularly gifted and admired. While it may seem beneficial to have these outstanding exemplars within disadvantaged groups, these disadvantaged groups may still experience negative outcomes. For instance, comedian Stella Young gave a recent Ted Talk in which she discussed how her disability led others to see her as inspiring. She referred to this experience as “inspiration porn” suggesting that disadvantaged group members can become objects of inspiration, meaning that we objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group. Inspired by literature examining the dehumanization of individuals who are perceived as supernatural (Demoulin, Saroglou, & Van Pachterbeke, 2008) this project aimed to examine whether and how exemplar members of disadvantaged groups are dehumanized; it also aimed to explore the effect of exemplar individuals on those within and outside of disadvantaged groups.
The final subgroup (Baldissarri, C., Frederic, N., Pizzirani, B., Sainz, M., & Spaccatini, F.) explored the influence of interpersonal language on dehumanizing self-perceptions. In everyday interactions, individuals are often exposed to fleeting derogatory and dehumanizing remarks about the self (Bastian & Haslam, 2011). The primary aim of this project was to examine - in equal status interactions - how individuals assess their own humanity after being merely told they lack human characteristics considered uniquely or fundamentally human. Self-perception is highly defined and influenced by how others perceive and address the self (Cooley, 1902; Goffman, 1956). Indeed, individuals and groups tend to dehumanise not only when they are perpetrating immoral behaviour but also when they are treated with disrespect, disdain or ostracised and denigrated (Bastian & Haslam, 2010, 2011; Bastian, Jetten, & Radke., 2012; Bastian et al., 2013; Renger et al., 2015; Yang et al., 2015). We also aimed to examine the moderating role of subtle and implicit vs explicit and blatant nature of the dehumanizing language. Findings in the inter-group domain show that individuals undermine the self to a greater extent after being exposed to subtle (vs. direct) prejudice because it is far less recognized as being prejudice and is therefore less prone to social sanction (Barreto & Ellemers, 2005; Becker & Wright, 2011; Dixon et al, 2010). Following these findings, we hypothesized that being subtly (vs. explicitly) told that you are less than human, will lead to self-dehumanization. In order to investigate the expected pattern, we proposed a between-subjects research design in which participants would be randomly assigned to different vignette conditions consisting of explicit, subtle, and no (control) dehumanization. After the vignette, participants would be asked to answer items aimed at assessing their tendency to self-dehumanize. This project was made possible thanks to the great trio leading the group, Paola, Manuela and Teri, and the wonderful atmosphere they set up in our little workshop. Special shout-out to Manuela’s fantastic post-it system!
Through hours of reading and long conversation, feedback from fellow workshop participants, as well as expert guidance, Workshop 5 developed stimulating project ideas and numerous areas for future research. We also developed friendships and future collaborations that will last a lifetime. We want to extend a big thankyou to everyone involved in Workshop 5 - Maria, Manuela and Teri, as well as our fellow participants – without you this experience would not have been what it was. We also want to thank the Summer School more broadly, especially the organisers for arranging thought-provoking talks and highly anticipated social activities. Thanks also to the EASP for orchestrating such an amazing summer school and giving us all this opportunity; these experiences will never be forgotten.
PhD students of the University of Exeter have created this excellent handbook for the summer school participants. Very well done - thanks so much!