service navigation

EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

EASP Seedcorn Grant Report by Catia P. Teixeira

11.04.2016, by Sibylle Classen in grant report

Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium; Project: Support you, Support you not…: Determinants of High-Status Groups’ Support to Collective Action by Low-Status Groups

The EASP’s seedcorn grant enabled me to spend five months at the University of Queensland in Australia from July to November 2015. The main goal of this research stay was to develop a new line of research with Dr. Aarti Iyer. I am presently a post-doctoral fellow at the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium working on high-status group members’ reactions to collective action. Given my focus on high-status groups, the expertise of Aarti Iyer seemed extremely relevant for the development of what is a rather consequential and, hopefully long, line of research.

An increasingly widespread and consequential social phenomenon is the emergence of collective action movements in which low-status groups mobilize in order to trigger social change (e.g., Arab Spring, Indignados, the Occupy Movement). However, this research is almost exclusively focused on low-status groups, thus neglecting high-status groups’ reactions. Yet, the likelihood of social change and, ultimately, the unfolding of intergroup conflict cannot be understood without considering both low-status groups’ actions and high-status groups’ reactions. This project directly targets high-status groups’ role in social change.

Despite failing to address this issue directly, previous research has examined related phenomena such as intergroup bias and discrimination from high status group members. When looking at the state of the art in this domain, the findings are complex.

On the one hand, a meta-analysis (Bettencourt, Charlton, Dorr, & Hume, 2001) and a longitudinal 10-year study (Vaughan, 1978) suggest that high-status groups act in a seemingly rational way, showing less intergroup bias when they perceive their status as illegitimate or unstable. These results support the idea that, at least under certain circumstances, high-status groups might recognize their (illegitimate) advantage and support or accept low-status groups’ demands for social change. This idea is also in line with results obtained by group-based emotions research on collective guilt showing that feelings of guilt induced by the acknowledgement of past (Čehajić-Clancy, Effron, Halperin, Liberman, & Ross, 2011; Brown, & Cehajic, 2008), or future (Shepherd, Spears, Manstead, 2013a), wrongdoings increase perpetrators intentions of reparation. On the other hand, a wealth of literature shows high-status groups to be more prejudiced (Guimond, Dambrun, Michinov, & Duarte, 2003) using strategies to justify domination (Sidanius, & Pratto, 1999) but also to dismiss responsibility for harm doing (Wakslak, Jost, Tyler, & Chen, 2007) and inequality (Spears, Greenwood, de Lemus, & Sweetman, 2010; Wohl, Branscombe, & Klar, 2006). Importantly, when high-status groups feel threatened in their position they react with increased discrimination (Stephan, et al. , 2002; Riek, Mania, & Gaertner, 2006), and try to protect their image (Täuber, & van Leeuwen, 2012) and status (Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, & Sulloway, 2003; Leach, Iyer, & Pedersen, 2007).

We proposed to integrate these two perspectives in a dual-path model for support to low-status collective action. A first “prosocial” path would predict that low-status groups’ collective mobilization should lead high-status groups to be aware of social inequality in their favor and to “do the right thing”, i.e., support low-status groups’ collective action. A second “ingroup protective” path would predict that collective action should increase threat amongst high-status groups and trigger status-protecting strategies, in our case, a decrease in support for collective action.

To examine these ideas, we conducted two experiments. Both experiments were conducted in illegitimate inequality contexts in which the low-status group had engaged in collective action aimed at changing the social hierarchy. This is an important aspect as, to our knowledge, previous research on support for collective action on behalf of an outgroup failed to analyze contexts in which collective action campaigns were actually present (Iyer & Ryan, 2009; van Zomeren et al., 2011; for an exception see Mallett, Huntsinger, Sinclair, & Swim, 2008). It is hard to imagine high-status group members initiating collective action in favor of low-status groups and it is possible that the reality of collective action undertaken by low-status groups qualitatively changes high-status groups responses.

In a first experiment we manipulated pervasiveness of inequality (high vs. low) and system stability (stable vs. unstable) in a between-subjects design. We also measured identification with the high-status ingroup as we expected that effects due to increased threat of status loss to be especially pronounced among high-identified group members.

In line with a “prosocial” path for support, we predicted that when inequality was highly pervasive and the system unstable, the levels of support for the low-status outgroup should be higher. In other words, we predicted a pervasiveness of inequality by stability interaction on support (Hypothesis 1). In addition, according to a “ingroup-protective” account moderated by ingroup identification, we predicted that the strongest negative effect of identification on support should be observed in these same contexts (i.e., where inequality is highly pervasive and the system is unstable). We should therefore also observe a three-way interaction between pervasiveness, stability and identification on support for low-status collective action (Hypothesis 2).

Experiment 1 provided evidence for these ideas. A first analysis showed higher levels of support (and, to some extent, sympathy for the outgroup) when inequality was highly pervasive and the system was unstable. These conditions point to an inequality that is unequivocal, widespread and has scope for change. This pattern of results is in line with the suggested “prosocial” path for support. However, when we controlled for sympathy for the outgroup (an emotion that has been shown to explain support for inequality reduction) the predicted “ingroup-protection” effect emerged, i.e., the three-way interaction between pervasiveness, stability and ingroup identification became significant. Decomposition of this interaction showed that the same cell that triggered the most support (high pervasiveness, unstable one) was also the one in which ingroup identification had the strongest negative effect on support.

These first results, namely the fact that the two motivations seem to be at play simultaneously lead us to our next question: Which of the two paths is the first inclination of high-status group members faced with inescapable inequality in their favor? In other words, are high-status group members spontaneously supportive of low-status collective action or do they first consider the danger of ingroup status loss? We examined this issue in a second experiment.

One way to access individuals’ spontaneous responses is to inhibit psychological mechanisms that require cognitive effort by putting people under cognitive load (e.g., Yzerbyt, Coull, & Rocher, 1995). This is what we did in Experiment 2 (in a different country and with a different, non-ethnic, intergroup context). We focused on illegitimate, highly pervasive and unstable situations (the ones in which sympathy was higher and identification had an especially strong negative effect in our first experiment) and compared a cognitive load to a no load condition.

Importantly, we wanted to make sure that the load manipulation did not interfere with attention paid to the scenario or spontaneous outgroup perspective-taking. This is why the load manipulation was only introduced when participants were asked to report their support for the outgroup’s collective action. We predicted that “ingroup-protection” motives are high-status group members’ immediate concern in contexts in which low-status groups attempt to change the status quo through collective mobilization. As such, the negative effect of identification on support for the outgroup should be stronger in the “load” than in the “no load” condition.

Results showed this predicted interaction: in a condition of limited availability of cognitive resources (i.e., high load condition), concerns with protecting the ingroup seem to take precedence among those who are most strongly identified with the group. This result is consistent with research showing that mental effort is required to activate and apply egalitarian values (Van Berkel, Crandall, Eidelman, & Blanchar, 2015) and that, among threatened individuals, the impairment of cognitive resources increases stereotypical judgements of outgroup members (Spencer et al., 1998).

After these first very encouraging results, we somehow took a step back and are currently examining how the simple presence (vs. absence) of collective protest interacts with high-status group members’ levels of identification in determining support for inequality reduction. In this sense, a first experiment was conducted in Australia.

Besides having had the chance to conduct by own research in collaboration with Aarti Iyer I had the invaluable opportunity to get feedback and start new collaborations with other members of this extremely productive and friendly lab. Indeed, this proved to be a wonderful experience and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody at the CRISP lab for having made this stay so delightful, for having made me feel at home and for sharing their ideas and expertise. Of course all this would not have been possible without the funding of EASP and, the good willed, effective and (always) pleasant support of Sybille, who I warmly thank as well.


  • Bettencourt, B. A., Charlton, K., Dorr, N., & Hume, D. L. (2001). Status differences and in-group bias: A meta-analytic examination of the effects of status stability, status legitimacy, and group permeability. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 520-542.
  • Brown, R., & Cehajic, S. (2008). Dealing with the past and facing the future: Mediators of the effects of collective guilt and shame in bosnia and herzegovina. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 669-684.
  • Čehajić-Clancy, S., Effron, D. A., Halperin, E., Liberman, V., & Ross, L. D. (2011). Affirmation, acknowledgment of in-group responsibility, group-based guilt, and support for reparative measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 256-270.
  • Guimond, S., Dambrun, M., Michinov, N., & Duarte, S. (2003). Does social dominance generate prejudice? Integrating individual and contextual determinants of intergroup cognitions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 697-721.
  • Iyer, A., & Ryan, M. K. (2009). Why do men and women challenge gender discrimination in the workplace? the role of group status and in-group identification in predicting pathways to collective action. Journal of Social Issues, 65, 791-814.
  • Jost, J. T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A. W., & Sulloway, F. J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 339- 375.
  • Leach, C. W., Iyer, A., & Pedersen, A. (2007). Angry opposition to government redress: When the structurally advantaged perceive themselves as relatively deprived. British Journal of Social Psychology, 46, 191-204.
  • Mallett, R. K., Huntsinger, J. R., Sinclair, S. & Swim, J.K. (2008). Seeing Through Their Eyes: When Majority Group Members Take Collective Action on Behalf of an Outgroup. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 11, 451-470.
  • Riek, B. M., Mania, E. W., & Gaertner, S. L. (2006). Intergroup Threat and Outgroup Attitudes: A Meta-Analytic Review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 336-353.
  • Shepherd, L., Spears, R., Manstead, A.S.R. (2013a). This will bring shame on our nation': The role of anticipated group-based emotions on collective action. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 42-57.
  • Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Spears, R., Greenwood, R., de Lemus, S., & Sweetman, J. (2010). Legitimacy, social identity and power. In A. Guinote & T. Vescio (Eds). The social psychology of power, (pp. 251-283). Guilford: New York.
  • Spencer, S. J., Fein, S., Wolfe, C. T., Fong, C., & Duinn, M. A. (1998). Automatic activation of stereotypes: The role of self-image threat. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 1139-1152.
  • Stephan, W. G., Boniecki, K. A., Ybarra, O., Bettencourt, A., Ervin, K. S., Jackson, L. A., et al. (2002). The role of threats in the racial attitudes of Blacks and White. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1242-1254.
  • Täuber, S., & van Leeuwen, E. (2012). When high group status becomes a burden: Requesting outgroup help and spying by members of high and low status groups. Social Psychology, 43, 98-107.
  • Van Berkel, L., Crandall, C. S., Eidelman, S., & Blanchar, J. C. (2015). Hierarchy, Dominance, and Deliberation Egalitarian Values Require Mental Effort. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 1207-1222.
  • van Zomeren, M., Postmes, T. Spears, R., & Bettache, K. (2011). Can moral convictions motivate the advantaged to challenge social inequality? Extending the social identity model of collective action. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 14, 735-753.
  • Vaughan, G. M. (1978). Social change and intergroup preferences in new zealand. European Journal of Social Psychology, 8, 297-314.
  • Wakslak, C. J., Jost, J. T., Tyler, T. R., & Chen, E. S. (2007). Moral outrage mediates the dampening effect of system justification on support for redistributive social policies. Psychological Science, 18, 267-274.
  • Wohl, M. J. A., Branscombe, N. R., & Klar, Y. (2006). Collective guilt: Emotional reactions when one's group has done wrong or been wronged. European Review of Social Psychology, 17, 1-37.
  • Yzerbyt, V. Y., Coull, A., & Rocher, S. J. (1999). Fencing off the deviant: The role of cognitive resources in the maintenance of stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 449-462.