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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

EASP Seedcorn Grant Report by Ditrich, Giesen and Kaltiainen

01.07.2017, by Sibylle Classen in grant report

Post Summer School Report; Project: “Be innovative – but don’t take it too far": Testing Boundary Conditions of the Leeway-Effect

Lara Ditrich (Leibniz Institut für Wissensmedien, Germany), Anna Giesen (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Germany) and Janne Kaltiainen (University of Helsinki)

In August 2014, we participated in the EASP Summer School workshop “Social Identity, Influence and Deviance in Groups” taught by Michael Hogg and José Marques in Lisbon, Portugal. During this workshop, we developed specific hypotheses regarding the relation between leader prototypicality, leader deviance, and leader endorsement. Subsequent to participating in the Summer School, we sought to conduct several studies to test the hypotheses we had developed there. Thus, we were delighted to be awarded an EASP seedcorn grant that enabled us to carry out these studies. This report provides a summary of the theoretical background of our studies, as well as a summary of the key findings we have obtained so far.

In line with the overall theme of the summer school workshop, we set out to investigate norm-deviant behavior displayed by a group leader. Previous research has shown that while group members are often sanctioned and derogated when showing deviant behavior (e.g., Marques & Paez, 1994), group leaders are often granted considerable leeway to deviate from their group’s norms due to holding the leadership role (e.g., the conferral process identified by Abrams, Randsley de Moura, Marques, & Hutchison, 2008). For instance, it has been demonstrated that especially prospective group leaders are granted “innovation credit”, that is, they are allowed to deviate from existing group norms (Abrams et al., 2008). Furthermore, Abrams, Randsley de Moura, and Travaglino (2013) demonstrate that even established in-group leaders are granted “transgression credit” when they are perceived to have in mind the group’s best interest. In addition to the leader’s role, also leader characteristics - in particular leader-group prototypicality – have been found to influence group members’ reactions to leader behavior (for a summary, see Hogg, van Knippenberg, & Rast, 2012). It has been demonstrated that prototypical leaders are more strongly endorsed and supported than non-prototypical leaders and have greater influence on group members (e.g., Ullrich, Christ, & van Dick, 2009). Based on a combination of these findings, one would expect that leaders high in prototypicality, even after having shown a norm-deviant behavior, are more strongly endorsed than leaders low in prototypicality (which has sometimes been referred to as accrual; e.g., Abrams et al., 2008).

But is this always the case? A closer examination of the manipulations used in the studies demonstrating that leaders can oppose their group’s norms reveals that these studies did not take into account how important the norm transgressed by the leader was for the group’s identity. Thus, prior studies have not controlled for the identity-centrality of the norm being transgressed. For example, Abrams and colleagues (Abrams et al., 2008) examined attitudes towards the admission of asylum seekers, which were normative for their sample – psychology students. Though this norm was specific to the group under investigation, psychology students might not have regarded it as an integral part of their group’s identity. In later work, Abrams and colleagues (Abrams et al., 2013) investigated universal norms that were not specific to the groups they investigated. These norms most likely did not contribute to the groups’ distinctiveness from other groups and, hence, likely were not very relevant for participants’ social identity in the specific context. However, there is research demonstrating that identity-centrality (or identity-relevance) of certain norms strongly influences group member’s reactions and behavior (e.g., Ashby, Haslam, & Webley, 2009; Smith, Terry, Crosier, & Duck, 2005). Most relevant to the current context are findings by Mudd (1968), who demonstrated that as the relevance of the norm that is being violated increases, also the intensity of punishment for this violation increases. Therefore, we assumed that identity-centrality may constitute an important, yet to date under-investigated moderator of what we called the “leeway effect”. By “leeway effect” we refer to the notion that leaders high in prototypicality face less severe sanctions when showing deviant behavior than leaders low in prototypicality. However, we assumed that this is not always the case. More specifically, we hypothesized that leaders high in prototypicality would be granted more leeway (and would thus be endorsed more strongly) than leaders low in prototypicality only when they are deviating from norms of low identity-centrality, but not when deviating from norms of high identity-centrality.

The EASP seedcorn grant allowed us to conduct several studies to empirically test this hypothesis. All studies carried out so far were conducted with student samples from German universities. Therefore, we chose an ostensible student representative as the norm-deviant leader in all studies. Study 1 was completed by one-hundred eighty eight participants who were randomly assigned to one of four conditions. They were confronted with an ostensible student representative’s written statement in which he/she described him-/herself to be either high or low in prototypicality (for a similar approach, see Rast, Gaffney, Hogg, & Crisp, 2012; van Dijke & de Cremer, 2008). Afterwards, participants were asked to read the student representative’s opinion about the results of a student survey that had ostensibly been conducted at their university. In this statement, the student representative (tentatively) questioned a norm that had emerged to be either high or low in identity-centrality in an independent pilot study. Subsequently, we assessed leader endorsement as our key variable of interest using items based on previous work (Rast et al., 2012; Ullrich et al., 2009). In this study, we did not find support for our hypothesis. Instead, we found that leaders high in prototypicality were more strongly endorsed when questioning norms of high identity-centrality than leaders low in prototypicality.

The second study used a similar methodological approach. This study was completed by one-hundred sixty-three participants who were again randomly allocated to one of the four conditions. In this study, however, the student representative did not only tentatively question the norm, but provided reasons for why he/she thought the norm had negative consequences. Whereas the manipulation of prototypicality was successful in this study, we did not find our experimental factors to significantly influence leader endorsement.
A third study used a slightly different methodological approach. Prototypicality was again manipulated using an ostensible self-description. In this study, however, the deviation only pertained to one norm. In the high identity-centrality condition, the student representative framed this norm as highly relevant to the group’s positive identity and distinctiveness before questioning it. In the low identity-centrality condition, on the other hand, the student representative framed a different norm as highly relevant to the group’s positive identity and distinctiveness. Again, we assessed leader endorsement, as well as participants’ willingness to accept the student representative’s venture. The prototypicality manipulation was successful. However, neither prototypicality, nor identity-centrality, nor the Prototypicality x Identity-centrality interaction affected leader endorsement or willingness to accept the venture.

Taken together, the results of the three studies did not support our hypothesis. Our prediction that leaders high in prototypicality are more strongly endorsed than leaders low in prototypicality only when deviating from norms of low identity-centrality, but not when deviating from norms of high identity-centrality, was not confirmed. We assume that this might be due to how we implemented norm-deviance in our studies. In the first study, the student representative only tentatively questioned the validity of an ongoing norm. In the second study, he/she provided reasons for his/her deviant opinion, but still did not show behavior openly violating the norm. In Study 3, the student representative again provided reasons for his/her deviant opinion, and additionally indicated that he/she aimed at abolishing a study program that was in line with the norm chosen for our identity-centrality manipulation. Thus, we increased deviation severity across studies. However, (tentatively) questioning norms and seeking to abolish specific manifestations of this norm might not represent deviations of sufficient severity to undermine the “leeway-effect”. Therefore, further studies using more severe deviations will be necessary to test the hypothesized effect of identity-centrality on the relationship between prototypicality and leader endorsement.


  • Abrams, D., Randsley de Moura, G., Marques, J. M., & Hutchison, P. (2008). Innovation credit: When can leaders oppose their group’s norms? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 662–678. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.3.662
  • Abrams, D., Randsley de Moura, G., & Travaglino, G. A. (2013). A double standard when group members behave badly: Transgression credit to ingroup leaders. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(5), 799–815. doi: 10.1037/a0033600
  • Ashby, J. S., Haslam, S. A., & Webley, P. (2009). The distinct role of group-central and group-peripheral norms in taxpaying behaviour. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 38(2), 230–237. doi: 10.1016/j.socec.2008.11.001
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  • 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(1), 37–68. doi: 10.1080/14792779543000011
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  • Rast, D. E., Gaffney, A. M., Hogg, M. A., & Crisp, R. J. (2012). Leadership under uncertainty: When leaders who are non-prototypical group members can gain support. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(3), 646–653. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.013
  • Smith, J. R., Terry, D. J., Crosier, T. R., & Duck, J. M. (2005). The Importance of the relevance of the issue to the group in voting intentions: The case of the Australian Republic Referendum. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 27(2), 163–170. doi: 10.1207/s15324834basp2702_7
  • Ullrich, J., Christ, O., & van Dick, R. (2009). Substitutes for procedural fairness: Prototypical leaders are endorsed whether they are fair or not. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(1), 235–244. doi: 10.1037/a0012936
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