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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Preliminary EASP Seedcorn Grant Report by Branković, Essien, Goh, Goudeau, Lantos, Reimer and Veldman

11.12.2018, by Tina Keil in grant report

Project: "The Hypocrisy of High Status: Does the Acceptability of Collective Actions Lie in the Eye of the Beholder?" (December 2018)

Collaborating via Skype
Collaborating via Skype

In recent years, many people have taken to the street and social media to protest injustice directed towards their social groups. These behaviors, aimed to promote the social standing and interests of one’s group, are called collective actions and they can take on many different forms (Wright, Taylor, & Moghaddam, 1990). For instance, American athletes joined famed football player Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem in response to violence toward Black people. Women around the world stood in solidarity with one another through social media by bravely exclaiming “Me Too” and calling for organizations to address sexual harassment. In the time of this report, riots and looting have spurred on Reunion Island in response to increased fuel prices by the French government. As these recent examples demonstrate, collective action can take various forms, from peaceful protest to social media to violent riots. But in reading media reports of these actions, it is clear that some actions are deemed more appropriate than others, particularly when unequal group status comes into play.

During EASP 2016 Summer School, we proposed a project to understand why some collective actions are perceived to be more acceptable than others. Both media reports and research often assume that various actions can be objectively categorized into moderate or normative and extreme or non-normative actions (Becker & Tausch, 2015). However, we argue that judgments of collective actions do not occur in a vacuum. People’s perceptions and judgment of others are often influenced by their social groups and identities (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). We, therefore, sought to answer the question: Do people judge collective actions as less acceptable when they are enacted by lower-status groups relative to actions performed by higher-status groups? Thanks to the EASP Seedcorn Grant, we were able to effectuate this project.

Various disciplines have provided evidence that individuals’ social status influences how their actions are judged (Biernat & Manis, 1994; Brauer & Bourhis, 2006; Brescoll & Uhlmann, 2008; Lammers, Stapel, Galinsky, 2010). For instance, higher-status individuals (who have more power and enjoy higher prestige) acting “out of place” are met with more tolerance than lower-status individuals (Magee & Galinsky, 2008). People with higher social status are able to display more extreme behavior—that deviates from norms—without being punished (Hollander, 1958). The same applies to the frequency in which non-normative behavior occurs, with higher-status individuals being allowed to display non-normative behavior more often. Thus, there seems to be a “double standard” in how perceivers judge other individuals’ behavior depending on their status. However, previous research has not addressed whether such a double standard also exists in the evaluation of collective action—behavior that is enacted by social groups. We hypothesized that a similar double standard applies to collective action so that a wider range of actions are perceived as acceptable when enacted by higher- compared to lower-status groups.

Additionally, we argued that certain actions are objectively more acceptable or unacceptable than others, regardless of status. We predicted that collective actions that are not very disruptive (e.g., signing a petition) will be judged as equally acceptable for both higher- and lower-status actors as they are unlikely to incur costs and are unambiguously normative. In turn, we predicted that participants will judge extreme actions (e.g., arson or violent attacks) as equally unacceptable for both higher- and lower-status actors. For ambiguous behaviors that are between these extremes (e.g., loud protest, blocking traffic), participants were hypothesized to evaluate collective actions differently, depending on the status of the actors: Similar actions will be judged as more acceptable when committed by higher-status actors than by lower-status actors. Indeed, prejudice and stereotypes of social groups often arise and exert their influence on social judgments within ambiguous contexts (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2000).

Progress Report

After receiving the Seedcorn Grant, we successfully established team communications across the continents and conducted two studies. The first study looked at what lay people considered collective actions to be. The second study used the generated list of collective actions to form ranking necessary to determine which actions are objectively acceptable or not and which are more ambiguous and could be more susceptible to the influence of status. These two studies were crucial in forming the foundation for our follow-up work, examining the effect of actors’ status on collective action evaluations. This follow-up work will be conducted and reported on within the next six months.

In Study 1, 60 participants were recruited from Prolific. These participants generated three to 10 different behaviors that they thought constitute collective actions. There were 430 responses (M = 7.18, SD = 1.82) in total. We first removed redundant or similar responses, and then we thematically organized these remaining responses into eight categories: organization (e.g., planning and organizing events), advertisement (e.g., flyers, filming), social media/ online forum (e.g., online petitions, online activism), appeals (e.g., calling government officials, voting), strikes e.g., (boycott), protests (e.g., marches), violence (e.g., threats, riots, damaging buildings), and miscellaneous (e.g., trade blocks). By categorizing these responses, we were able to see that some actions were more extreme than others. For instance, social media and organizing protests are likely less extreme than violence or protests. We also supplemented participants’ responses with examples from the theoretical literature. These efforts resulted in a list of 72 unique actions.

In Study 2, we recruited 180 Prolific participants to rate how acceptable they considered the selected collective actions to be. We used item-response theory to find a subset of collective actions that varied in item difficulty (how acceptable this item is) and had high item discrimination (how well does this item differentiate between more and less accepting participants). In addition, we measured the more specific dimensions of extremity, disruptiveness, violence, and affective valence (from 1 “positive” to 7 “negative”). These additional dimensions allowed us to examine what determines the ratings of acceptability, and serve as useful descriptive statistics. From Study 2, we created an effective scale of 25 collective action to use in further research.

Follow-up work

The goal of our follow-up work is to investigate whether observers apply different standards when judging the acceptability of collective actions enacted by lower-status vs. higher-status actors. The experiment follows a between-groups design with two conditions (Actors’ Status: high vs. low). Participants will be randomly assigned to one of the two conditions, judging the same behaviors, but either committed by lower-status or higher-status groups. We predict that participants will judge the actions as more acceptable when committed by the higher-status compared to the lower-status group (i.e. we expect to observe an “acceptability gap” in ratings). Participants will be a sample of Prolific participants with a range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds. Participants will be presented with a short vignette in which a higher vs. lower social class group faces the same type of grievance (e.g., a new tax, or new measure introduced), and thus attempts to protest. Participants then judge behaviors from the list of collective actions developed in Study 1 and Study 2 regarding their acceptability (1 = not acceptable; 7 = very acceptable) and extremity (1 = not at all extreme; 7 = very extreme).


The research done so far served to construct a cumulative scale of collective actions ranging in perceived acceptability, which can be of interest for researchers of collective action in general. The follow-up work will investigate whether observers apply different standards when judging the acceptability of collective action performed by higher-status or lower-status actors. We believe that this research can further our understanding of societal responses to collective actions and can also inform our understanding on the maintenance of social hierarchies and social inequality. We are thankful for the opportunity afforded by the EASP Seedcorn Grant to conduct this research project that was developed during an EASP Summer School.

All authors have contributed equally and are listed in alphabetical order:
Marija Branković (Singidunum University, Belgrade, Serbia); Iniobong Essien (FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany); Jin X. Goh (University of Washington, USA); Sébastien Goudeau (Université Paris Descartes & Université Sorbonne Paris Cité (USPC), Paris, France); Nora Anna Lantos (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary); Nils Karl Reimer (University of Oxford, UK); Jenny Veldman (University of Leuven, Belgium)


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