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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Report on EASP Meeting: Do it the Hard Way - Causes and Consequences of Hard Treatment Within and Between Groups

13.09.2017, by Sibylle Classen in meeting report

June 26th-28th, 2017 at Castle Oppurg, Germany; Organizers: Stefanie Hechler & Thomas Kessler (Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena)


Sponsors: European Association of Social Psychology (EASP), Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany

Aims of the workshop

Hard treatment refers to behaviour that produces physical or psychological harm to others. It includes a variety of individual and collective behaviours, for example: the infliction of pain (e.g., torture: Fiske, Harris, & Cuddy, 2004), disrespect (e.g., objectification: Taylor, 1992), the exclusion from privileges (e.g., from group membership: Abrams, Hogg, & Marques, 2005), and forms of discrimination (e.g., sexism, racism, outgroup derogation). Even though such behaviours typically cause distress in the targets, the actors and observers may perceive them as legitimate, necessary, and/or amusing (e.g., Baumeister, 1997; Nell, 2006). Thus, a large class of social phenomena manifests in hard treatment, such as punishment, revenge, and aggression. The meeting aimed at identifying differences in their relation to normative aspects, the intentions that trigger such behaviours, and their purposes and goals (proximal, distal). The infliction of hard treatment has many divergent consequences for the involved parties and beyond.

Structure of the workshop

The participants spent three days in the beautiful castle of Oppurg. The schedule included research presentations, one round table discussion, common meals and social events. The presentation time was 45 minutes, including 25 minutes for in-depth discussion. This left enough time to give detailed feedback, ask and answer in-depths questions, and develop ideas for future research after each talk. Additionally, coffee breaks and meals were used for ongoing discussions on the research topics. On Friday night, the group took a walk to the medieval Mansion “Manor Positz” nearby for a social event dinner. Other meals and evening get-together took place every day in the castle.


Overall, 22 researchers participated at the meeting. Of those four were full professors, eight were postdoctoral researchers and ten were PhD-students. They work in seven different countries: Israel, Hungary, Poland, Australia, the U.S., Portugal and Germany.

Topics covered by the workshop

The covered topics represented the state of the art of within and between group hard treatment, its causes, and its consequences. In the meeting we addressed questions of when and why people apply hard treatment, when individuals see it as legitimate, and how does it affect the involved parties and their relations. We had two key notes presenting two different perspectives on the topic: Alan Page Fiske (University of California, LA, USA) offered an thorough overview of anthropological evidence supporting the theory that violence is most often applied for moral reasons (i.e., to counter violations of relational models). Michael Wenzel (Flinders University, Western Australia) talked about how punishment of others and of the self fulfills social-moral needs of diverse parties after wrongdoings. Overall, various forms of hard treatment were discussed, including violence, suffering, deprivation, discrimination, revenge, punishment, collateral killing, self-punishment, injustice, radical action, withdrawal from relationships, intentional harm, derogation, etc. We identified individual- and group-based triggers for the behaviours. Twelve presentations from international researchers covered topics, for example “Personal significance and hostile vs. benevolent intentions”, “Groups authoritarianism as a subtle response to threatening climate change”, “The toxic role of group-based contempt in intergroup relations”, “Accountability and forecast group-based emotions”, “Hard treatment and violence as a means of regulating relationships between groups”, and “The effects of vicariousness on interpersonal and intergroup revenge”. We discussed the implications of group boundaries, social distance, perception of biases, and coordination of interactions for the perception of hard treatment. Moreover, violence must not be the only way hard treatment is applied, but condemnation and derogation are also may suppress targets or send a similar message. Overall, we critically examined the status quo of psychological research on hard treatment (i.e., current theories and research agendas). We conclude that hard treatment, as the intentional infliction of harm, is often triggered by moral and status concerns, but also may serve self-directed goals. Most prominent was the impression, that the “types” of hard treatment, such as aggression and punishment, may have very similar (if not the same) triggers, and serve to send a message to observers and targets. However, hard treatment towards others often seem to fuel conflicts rather than solve them.

Participants’ feedback

  • “All contributions and discussions were in fact very interesting and stimulating. It is great to have so much time for conversations.”
  • “[The workshop] was topic-wise, but also in other respects, very exciting for me. Now it is important to apply the suggestions.”

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