March 12th, 2011

New rationale for coworkers’ ostracism of bullied individuals

The reluctance of coworkers to come to the aid of bullied targets baffles and perplexes all targets. They are good people. Why don’t others help them when they need it. Here’s a study that provides new explanations (or simply reinforces what a bullied target might have suspected).This was a lab simulation study designed to test explanations outside the realm of bystander effects and social influence. Rather, Parks and Stone created a mixed-motive (individual vs. group gain), social dilemma-type game for participants. The lone participants played a 10-round game of making contributions to, and harvesting points from, a pool ostensibly created along with four other players. It was a computer simulation. One of the virtual others, designated as person blue, was portrayed as either “fair” with small/small or large/large contribution/use pairings, as “unselfish” (large contribution/small use) or as “selfish” (small contribution/large use). Finally, participants rated to what extent they wanted others to remain in the virtual group. The key measure was the rating for person blue.

The “fair” versions of person blue received the highest retention scores and the selfish person was seen as the least desirable. Surprisingly, the unselfish person was seen as less desirable as the selfish one. In a second round of studies, the benevolent-unselfish actor was expelled but not due to confusion or incompetence on their part.

In a final test of plausible explanations for why the group is willing to expel a valuable member who is an over-contributor to the group’s positive impact while using few resources, participants were asked reasons for expulsion. It turns out that, by comparison to self, for some, it was less fair when someone in the group was altruistic. The prime reason (by 58% of participants) given for cutting the unselfish member was the resultant negative self-evaluation. It also appears that the distinctiveness of being benevolent was resented as being too different from the rest of the group. The person was seen as a rule breaker and non-normative by 35% of participants. The selfish actor was expelled for perceived destructiveness (77%).

This study demonstrated counterintuitive hostility to a generous group member who either makes others feel bad by comparison or appears threatening by virtue of her or his virtue. The benevolent other is not motivated to create either experience for group mates. This matches closely the experience of bullied targets ostracized by coworkers. The study offers these new explanations.

Source:  Parks, C.D., & Stone, A.B. (2010)  The desire to expel unselfish members from the group. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010, Vol. 99, No. 2, 303–310.


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This entry was posted on Saturday, March 12th, 2011 at 1:34 pm and is filed under Bullying-Related Research, Tutorials About Bullying. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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