Reese Haydon and Dr. Kurt Sandholtz, Organizational Leadership and Strategy
Prior techniques for solving intergroup prejudice have shown limited practical application. Common to these techniques is an emphasis on understanding and appreciating the competencies of the out-group members (i.e., disconfirming the in-group’s stereotypes of the out-group). The purpose of our research is to build a case for a different approach—one that emphasizes in-group humility, or recognition by in-group members of their own strengths and weaknesses.
The first step of our research uses a literature review to gauge the current state of knowledge regarding in-group/out-group formation, intergroup conflict and resolution, and humility as both a personality trait and a means of mitigating conflict. Our goal is to understand (a) how intergroup conflict is routinely experienced and mitigated, and (b) if in-group humility has already been explored as a conflict-mitigation strategy.
The following report sections include the (a) methodology, (b) findings, and (c) conclusions of our literature review.
At the project’s commencement, we identified three critical phases of literature review that should be completed in order to best yield a strong foundation for a subsequent empirical study: (1) in-group/out-group formation, (2) intergroup conflict and resolution, and (3) humility.
The phased literature review was conducted first by doing a reverse citation search for the most widely recognized and cited research currently available in top social psychology journals. Our purpose was to determine if humility has been recognized as a key player in intergroup formation and conflict resolution.
The first phase of research supported our hypothesis that in-group/out-group formation can be galvanized with something as arbitrary as random assignment. Research by Allport (1954) confirms that some groups are formed by default, completely outside of members’ control. Examples of such group formation might include family units, neighborhoods, or religious groups. In these situations, only catastrophic events might remove individuals from defaulted ingroup membership. It’s important to note here that other in-group memberships have to be fought for.
Perhaps more important is the assertion that the existence of an in-group always corresponds with the existence of an out-group. This is not to say that in-group members always harbor feelings of disdain for the out-group. Brewer (1999), however, asserts that in-group favoritism is not benign.
Moving to the second research phase, we find that many instances of intergroup conflict are fueled by competition. In an empirical study measuring the impact of ethnocentrism on a group’s perception of the value of a human life, Pratto and Glasford (2008) prove that ethnocentric ingroup members favor the lives of the out-group members when both populations’ goals and selfinterests do not compete. These empirical results demonstrate that categorization, competitive context, and individual propensities for prejudice influence how much an individual values the lives of members from different societal groups. Brewer (1999) further finds that “there is a fine line between absence of trust and presence of distrust, or between non-cooperation and overt competition” when referring to the out-group.
More interesting still is the effect that status has on intergroup conflict and in-group bias. Scheepers et al (2006) assert that a perceived “low-status position can lead group members to even more desperate and extreme forms of in-group bias.” This phenomenon is powerfully illustrated by minority groups’ actions in recent civil rights crises like the Ferguson trial and associated Michael Brown riots.
Finally, our third research phase examined how humility affects organizational relationships. Recent research on humility establishes a relationship between humility and employee engagement, job satisfaction, and other outcomes of group and workplace dynamics, but says nothing of intergroup conflict. Owens, Johnson, and Mitchell (2013) assert that a “strengthsbased view of humility [supports] the positive relationships . . . found between expressed humility and positive attitudes, traits, and adaptive behaviors,” supporting our hypothesis that humility as a personality trait may be able to mitigate intergroup conflict through adaptive behaviors and positive attitudes.
From our literature review we can assert that although in-group/out-group formation and resulting intergroup conflict is an oft-explored topic for both theoretical and empirical studies in social psychology and organizational behavior, using humility as a personality trait to mitigate said conflict is an area not currently explored.
Given what we’ve found, we plan to (1) prepare an article for submission to Academy of Management Review that makes the case for in-group humility as a strategy to mitigate intergroup conflict and (2) design an experiment that would test the humility effect in a laboratory setting to lay the foundation for empirical research on humility as a conflict mitigating personality trait.
Allport, G. (1954). The Nature of Prejudice. New York: Addison-Wesley.
Brewer, M. B. (1999). The Psychology of Prejudice: Ingroup love or outgroup hate? Journal of Social Issues, 55: 429-444.
Owens, B., Johnson, M., & Mitchell, T. (2013). Expressed Humility in Organizations: Implications for Performance, Teams, and Leadership. Organization Science, 24(5): 1517-1538.
Pratto, F. & Glasford, D. (2008). Ethnocentrism and the Value of a Human Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(6): 1411-1428.
Scheepers, D., et al. (2006). Diversity in In-Group Bias: Structural Factors, Situational Features, and Social Functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(6): 944-960.