chapter  6
24 Pages

Protecting a threatened identity through sexual harassment: A social identity interpretation

WithAnne Maass, Mara R. Cadinu

One of the most robust findings in the recent social identity literature is that people whose social identity is threatened or questioned tend to engage in identity-defensive behaviors, including the discrimination against outgroup members. According to Branscombe, Ellemers, Spears, and Doosje (1999), people may experience different kinds of ingroup threat all of which are likely to play a causal role in ingroup favoritism and outgroup discrimination. For example, people may experience a threat to group value referring to any situation in which the value of the ingroup is undermined – such as by information suggesting that one’s own group performs less well or is morally inferior to a relevant outgroup. One way to re-establish the value of the ingroup is to derogate a relevant outgroup (Cadinu & Reggiori, 2002). Alternatively, people may be exposed to so-called acceptance or prototypicality threat that challenges their status as a good or as a prototypical group member. For instance, men whose masculinity is questioned may find this information highly threatening, especially if they are strongly identified with their gender group (Schmitt & Branscombe, 2001). Yet another kind of threat identified by Branscombe et al. challenges the distinctiveness of the ingroup compared to an outgroup. 1 Because people strive for meaningful and distinct social identities, any kind of information suggesting that ingroup and outgroup are indistinguishable will be perceived as threatening. Often, people may prefer a negative differentiation of the ingroup from the outgroup to no differentiation at all (Mlicki & Ellemers, 1996). Thus, group members may experience a wide range of social identity threat. Although people may respond very differently to different forms of threat, there is one reaction that has been observed for all of the above forms of identity threat, namely outgroup derogation. Outgroup derogation in response to identity-threatening experiences appears to be common to different forms of threat and is predominantly shown by those individuals who are highly committed to their group.