Group Influences on Self-Aggression: Conformity and Dissenter Effects

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Evidence that intentional self-aggressive behaviors are influenced by social groups comes almost exclusively from nonexperimental retrospective studies which fail to address underlying causal processes. Recently, we conducted a study in which experimentally manipulated group norms were found to directly influence self-aggressive behavior (Sloan, Berman, Zeigler-Hill, Greer, & Mae, 2006). The present study was designed to gain a better understanding of the process by which social groups influence self-aggression. More specifically, we examined the effects of dissenters on the adoption of a self-aggressive group norm. Participants (N = 164) were assigned to one of the following conditions: a unanimous self-aggressive group, a nonunanimous group with a single dissenter in either the first or last position who did not engage in self-aggressive behavior, and a group with no systematic agreement concerning self-aggression. Self-aggression was operationally defined as the use of an extreme shock that was self-administered by the participant within the context of an attention task. Results demonstrated that the adoption of a self-aggressive group norm was significantly weakened by the presence of a dissenter. This effect was moderated by gender such that the presence of a dissenter had a greater impact on the self-aggressive behavior of women than it did for men. Clinical and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

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Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology





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