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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Depersonalization in structured groups Fritz, Anna Sabine


This thesis examined a topic from the field of intergroup relations, namely the consequences of the process of depersonalization. According to Turner, depersonalization is that process whereby people come to perceive themselves and others more as interchangeable exemplars of a social category than as unique personalities defined by their differences from others. Based on research involving simple or unstructured groups, he formulated the consequences of depersonalization in his Assimilation-Contrast Model as the enhancement of intragroup similarities (assimilation) and intergroup differences (contrast) with a pro-ingroup bias. The generality of the Assimilation-Contrast Model has recently been challenged by Smith's Person-Situation Model of depersonalization, on the grounds that the assimilation-contrast effect may not be observed in complex or structured groups. The present work derived and tested the validity of three sets of predictions on the behavior of structured and unstructured groups under depersonalized conditions based on the Assimilation-Contrast and Person-Situation Models. To this end, structured and unstructured groups were studied under two levels of depersonalization, one level of non-explicit outgroup comparison and a second level of explicit outgroup comparison. This resulted in four experimental conditions. A fifth condition of non-categorized individuals functioned as a control group. Fifty-eight college aged males participated in the experiment which consisted of a game-like procedure (brainstorming task). Subjects participated in a group (experimental conditions) or alone (control condition). The assimilation-contrast effect was assessed in three ways. Subjects were asked about their overall impressions regarding the group and the individual ingroup members ('global questionnaire items'), they were asked to rate other ingroup members on a number of personal attributes ('personal attribute ratings'), and thirdly, they were asked to rate the products of the ingroup as well as those of the outgroup ('product ratings'). There were four major Findings: (a) in unstructured groups, ingroup assimilation was more pronounced under higher levels of depersonalization than under lower levels. This was in line with previous research findings involving the Assimilation-Contrast Model (b) In structured groups, ingroup assimilation was less under higher levels of depersonalization than it was under lower levels. This was predicted by the Person-Situation Model (c) Structured groups expressed more assimilation-contrast behavior than unstructured groups. This finding was not predicted by either model, (d) In structured as well as unstructured groups, more outgroup contrast was observed under high levels of depersonalization than under low levels. This was in line with the predictions of the Assimilation-Contrast Model. The findings showed that all three sets of predictions were found to be useful in describing a certain component of the behavior of the groups under study. It was concluded that the assimilation-contrast effect may constitute less monolithic a phenomenon than originally suggested by Turner.

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