Written by Luke Herald
“Die Jock Die” is the phrase of the Columbine High School shooters. Many people find themselves asking why someone would go to such extreme measures (Gaertner, Iuzzini, & O’Mara, 2008). Studies have shown that acts of aggression, such as school shootings, with multiple victims can be tied to the idea of “perceived groupness” (Gaertner, Iuzzini, & O’Mara, 2008). “Die jock die” was said because the shooters felt the “jocks” were the ones who deserved to be punished for their actions.
What is perceived groupness?
Perceived groupness is the idea that others see an individual as belonging to a certain social group, such as athletes, cool kids, geeks, and punks, even if the individual does not belong to this group. Perceived groupness leads people to attribute personal characteristics, such as beliefs, attitudes, and actions, to an entire group, rather than to the individual who displays the characteristics. For example, a person on the football team may have treated a student in a way that made him feel excluded. Because he perceived the football player to be in a group (e.g., jocks), he may attribute the actions of and his feelings towards the football player to the entire team instead of to the person who actually took part in the actions. Misplaced attributions may cause misplaced aggression, such as disliking all jocks, rather than the one football player who mistreated him.
On the other hand, “nerds” can be bullied for no reason other than their perceived group. Perceived groupness causes misplaced aggression in both victims and aggressors. Perceived groupness affects us all. In the Social Relations Lab, we asked students to identify perceived social groups in their schools. In our research on bullying, we found that fifty-five percent of bullied students felt they were bullied due to their perceived membership in a group. Sixty-five percent of bullied students perceived themselves as being targeted by a specific group.
When does perceived groupness trigger aggression?
Perceived groupness can trigger aggression in many different ways and in more places than just schools. The idea of perceived groupness can be applied to any sort of grouping, such as race, sex, and age. Labels that place people in their respective groups affect society, regardless of the setting. In 2013 two Islamic extremists brutally murdered Lee Rigby, a British Soldier, in southeast London. They later put a video on the internet saying that they killed him because Muslims are being killed by British soldiers every day, and this act was retribution for those murders (Sjöström & Gollwitzer, 2015). Lee Rigby may have had nothing to do with these Islamic deaths, yet he paid what these extremists believed to be the price for the sins of his perceived group. This murder is also an example of the caregiving system in which a person is motivated to help someone who is perceived to be in his/her own group (Buffone & Poulin, 2014).
How can we use this knowledge to help?
If we understand that perceived groupness and rejection are two key factors in multiple-victim incidents of aggression, we can take steps to intervene. Counselors and practitioners can focus on assisting people and helping them cope with their views and experiences with rejection. They can also help people understand that although they were rejected or mistreated by a person, the opinions and actions of the particular aggressor should not be attributed to everyone with whom the aggressor associates (Gaertner, Iuzzini, & O’Mara, 2008). Recently, intervention programs have been created that could drastically help with these dangerous misperceptions by teaching people to alter their ideas of perceived groupness and view people as individuals, rather than as members of a group, which may result in a decreased likeliness of mass aggression (Aronson, 2001).
Gaertner, L., Iuzzini, J., & O’Mara, E. M. (2008). When rejection by one fosters aggression against many: Multiple-victim aggression as a consequence of social rejection and perceived groupness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44(4), 958-970.
Sjöström, A., & Gollwitzer, M. (2015). Displaced revenge: Can revenge taste “sweet” if it aims at a different target? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56, 191-202.
Buffone, A. E., & Poulin, M. J. (2014). Empathy, target distress, and neurohormone genes interact to predict aggression for others–even without provocation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(11), 1406-1422.
Aronson, E. (2001). Nobody left to hate. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Jessica Utley
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor