The research presented in this thesis investigates a social identity theory analysis of reactions to performance deviance, that is, deviation that positively or negatively violates expected levels of performance on important achievement dimensions. Because of a dearth of research on positive deviance, the empirical focus in this thesis is on reactions to those who exceed normative performance expectations. The general question addressed by the research is: What are the factors that impact on reactions to deviates? Drawing on a social identity perspective the studies in the thesis investigated whether reactions to, and evaluations of, deviates are guided by their impact on personal or social identity concerns. More specifically the studies examined whether: 1) individuals react differently to deviates depending on whether personal or social identity concerns are foremost and 2) when social identity is the salient basis for self-definition, group members reactions to deviates are influenced by the deviates' contribution to identity-related motivations, hi focusing on performance-related deviance and on reactions to group members who positively deviate from expectations this thesis addresses an area that has received little attention in the social psychological literature.
In Study 1 (N = 260) the salience (high or low) of participants' identity as University of Queensland students was manipulated and they were then presented with transcripts that were ostensibly taken from interviews with students, hi the transcripts the student was either a high, average, or low academic achiever and was either from the University of Queensland (ingroup target) or the University of New South Wales (outgroup target). Thus, the study involved a 2 x 3 x 2 between-participants design. After reading the transcript the participants responded to questionnaires assessing target evaluations, self-evaluations and group perceptions.
Although hypotheses were not supported in relation to target evaluations, participants' self-evaluations provided some evidence for the prediction that the impact of deviates will differ depending on whether personal or social identity concerns are foremost. When presented with a high achieving ingroup member, participants rated their own social competence more highly in the high than the low group salience condition. When presented with a low achieving ingroup target, however, there was a tendency for participants to have lower ratings of their social competence in the high than the low group salience condition. There was also evidence that participants sought to bolster the image of their group by emphasising perceptions of ingroup homogeneity when they were presented with a high achieving ingroup member as opposed to when they were presented with an average or low achieving ingroup member.
The primary aim of Studies 2 and 3 was to investigate whether reactions to positive deviates was influenced by the deviates' alignment with the group. In Study 2(N= 151) the salience of participants' identity as University of Queensland students was again manipulated and they were again presented with transcripts that were ostensibly taken from interviews with students. In all cases the target was a high academic achiever (i.e., positive deviate) who was a University of Queensland student (ingroup target) or a University of New South Wales student (outgroup target). Group alignment was operationalised as the level of allegiance the positive deviates expressed toward their university (high or low). The study thus involved a 2 X 2 X 2 between-participants design.
On the measure of participant's positive affect there was tentative support for the predictions. Participants were more pleased about an ingroup positive deviate who expressed high allegiance in the high than the low salience condition and less pleased about an ingroup positive deviate who expressed low group allegiance in the high than the low group salience condition.
In Study 3 (N = 62), the impact of the positive deviates' group alignment was investigated further. In this study group alignment was conceptualised as the type of attributions positive deviates made for their achievements. Participants' identity as University of Queensland students was made salient and they were then presented with two media articles that described a student who received a national award for tertiary achievement and a student who won a medal in the Australian university games. Both students were either from the University of Queensland (ingroup) or from the Queensland University of Technology (outgroup) and both either took sole credit for their achievements (i.e., made personal attributions) or attributed their success in part to their university (i.e., made group attributions). The design was therefore a 2 x 2 x 2 mixed design.
The results provided much clearer evidence for the impact of the positive deviate's group alignment. Participants evaluated ingroup positive deviates who made group attributions for their success more favourably than those who made personal attributions for their success. This pattern was also reflected in participants' self-evaluations and group perceptions. Participants rated their own sporting ability more highly, emphasised perceptions of ingroup homogeneity, and accentuated the importance of a peripheral achievement dimension (i.e., sporting achievement) when ingroup positive deviates made group rather than personal attributions for their success.
In the first three studies it was hypothesised, in accordance with social identity theory, that evaluations of deviates would be determined by their impact on participants' self-enhancement needs. Studies 4 to 6 investigate how other group motivations, for example, the need for uncertainty reduction impacts on evaluations of group members. In all three studies the relative importance of self-enhancement and uncertainty reduction motivations were manipulated by threatening the positive valence or the distinctiveness of group identity.
In Study 4, 91 participants were assigned to ad hoc study groups and completed a problem-solving task. They were then given feedback that threatened the valence or the distinctiveness of their group or they received no threat information. After receiving this information and before going on to further group activities participants were presented with four targets and were asked to evaluate the targets as a way of choosing an extra group member. The targets varied in their achievement status (high or low) and the degree to which they matched the group prototype (prototypical, deviate). The design was thus a 3 x 2 x 2 mixed design. The results showed some tentative evidence for the prediction that evaluations of potential group members would depend on their contribution to the predominant group motivation: Participants differentiated more between prototypical and deviate targets when the distinctiveness rather than the valence of group identity was threatened.
In Studies 5 and 6 the positive valence or the distinctiveness of Australian identity was threatened. In both studies participants were then presented with an Australian who was a positive deviate. In Study 5 (N = 61) the perceived prototypicality of the positive deviate was measured (low, high). The study was therefore a 2 x 2 between-participants design. As predicted, participants in the valence threat condition did not differentially evaluate positive deviates according to the deviates' perceived prototypicality. Participants in the distinctiveness threat condition, however, evaluated the positive deviate who was perceived to be highly prototypical more favourably than the positive deviate who was perceived as less prototypical. Moreover, participants in the distinctiveness threat condition perceived the ingroup as more homogeneous and had higher levels of identification when presented with a positive deviate who they perceived as highly prototypical. In contrast the ingroup was judged as less homogeneous and participants had lower levels of identification when the perceived prototypicality of the positive deviate was low.
In Study 6 (N = 59) after the valence or distinctiveness of Australian identity was threatened participants were presented with a positive deviate whose achievement was on a dimension that was either prototypical (sporting achievement) or non-prototypical (artistic achievement) of Australians. The results were generally supportive of predictions in that the positive deviate who achieved on a prototypical dimension was evaluated more favourably in the distinctiveness threat than the valence threat condition, although contrary to predictions the non-prototypical positive deviate was evaluated more favourably in the valence threat than the distinctiveness threat condition.
In general then, the six studies within this thesis provide general support for a social identity analysis of reactions to deviates. Taken together there is converging evidence that reactions to, and evaluations of, deviates and positive deviates in particular, are determined by their contribution to personal or social identity concerns. The implications of the results are discussed in relation to the social identity analysis and other relevant theoretical perspectives.