Downward and Upward Spirals in Intergroup Interactions

The Role of Egosystem and Ecosystem Goals

Authored by: Jennifer Crocker , Julie A. Garcia

Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping, and Discrimination

Print publication date:  February  2009
Online publication date:  February  2009

Print ISBN: 9780805859522
eBook ISBN: 9781841697772
Adobe ISBN: 9781136642708


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Intergroup relations are notoriously difficult. When people with different social identities interact, tension and negative emotion often ensue (Stephan & Stephan, 1985). Frequently, tension escalates into seemingly intractable conflict, with destructive consequences (Prentice & Miller, 1999). We propose that interactions between people with different identities, one valued or nonstigmatized, and the other one devalued or stigmatized, are difficult in part because these interactions threaten the self-images of both participants. Self-image threats trigger a cascade of physiological, emotional, self-regulatory, and cognitive responses, which are at best unhelpful and at worst create downward spirals in these interactions. However, these responses are not inevitable; they depend on the goals of the participants. When participants have egosystem goals, focused on constructing, maintaining, and defending desired images of themselves and their groups, interactions with outgroup members tend to spiral downward. In contrast, we suggest that when participants have ecosystem goals, focused on what they can learn, contribute, or do to support others, interaction can create upward spirals of increased understanding, communication, and caring. Our analysis builds on and extends with new theory and research our earlier efforts to articulate the consequences of these different types of goals for intergroup interactions (Crocker & Garcia, 2006; Crocker, Garcia, & Nuer, 2008).

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