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Individual Admiration for Dominant Groups

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

Does our admiration for powerful and dominant groups maintain the social hierarchy? This is the question explored in a recent a study. The stud authors describe previous research suggesting that emotions play a key role in the maintenance of relationships between groups, and more specifically, that emotions such as anger and admiration influence whether groups will challenge dominant groups within the social order. What is not well understood, however, are the conditions that lead individuals to feel anger versus admiration for the dominant group. The authors identified two variables that might explain the genesis of these feelings. First, seeing a dominant group as legitimate should produce admiration, while seeing that group as not legitimate should produce anger. Secondly, experiencing feelings of admiration should depend on individual tendencies to feel admiration toward other groups in general.

In their first study, the authors confirmed that believing another group is acting legitimately leads to more admiration for that group and decreased likelihood of endorsing political action against that group. Building on these findings, the authors then assessed the role of perceived competence and warmth of the group, and found that when there is evidence of competence and warmth toward the group from others, admiration for that group is more likely. This increased admiration is, in turn, related to an increased likelihood that individuals will be willing to defer to, help, and learn from that group. In the third study, the authors found that those individuals predisposed to feeling admiration more generally, feel more admiration for a group presented as admirable than those not thus predisposed. Lastly, in a clever final study, the authors asked participants to react to a politically sensitive issue that was relevant to their group – in this case residents of Hong Kong reacting to questions regarding the Tiananmen protests. They found that feelings of anger toward the government, and feelings of admiration for the victims of the protests, predicted endorsing political action against the Chinese government. Admiration for the Chinese government, not surprisingly, did not.

So what does this tell us about conflict in society in terms of admiration, political action and challenges to the social order? First, admiration for high status dominant groups requires legitimacy, competence, and warmth. Second, admiration and individual tendencies toward admiration, serve as a buffer to choosing political action. Finally, when admiration shifts from the dominant group to the victims of the group, people are more likely to take political action. Overall, political action is much more complicated than this – especially at higher, group levels of analysis. However, what is clear at the individual level is that positive emotions toward the social hierarchy are an essential component of sustainable peace.


Sweetman, J., Spears, R., Livingstone, A. G., & Manstead, A. S. R. (2013). Admiration regulates social hierarchy: Antecedents, dispositions, and effects on intergroup behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 534-542.


Nick Redding

Nick Redding is a doctoral student in the Social-Organizational Psychology department at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Project Coordinator for the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. Before coming to Columbia, he spent two years living in South Africa as a U.S.… MORE >

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