Beyond the Dyad: The Role of Groups and Third-Parties in the Trajectory of Violence
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Episodes of aggression and violence continue to beset our public spaces. This thesis explores how well we understand the transition to violence—and how aggression and violence in public spaces can be managed or controlled. We begin by arguing that established social psychological approaches to aggression and violence are inadequate for the task. Existing models explain violence through the failure of individuals to inhibit their own impulses or control their own emotions sufficiently. At best the models allow for the importance of dyadic interactions as individuals provoke each other as part of an escalation cycle. We argue that public space aggression and violence involves multiple parties and more complex sets of social dynamics. We suggest that, at the very least, the roles of third-parties and social categories need to be at the heart of theorising about violence in public spaces. To support our arguments, we examined violence directly through detailed behavioural microanalyses of real-life aggressive incidents captured on CCTV footage. We also built agent-based models (ABM) to explore different theoretical approaches to the impact of groups and third-parties on aggression and violence. The thesis contains seven studies. We begin with a CCTV behavioural microanalysis (Study 1) that showed collective group self-regulation of aggressive and violent behaviour in both within- and between-group conflicts. This study demonstrated an ‘intergroup hostility bias’, showing a greater likelihood of aggressive, escalatory acts towards outgroup members in intergroup conflicts than towards ingroup members in intragroup conflicts. Furthermore, this study demonstrated an ‘intragroup de-escalatory bias’, showing a greater likelihood of peace-making, de-escalatory behaviours towards ingroup members in intragroup conflicts than towards outgroup members in intergroup conflicts. Overall, we found that the majority of coded actions were acts of de-escalation performed by third-parties. With evidence stressing the importance of social dynamics, we compared dyadic models of aggression against an alternative social model (which allowed normative influence of others) in a dynamic agent-based modelling environment. We modelled the dynamics of metacontrast group formation (Studies 2 and 3), and found that group processes can produce both escalation of violence and inhibition of violence (Study 4). We found greater polarisation of violent positions in intergroup interactions than in intragroup interactions (Studies 5a and 5b). However, an emergent intergroup hostility bias did not emerge from this polarisation process. In Study 6, we re-examined the intergroup hostility bias present in our CCTV footage. We found an intergroup hostility bias for non-physical escalatory acts but not for physical escalatory acts. We examined the standardised number of actions contributed by third-parties and assessed the relationship between specific third-party conflict management strategies (policers and pacifiers) and conflict violence severity (Study 7). Overall, our results showed that third-parties and groups are integral features of the dynamics of violence. Third-parties largely attempt to de-escalate conflict, and the conflict management strategy they employ has a direct relationship to the violent outcome. Groups have a tendency to de-escalate their own members, and self-policing and collective inhibition take place. These findings have importance for current models of aggression and violence and also for evidence-based violence reduction initiatives.
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
PhD in Psychology