Defensive Routines in Intergroup Relations

Awarded Scholars:
Jennifer Crocker, University of Michigan
Robin Ely, Harvard University
Debra Meyerson, Stanford University
Claude Steele, Stanford University
Project Date:
May 2004
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

For many years, research in social psychology has sought to explain how tensions arise between groups. This line of study has been dominated by a cognitive perspective, which suggests that people treat out-group members different than in-group members because they have certain beliefs about those who are different from them. Yet it may well be that inter-group difficulties result not from feelings about members of different groups, but from feelings about oneself that arise in inter-group contexts. Emotions such as fear, pride, shame, guilt, or humiliation may arise when people interact with those who are different from them, and those emotions may influence their behavior in heterogeneous social environments.


Claude Steele, Debra Meyerson, Jennifer Crocker, and Robin Ely refer to these emotions and behaviors as "ego-defensive routines" - actions and thoughts that maintain, protect, and enhance one's self-esteem when facing perceived threats to one's cultural identity. They hope to make other students of cultural contact aware of the influence of self-relevant emotions on behavior in group settings. Therefore, they have invited junior and senior scholars from a range of disciplines to a one-time meeting where participants will learn about ego-defensive routines through experience. Facilitators from Leadership and Learning Inc., an organization based in San Rafael, California, will walk participants through a structured set of exercises designed to illuminate participants' own ego dynamics and defensives routines, as well as alternatives to these responses. Steele and his colleagues hope that this experience will be a starting point for conversations about research and theory about cultural contact and inter-group relations.


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