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Social psychology

Incivilities : Who Reacts ?

On a sidewalk, a pedestrian tosses a used tissue right next to a trash can. On a bus, a passenger talks loudly on his phone. Will these individuals be asked by others to correct their behavior? The answer is “probably,” if it occurs in Spain, but “not likely” if this happens in the US or the UK. These are the findings of Markus Brauer, a CNRS researcher in social psychology1 who has compared the reactions of inhabitants of eight western countries2 when faced with 46 types of uncivil behavior, such as cutting into a line, degrading buildings with graffiti, or urinating in the street.3 Brauer wants to understand why certain individuals express their disapproval of such misdemeanors while others do not. The scientist found that in Portugal, Spain, and Italy–countries defined by “collectivist cultures” according to Geert Hofstede4–people are more inclined to reproach uncivil behavior than in “individualist” countries such as the UK and the US, a category that also includes France, although to a lesser extent. “In 'collectivist' cultures, individuals feel more dependent upon each other, and consider the whole community as an integral part of their own identity,” Brauer explains. In the same line, previous studies from the same laboratory suggested that individuals are more likely to reproach uncivil behavior if they feel personally affected by it. “Thus, intervention depends on how individuals define themselves,” concludes the researcher. “For some, the 'self' only includes their home, while for others, it also includes their neighborhood, or even the whole city.” In the latter case, any incivility, especially if it debases the environment, is perceived as a personal assault. And even if expressed in the form of a courteous remark, their reaction can be defined as self-defense. In short, to combat common uncivil behavior, there is nothing so effective as feeling at home... everywhere.

Stéphanie Arc

Notes :

1. Laboratoire de psychologie sociale et cognitive (CNRS / Clermont Université).
2. The US, UK, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
3. M. Brauer and N. Chaurand, “Descriptive norms, prescriptive norms, and social control: An intercultural comparison of people's reactions to uncivil behaviors,” Europ. J. Soc. Psychol., 2009. DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.640
4. Geert Hofstede defined indicators that reflect the mean degree of individual integration in the different groups that make up society (close family, distant family, etc.).

Contacts :

Markus Brauer,
LAPSCO, Clermont-Ferrand.


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