Like members of many social identity groups, gay men within certain racial or ethnic groups (e.g., gay white men in the United States) generally share a sense of group entitativity that is characterized by the experiences of unity, coherence, and organization. Notwithstanding its members’ overall sense of entitativity, gay white male culture in the United States, specifically, has formed an array of diverse subgroups along dimensions such as physical attractiveness, musculature, masculinity, and age. These subgroup categorizations often are highly salient to individuals, and they frequently serve these gay men’s drive to self-enhance through intragroup comparisons. Given that many of these subgroups are well established, with members who share not only unique physical characteristics but also particular communication patterns and/or traditions that contribute to group stereotype formation, it is possible to consider communication and comparisons across these subgroups to be intergroup in nature as well.
Social psychological theory provides useful frameworks for understanding the intra-/intergroup dynamics among such subgroups of gay men. One framework is self-categorization theory. According to this theory, individuals engage in self-stereotyping. That is, they react to themselves and others not as unique individuals, but as members of a group who share common characteristics and have similar needs, goals, and norms. It is through such categorization that group members differentiate themselves from members of other groups or subgroups. Another framework, social identity theory, also sheds light on intergroup dynamics within the gay white culture in the United States. In line with this theory, gay men may cope with discrimination from the heterosexual mainstream through the adoption of one or more coping strategies. These strategies include leaving their group or changing negative values assigned to the in-group into more positive ones. Additionally, they may avoid the use of the higher-status heterosexual group as a comparative frame of reference, instead making downward comparisons with members of other gay male groups that they consider to be inferior in order to self-enhance. Of course, though not to achieve positive distinctiveness, members of lower-status groups also orient themselves in gay culture by making upward comparisons with members of subgroups they consider to be superior to their own. Again, these subgroup distinctions may include those based on physical attractiveness, musculature, masculinity, and age.
Andrew C. Billings and Fei Qiao
Sports are often the source of our greatest—and clearest—group affiliations; yet, sports are often the most evident examples of outgroup derogation as well through the magnification of differences with rivals and opposing teams. The formation and fusion of sport-based groups explore the core internal issues of leadership and followership as well as issues such as hazing, fanship, and the psychology of difference. The concepts of Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRGing) and Cutting Off Reflected Failure (CORFing), as embodied within sporting circumstances, can be understood using social identity theory and self-categorization as a lens of examination. Moreover, there are many ways in which sport-based groups inform societal structures that are interpersonal, intergroup, and global in nature, along with the theoretical and applied implications of such structures.
Contact between members of different groups has long been advocated as a productive means for reducing intergroup prejudice. The empirical evidence supports this notion, with hundreds of studies indicating that people (especially people from dominant groups) gain more positive attitudes towards other groups (typically non-dominant groups) by communicating with members of those groups. Generalization from the individual group member to the group as a whole is stronger when the target’s group membership is salient during the encounter, albeit that generalization might be positive or negative. Recent years have seen expanded definitions of intergroup contact, moving from direct face-to-face contact to broader realms such as imagining interaction with the outgroup, contacting the outgroup through interactive (e.g., computer) or non-interactive (e.g., broadcast) media, and becoming aware of or observing contact involving other ingroup and outgroup members. Several suggestions for the most effective content of contact have been supplied, but the most definitive recommendation is simply that the contact not be negative: contact involving extensive conflict and negative emotions do not reduce prejudice. The effects of contact can occur through a wide variety of mediators, but the most commonly studied have been anxiety and empathy: contact reduces anxiety and increases empathy, and those emotional responses translate into more positive intergroup attitudes. Counter-intuitively, some evidence suggests that contact is most effective for people with higher levels of pre-existing prejudice. Contact can have some ironic negative effects on progress towards societal equity. In particular, considerable evidence suggests that harmonious intergroup contact can reduce perceptions of inequality and suppress the motivation for social change for dominant and subordinate groups. For subordinate groups specifically, a positive intergroup experience with a dominant group member can reduce the drive to actively challenge the status quo.
Thomas E. Ford, Christopher J. Breeden, Emma O'Connor, and Noely Banos
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Intergroup humor, humor that disparages a social group or its representatives, is pervasive and readily available to us, perhaps more now, in the digital age, than ever before. Recent Google searches yielded 4,240,000 hits for “racist jokes” and 10,400,000 hits for “sexist jokes.” Such disparagement humor can shape interpersonal relations in positive and negative ways. As William Martineau noted, intergroup humor can function as a “lubricant” or an “abrasive” for social relationships. Disparagement humor directed at social out-groups functions simultaneously as a social lubricant for members of the in-group and as a social abrasive for intergroup relations. By enhancing social identity and in-group pride, disparagement humor enhances in-group cohesion. Accordingly, people initiate disparagement humor when they experience a threat to their social identity, that is, when they perceive that their in-group is at risk of being judged as inferior to a relevant out-group. Disparagement humor restores positive distinctiveness and thus a positive social identity.
However, by communicating that its message is to be taken as “just a joke,” disparagement humor can denigrate its target without challenge or criticism. As a result, it can function as a powerful “abrasive” for social relationships without recourse to the initiator. Specifically, disparagement humor appears to function as a situational event that allows people to express or “release” their prejudiced attitudes. Prejudiced norm theory proposes that when people approve of disparagement humor (e.g., laugh at it), they tacitly assent to a shared agreement (a social norm) that it is acceptable in this particular context to make light of discrimination. They essentially re-define the situation as one in which they need not suppress their prejudice out of fear of social reprisal. Also, people are likely to approve of disparagement humor, interpreting it as “just a joke,” to the extent they are prejudiced against the disparaged group. Finally, because prejudiced people are inclined to interpret disparagement humor as “just a joke,” they tend to perceive and assent to an emergent prejudiced norm in the immediate social context, and to use that norm to guide their own responses toward members of the targeted group. That is, upon exposure to disparagement humor, prejudiced people tend to perceive the immediate context as permissive of expressions of prejudice and thus feel comfortable expressing or “releasing” their own prejudice.
Norms are regularized patterns of attitudes and behavior that characterize a group of individuals, separate the group from other groups of individuals, and prescribe and describe attitudes and behaviors for group members. Relying on social identity theory and self-categorization theory, the role played by group norms within groups and the processes by which such norms are promulgated within groups are discussed. Norm talk or the communication of normative information within groups is explored, as a major proportion of communication within groups is dedicated to clarifying ingroup identities and group attributes such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group. Group members can glean normative information by attending to norm talk for instance, by listening to the content of fellow group members’ communications, from their behavior, and from influential or prototypical sources within the group.
According to self-categorization theory, once individuals categorize themselves as members of a salient group or category, they represent normative information cognitively as ingroup prototypes. Prototypes are a fuzzy set of group attributes (such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group) and simultaneously minimize differences within groups while maximizing differences between groups. Thus, clear group prototypes help create distinct identities that are clearly demarcated from other groups. Group members should be especially attentive to information that flows from prototypical sources within groups—such as leaders and ingroup media sources—while efforts should be made to differentiate from marginal or deviant members who deviate from the prototype and reduce clarity of ingroup prototypes. The processes through which attending to information communicated by different sources within groups—both prototypical and non-prototypical—help group members seek normative information and clarification of ingroup prototypes are discussed.
Carla L. Fisher and Thomas Roccotagliata
From birth to death, our interactions with others are what inform our identity and give meaning to life. Ultimately, it is interpersonal communication that is the bedrock of wellness. Much of the scholarship on interpersonal communication places communication in the background, characterized merely as a resource, symptom, or contributing factor to change. In the study of our interpersonal experiences, communication must be at the forefront. As a pragmatic lens concerned with real-world issues, a life-span perspective of interpersonal scholarship provides boundless opportunities for bridging science and practice in meaningful ways that improve social life on multiple levels, from families to schools to government to hospitals. Interpersonal communication research that is concerned with life-span issues tends to prioritize communicative phenomena and bring the communication dynamics of our relational lives to the surface. Typically, this scholarship is organized around the various stages or phases of life. In other words, researchers concerned with interpersonal communication often contextualize this behavior based on dimensions of human development and life changes we typically encounter across the life course, those major life experiences from birth to death. Much of that scholarship also centers on how we develop competence in communication across time or how communication competence is critical to our ability to attain relational satisfaction as well as a high psychological and physical quality of life. This research also highlights the influential role of age, human development, and generational differences, recognizing that our place in the life span impacts our goals and needs and that our sociocultural-historical experiences also inform our communication preferences. A life-span perspective of interpersonal communication also encompasses various theoretical paradigms that have been developed within and outside the communication discipline. Collectively, this scholarship helps illustrate the communicative nature of human life across the entire life trajectory.
Language attitudes are evaluative reactions to different language varieties. They reflect, at least in part, two sequential cognitive processes: social categorization and stereotyping. First, listeners use linguistic cues (e.g., accent) to infer speakers’ social group membership(s). Second, based on that categorization, they attribute to speakers stereotypic traits associated with those inferred group membership(s). Language attitudes are organized along two evaluative dimensions: status (e.g., intelligent, educated) and solidarity (e.g., friendly, pleasant). Past research has primarily focused on documenting attitudes toward standard and nonstandard language varieties. Standard varieties are those that adhere to codified norms defining correct usage in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, whereas nonstandard varieties are those that depart from such norms in some manner (e.g., pronunciation). Standard and nonstandard varieties elicit different evaluative reactions along the status and solidarity dimensions. Status attributions are based primarily on perceptions of socioeconomic status. Because standard varieties tend to be associated with dominant socioeconomic groups within a given society, standard speakers are typically attributed more status than nonstandard speakers. Solidarity attributions tend to be based on in-group loyalty. Language is an important symbol of social identity, and people tend to attribute more solidarity to members of their own linguistic community, especially when that community is characterized by high or increasing vitality (i.e., status, demographics, institutional support). As a result, nonstandard language varieties can sometimes possess covert prestige in the speech community in which they are the speech norms. Language attitudes are socialized early in life. At a very young age, children tend to prefer their own language variety. However, most (if not all) children gradually acquire the attitudes of the dominant group, showing a clear status preference for standard over nonstandard varieties around the first years of formal education and sometimes much earlier. Language attitudes can be socialized through various agents, including educators, peers, family, and the media. Because language attitudes are learned, they are inherently prone to change. Language attitudes may change in response to shifts in intergroup relations and government language policies, as well as more dynamically as a function of the social comparative context in which they are evoked. Once evoked, language attitudes can have myriad behavioral consequences, with negative attitudes typically promoting prejudice, discrimination, and problematic social interactions.
Camiel J. Beukeboom and Christian Burgers
Social categorization and stereotypes play a pervasive and fundamental role in social perception, judgment, and interaction. Although stereotypes are functional by allowing us to make sense of our complex social environment, their use can promote prejudice and discrimination when individuals are treated based on generic stereotypic expectancies, rather than on available individuating information. Prejudice and discrimination emerge from generalized (negative) stereotypic associations that people hold about social categories. These stereotypes become socially shared within (sub)cultures through communications about categorized people and their behavior. Research on biased language use reveals the communicative and linguistic processes through which stereotypes are formed and maintained. When communicating about other people and their behavior, our language echoes the existing stereotypic expectancies we have with categorized individuals (often without our conscious awareness). A linguistic bias is defined as a systematic asymmetry in word choice that reflects the social-category cognitions that are applied to the described group or individual(s). Three types of biases are distinguished in the literature that reveal, and thereby maintain, social-category cognitions and stereotypes.
First, when labeling individuals, the types of category labels that we choose reflect existing social category cognitions. Second, once target individuals are labeled as members of a category, people tend to communicate predominantly stereotype-congruent information (rather than incongruent information). Third, research has revealed several biases in how we formulate information about categorized individuals. These formulation differences (e.g., in language abstraction, explanations, use of negations, irony) subtly reveal whether a target’s behavior was stereotypically expected or not. Behavioral information that is in line with social-category knowledge (i.e., stereotype-consistent) is formulated differently compared to incongruent information (i.e., stereotype-inconsistent).
In addition, when communicating with individuals we have categorized in a given social category, our language may subtly reveal the stereotypic expectancies we have about our conversation partners. It is important to be aware of these stereotype maintaining biases as they play an important role in consensualizing both benevolent and harmful stereotypes about social categories.
Graham D. Bodie
Listening is recognized as a multidimensional construct that consists of complex (a) affective processes, such as being motivated to attend to others; (b) behavioral processes, such as responding with verbal and nonverbal feedback; and (c) cognitive processes, such as attending to, understanding, receiving, and interpreting content and relational messages. Research in the communication studies discipline has focused most heavily on the cognitive processes of listening with the least attention afforded to behavioral components. Although several models of listening have been put forward, scholars still struggle with basic notions of how best to define listening for research purposes and how to incorporate listening into mainstream theoretical frameworks. Contemporary scholarship explores intersections between listening and cultural studies research as communication scholars come to participate in larger discussions of the auditory environment. At the start of the 21st century, listening research is just one of the many sites where communication studies is making a contribution to interdisciplinary research across the humanities and social sciences.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Death is inevitable. Every individual experiences the death of others throughout life, and eventually, faces his or her own death. However, people who live in a death-denying culture, such as the United States, tend to avoid discussing their own or others’ death. A cultural shift has been taking place in the United States, so that dying has become an increasingly medicalized process, where death is viewed as something to be stopped or delayed instead of accepted as a part of a natural life cycle. As family members are less responsible for the dying process, communication about death and dying is a sensitive topic and is often ignored or avoided. Lack of this meaningful communication can lead to stereotypes about dying persons, conflict among family members, and fear of death.
Incorporating knowledge of intergroup communication with a lifespan approach can deepen the efficacy of communication about death and dying. People’s group identities can play important roles in the conversation about death and dying. As children and adolescents, people can encounter the death of older family members (e.g., grandparents), and the communication here can be intergenerational. Due to age differences, younger adults may have a difficult time reacting to older adults’ painful disclosure of death or bereavement. During adulthood, people deal with the uncertainty of timing of death for themselves or their loved ones. The communication in this period can be intergenerational and inter-occupational, especially when there are third parties involved (e.g., medical providers or legal authorities). End of life (EOL) communication usually happens during the later lifespan, as time of death approaches, among older adults, family members, and medical providers. These conversations include advanced care planning (i.e., arrangements and plans about the dying process and after death), medical decision making, palliative care, and final talks. Even though the current theories and research are limited, some communication theories can potentially be applied in exploring this topic.