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Professor explores gamer identity for New York magazine

November 04, 2014

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    Copyright, Steve Hambuchen

Assistant Professor of Psychology Diana Leonard recently spoke with New York magazine for a Q&A about group identity, stereotypes, and the recent Gamergate controversy.

“Group identity is a tricky thing—because it can offer us so much psychologically, we are often very protective of what it means to be a group member,” Leonard said. “For example, we may be critical of people who deviate from the group image in part because the ‘deviant’ group member’s actions or attributes threaten the group’s core meaning….This can feel very threatening, triggering lowered self-esteem and punishing behavior—especially in people for whom the group is really meaningful.”

A sense of group victimization can promote intergroup conflict in different ways, Leonard explained.

“First, it can be aversive to feel that new group members—that is, the people playing and making games who don’t fit the old stereotype—are free riders who are reaping benefits without paying the costs incurred by the ‘original’ members of the group….Second, [psychologists] have shown that feeling disadvantaged can sometimes promote antipathy for another disadvantaged group.”

As applied to Gamergate, some male gamers who have previously felt victimized may feel commonalities with women, but for others it may backfire and make hostility towards women more likely. Additionally, if gamers interpret the emotional tone of their in-group as angry, they can be more likely to see ambiguous remarks and actions as more severe.

In closing, Leonard points out a psychological phenomenon: When people can attribute a prejudiced response to some other nonprejudiced factor, discrimination is more likely.

Said Leonard, “It’s a moral loophole so sneaky that someone might not be consciously aware that they have even exploited it. I know that this can be tough to think about, like we have a hidden brain that is up to all kinds of nefarious things without our consent. Unfortunately, my colleagues in social psychology have demonstrated time and again that the implicit, uncontrolled aspects of mental life have some pretty big consequences when it comes to the way we think about groups.”

New York magazine Psychology Department

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