Mechthild Schäfer (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität)


From 09:00
to 11:00
From 09:00
to 11:00
From 09:00
to 11:00

Course description
The more complex the world displays, the more the idea of „How thoughts, emotions and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implicit presence of other individuals (cf. Allport, 1954)“, that defines social psychology, might gain relevance beyond scientific circles. Based on a differentiation between behavior and (deliberate) action, social orientation (cf. peer orientation) identifies as a crucial mechanism for speedy behavioral responses and the gateway for automatic behavior(s). Thus, what is observable often doesn’t correspond to individual post–hoc explanations.
When kids, we learn about norms on a dyadic or group level by exploration - peer response is
often behavioral, predominantly symmetric and increasingly added by communicative acts. When in stable groups (playgroups, classes), different leadership styles (primarily asymmetric) influence norms and climate within these groups however norms and social climate change dependent on leadership style are displayed (Lewin). Another observational evidence comes from Nassauer, who analyzed big demonstrations via CCTV recordings and identified communicative determinants to make the difference between staying peaceful or starting violent behavior when agreed norms were or appeared to be violated.
Whenever people are organized in groups in which it is difficult to get out of due to normative (e.g. kids in school) or economic (e.g. workplace) reasons, bullying/mobbing is suspected to be a major and widespread problem. The „It is not about you. You were simply at the wrong time in the wrong place!“–advice to victims is supported by longitudinal data and came with a paradigm shift addressing bullying as a group phenomenon. To understand the underlying dynamics, both developmental and social psychology contribute, exemplified by Pat Hawley’s theoretical framework on the ontogenesis of social dominance together with Terrie Moffitt’s concept of age-dependent delinquency. Bullies strive for dominance which can only be assigned by the group and which is measured e.g. by resource acquisition or popularity. This does not necessarily correspond to social acceptance/preference. But bullies score high on social impact, thus are looked at and learned from. Adolescent peers - in search for autonomy and identity - imitate within an adapted range of norms (inspired by the bully’s behavior). Thus behavioral dynamics in the group pass through the three stages from exploration to consolidation and manifestation.

Expanding the perspective to the deeper layers of social psychological groundwork: How is the individual influenced by/within groups? Informal and normative conformity could be differentiated from the Asch experiments, where subjects had to decide on a simple line–task with around a third following the groups responses even though wrong. Replicated in a myriad of experiments, strength, immediacy and number proved as determinants then extended to a dynamic model explaining e.g. why – after discussion – the extent of diversity in groups is reduced with diverse isles still existent. Equipped by empirics and, thus, theoretical background, students might easily build up an understanding to transfer this to the “why” and “when” people help or not – representing a part of what we know about civil courage.
Finally approaches to group–group interactions e.g. based on Moscovici’s and Nemeth’s work on minority (and majority) effects: How to deal with minority positions in a group to broaden and qualify majority decisions? Does a devil’s advocate contribute in general or just under authentic conditions? Different in perspective but in no way unrelated, studies on intergroup conflicts finally integrate a broad array of psychological (sub-)concepts with Allport’s contact hypothesis, well researched as an interventive concept. Really close to actual conflicts like e.g. in the Middle East, the east western divan orchestra initiated by Daniel Barenboim might serve as one of many encouraging examples for contact hypothesis to work, but Hewstone and colleagues also evidence possible traps that might corroborate the final goal to reduce prejudice, discrimination and violence.


Virtual component
The virtual component will include a TED talk by Philip Zimbardo „The psychology of evil“, which provides a quick run through several aspects touched in the seminar – followed by a breakout rooms task. Students will be inspired to detect psychological constructs within the line of the talk to be discussed afterwards.

Learning outcomes of the course
Students will learn to identify and analyze social situations and encounters to initiate cognitive support for solutions. However, it implies to represent the weight of contextual factors that might kick in (e.g. socialization, hierarchy, etc.…) and have to be tackled ahead of implementing change.

Teaching and evaluation methods
The seminar builds on students having read the papers (one/two per session), for which the theoretical and methodological approach should be clarified with all, now and then supplemented by micro talks or videos to better visualize some phenomena and recessed by workgroup tasks in a final step.

Wherever useful, little training elements on group dynamics (from our bullying prevention program) will be integrated to the seminar sessions to (a) familiarize with the velocity of dynamics on group level, (b) listen to and learn to differentiate perspectives as well as reflect me/others experiences and (c) experience „shared knowledge“ as preventive potential to counteract automatic peer orientation and strengthen deliberate action.

- For the first evaluative part, there will be one question on the respective paper(s) with (written) responses at the beginning of each session with ten of twelve making up 50% of the overall evaluation.
- The second evaluative part (at the end of each week or block) will be done in groups of max. four, through varying presentation–tasks (e.g. poster, podcast, videoclip) with variations in the assumed audience to be addressed (e.g. adolescents, professionals, kids…). Points will be distributed to each group as a whole for the group to decide on how many each individual should be given. Criteria for the evaluation of the group tasks will be developed in the first week.

Oswald, H. (1999.) Jenseits der Grenze zu Gewalt. Sanktionen und rauhe Spiele. Hrsg. Mechthild Schäfer und Dieter Frey. Aggression und Gewalt unter Kindern und Jugendlichen, Hogrefe, Göttingen Bern Toronto Seattle, 179- 202

Lippitt, R., & White, R. K. (1943). The "social climate" of children's groups. In R. G. Barker, J. S. Kounin, & H. F. Wright (Eds.), Child behavior and development: A course of representative studies (pp. 485–508). McGraw-Hill.

Lewin, K., Lippitt, R., & White, R. K. (1939). Patterns of Aggressive Behaviour in Experimentally Created Social Climates. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-301.

Nassauer, A. (2018). Situational Dynamics and the Emergence of Violence in Protest. Psychology of Violence. 8. 293-304. 10.1037/vio0000176.

Hawley, P. H. (1999). The ontogenesis of social dominance: A strategy-based evolutionary perspective. Developmental Review, 19, 97 - 132.

Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-Limited and Life-Course-Persistent Antisocial Behavior: A Developmental Taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100 (4), 647 - 701.

Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K., Björkqvist, K., Östermann, K. & Kaukiainen, A. (1996). Bullying as a group process: Participant roles and their relations to social status within the group. Aggressive Behavior, 22, 1 – 15.

Salmivalli, C. (2010). Bullying and the peer group: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15, 112 – 120.

Salmivalli, C. (2014). Participant roles in bullying: How can peer bystanders be utilized in interventions? Theory Into Practice, 53 (4), 286 – 292.

Schäfer, M. & von Salisch, M. (2013). Das Individuum und die Peers – eine strukturelle Perspektive. Praxis der Kinderpsychologie und Kinderpsychiatrie, 62 (3), 171-178.

Schäfer, M., Stoiber, M., Bramböck, T., Letsch, H., Starch, K. & Sundaram, S. (2018). Participant roles in bullying: What data from Indian classes can tell us about the Phenomenon. In: P. K Smith, S. Sundaram, B. A. Spears, C. Blaya, M. Schäfer & D. Sandhu (Hrsg.), Bullying, cyberbullying and student well-being in school – Comparing European, Australian and Indian perspectives, 130 – 145. Cambridge University Press

Latané, B. (1981) The Psychology of Social Impact. In: American Psychologist, 36 (4), 343-356.

Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4, Pt.1), 377–383.

Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10(3), 215–221.

Harton, H.C., Green, L.R., Jackson, C. & Latané, B., (1998) Demonstrating Dynamic Social Impact: Consolidation, Clustering, Correlation, and (Sometimes) the Correct Answer. Teaching in Psychology, 25(1), 31-35.

Nemeth C.J. (1997) Managing innovation: When less is more. Californian Management Review, 40, 59–74.

Nemeth C.J. (1986) The Differential Contribution of Majority and Minority Influence. Psychological Review 93(1):23-32. DOI:10.1037/0033-295X.93.1.23

Hewstone, M. (2004). Neuere Forschungen über Intergruppenkonflikte: Konsequenzen für den Umgang mit Migration und Integration. (Discussion Papers / Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, Forschungsschwerpunkt Zivilgesellschaft, Konflikte und Demokratie, Arbeitsstelle Interkulturelle Konflikte und gesellschaftliche Integration, 2004-601). Berlin: Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung gGmbH. urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-110389

Hewstone M., Rubin M. & Willis H. (2002) Intergroup Bias. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 53:575–604

Kenworthy J. B., Turner, R., Hewstone, M. & Voci, A. (2005). 2005). Intergroup Contact: When Does it Work, and Why? In J. F. Dovidio, P. Glick, & L. A. Rudman (Eds.), On the nature of prejudice: Fifty years after Allport (pp. 278–292). Blackwell Publishing.

Papers originally published in German will be translated into English.



Last updated: April 5, 2024


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
fax:+39 041 2719510

VAT: 02928970272