Observers of everyday rudeness often become the carriers of its harmful consequences. However, little is known about the epidemiology of rudeness—that is, whom do observers of rudeness typically hurt. We propose that witnessing rudeness fuels active harm to out-group members.
Three experiments demonstrate that brief exposure to everyday rudeness reinforces social divides, exacerbating the differentiation between “us” and “them”. We find that observers of rudeness are more likely to distrust, derogate and harm out-group members. This effect was stronger among those who were instructed to reflect on their in-group positively but was effectively negated when instructed to reflect on the out-group positively.
Overall, we provide causal evidence that everyday rudeness constitutes an important, yet overlooked, source of polarization and intergroup conflict, highlighting how interpersonal incivility can fuel hostility toward out-group members in society.
Research Team: Cooper, B., Pounds, T., Halevy, N. & Erez, A.
Current Status: Revise and Resubmit, Nature: Human Behaviour