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«UNDERSTANDING EMPLOYEES’ BEHAVIORAL REACTIONS TO AGGRESSION IN ORGANIZATIONS by MARIE S. MITCHELL B.S., George Mason University, 1993 M.A.H.R., ...»

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Overall, this research suggests an individual’s LOC will influence aggressive and nonaggressive reactions to perceived aggression. Specifically, because internals believe they can control their own fate, they would be more likely to react to aggression by either retaliating (attempting to stop the harmdoer from aggressing further) or through constructive problemsolving (attempting to handle the situation in a constructive manner directly). In contrast, externals, guided by fatalistic beliefs, are more inclined to react with hostility, but not directly at the aggressor. Retaliatory acts by an external would only heighten fear of future attacks.

Consequently, they would be more likely to displace their hostilities on other targets. Thus, I

predict:

Hypothesis 3: Locus of control will moderate the positive relationships between perceived aggression and (a) retaliatory aggression and (b) constructive problem-solving such that the relationships will be stronger when locus of control is high rather than low, and the positive relationships between perceived aggression and (c) displaced aggression will be stronger when locus of control is low rather than high.

Need for Social Approval. Martin (1984) argued that social contact is an important motivator of human behavior; however, some individuals become more motivated than others.

Specifically, research suggests that individuals differ in their interest in social support, and that some individuals actively engage in more activities to harness social support than others (e.g., Hill, 1987, 1991; Hill & Christensen, 1989). Research suggests social contact provides individuals with a sense of belonging, recognition or praise, and emotional support (Hill, 1987).

Consequently, individuals who have a strong need for social approval engage in activities to enhance social contact with others in order to receive these felt benefits (Hill, 1987).

Research shows that individuals who feel a strong need for social approval are more likely to engage in help-seeking behaviors (e.g., Nadler, 1983), particularly when they fail to resolve problems on their own (e.g., DePaulo, 1982; DePaulo, Dull, Greenberg, & Swaim, 1989).

In essence, individuals with a strong need for social approval believe that social contact will harness comfort, sympathy, and protection (Hill, 1991). Further, because of their tendencies, individuals with high need for social approval are better able to read social cues. As a result, they avoid or “retreat” from threatening situations or situations that produce negative emotions (e.g., Exline, 1963; Mehrabian & Ksionzky, 1974; Terhune, 1968). Hill (1991) argues that aversive situations are particularly punishing to those with high need for social approval.

This review suggests that individuals with a high need for social approval will most likely respond to perceived aggression with non-aggression. Instigating further aggression against their harmdoer or against others would be far too threatening, making retaliatory aggression and displaced aggression unlikely. Instead, those with a high need for social approval would more likely seek out social contact and support as a consequence of perceived aggression.

Hypothesis 4: Need for social approval will moderate the positive relationship between perceived aggression and (a) constructive problem-solving such that the relationship will be stronger when need for social approval is high rather than low, and the positive relationship between perceived aggression and (b) retaliatory aggression and (c) displaced aggression will be stronger when need for social approval is low rather than

–  –  –

Subjects and Study Design Participants were business school undergraduates from a large, southeastern university.

The experiment was masked within an undergraduate management course. At the onset of the course, students were given informed consent material, which explained that various learning activities may be used for research studying sensitive issues in the workplace. Seventy-seven students volunteered to participate. Participants’ average age was 23.7 (SD = 4.79); 46.8% were female, 70.1% were white (6.5% were Black; 13% were Hispanic), and 93.5% were undergraduate seniors (6.5% were juniors). Eight students had volunteered but were not included in the study because they either did not attend class the day of the experiment (n=7) or the student left the classroom during the experiment and was not allowed to return (n=1) 3.

The study was a 2 x 2 design, with participants randomly assigned into conditions (aggression: yes/no; fear of retaliation: high/low). Approximately an equal number of subjects (ranging from 16 to 19) were assigned to each cell of the design. However, the 2x2 design was essentially only used to test for the fear of retaliation hypothesis. With all other hypotheses, only perceived aggression was manipulated (high/low).

Procedure At the beginning of the semester, participants completed a questionnaire, which included the personality variables of interest to this study. The actual experiment and manipulations took place a week following the course’s first exam.

The student who left the classroom did not leave because of the experiment. Rather, the student was going to the restroom. However, because the student saw the instructor sitting outside the classroom, the student understood the exam appraisal was an activity, and was unable to return to the experiment. The student was immediately debriefed on the true nature of the experiment.





The day of the experiment, participants were seated as they enter the classroom, and provided a cover story for the experiment. Students were told that their instructor was not available; however, the researcher was attending their class to pass out assignments for the instructor and ask for their help on behalf of the Management Department’s administration.

Specifically, the researcher was to (1) pass out their graded exams, (2) have them complete a peer evaluation form, and (3) ask them to complete an Instructor Evaluation form and general services questionnaire for the Management Department.

The researcher first distributed the exams to the students, which included the perceived aggression manipulation. The instructor’s comments, which were handwritten on the exams, were the source of perceived aggression. (See Table 1 for a Summary of the Manipulations.) Students were told that because the researcher could not discuss the nature of the exam, if they had any questions or comments, they should feel free to write them for the instructor on the back of the exam (i.e., constructive problem-solving).

–  –  –

After ten minutes, the exams were collected, and the researcher then distributed the Instructor Evaluation Form (i.e., assessment for retaliatory aggression) and Peer Evaluation Form (i.e., assessment for displaced aggression) to the participants. The researcher also set up the fear of retaliation manipulation at this time. Fear of retaliation was manipulated with information about whether or not the instructor was going to see the students’ completed Instructor Evaluation form.

Upon completion of the evaluation forms, participants were given a final questionnaire to complete. This questionnaire contained the manipulation checks. However, the students were told that the final questionnaire was to evaluate the Department’s services (e.g., books, courses offered). Once all students completed the final questionnaire, the researcher thanked them for their time, asked them to wait one minute more, and left the classroom. The instructor for the class was waiting outside the classroom to assist with the debriefing. The researcher immediately entered the room with the instructor and began to debrief the students about the true nature of the experiment.

Debriefing. The researcher explained that the comments provided on the exam were “phony” answers to best depict a perceived aggression (or intentionally harmful comments) by the instructor. The researcher explained that the comments in no way reflect the true feelings of the instructor nor do they represent the true comments of the instructor regarding the students’ performance on the exams or their class standing. The discussion continued until the participants appeared to fully understand and accept the nature of the study, as well as the use of deception (Greenberg & Folger, 1988). Further, in this undergraduate course, part of the curriculum is learning about workplace aggression and the impact of insensitive treatment. Therefore, the debriefing discussions were also used as a learning exercise to highlight this course material.

Afterwards, the students then received their actually-graded exams. (See Appendix C:

Debriefing Procedure.) Manipulations Pilot Testing the Manipulations. Two pilot studies were conducted to test the manipulations. The first pilot study was conducted requiring subjects to evaluate the validity of the perceived aggression manipulation. The second pilot study was conducted requiring subjects to both the perceived aggression and fear of retaliation manipulations through a scenario-based exam setting. The subjects were drawn from the same population as the main study. I discuss each pilot study in detail below.

Pilot Study 1. The purpose of the first pilot study was to identify instructor comments that would be perceived as most harmful and anger-provoking (perceived aggression), and those that were considered neutral and low anger-provoking (no perceived aggression). In the first pretest, 39 students volunteered to participate for course credit, and were asked to evaluate 39 comments that an instructor might write on one of their exams. For each comment, students were asked to indicate how constructive or destructive the statement appeared (1=very constructive, 2=constructive, 3=somewhat constructive, 4=neutral, neither constructive nor destructive, 5=somewhat destructive, 6=destructive, 7=very destructive). Constructive comments were defined as those that were helpful, considerate, supportive, and provide useful feedback for the work. Destructive comments were defined as discouraging, threatening, pessimistic, and might be viewed as a personal attack. Further, for each comment, students were asked to indicate how the statement made them feel (1=not at all angry, 2=not very angry, 3=somewhat angry, 4=angry, 5=very angry, 6=highly angry, 7=extremely angry).

Each statement was evaluated based on its average of destructiveness and provoked anger. Eight statements were identified to represent perceived aggression; in particular, comments perceived to be the most destructive (i.e., harmful) (averages ranged from 6.08 to 6.82; SD = 1.06 and.45, respectively) and the most anger-provoking (averages ranged from 5.38 to 5.90; SD = 1.59 and 1.37, respectively). Eight separate statements were identified to represent low perceived aggression. These statements averaged more closely to neutral on the constructive/destructive scale (averages ranged from 3.49 to 4.0; SD =.82 and.71, respectively) and were low on anger-provocation (averages ranged from 1.41 to 2.10; SD =.79 and 1.33 respectively). The final 16 statements are provided in Table 1, Summary of Manipulations.

Pilot Study 2. The purpose of the second pilot test was to the perceived aggression manipulation and the fear of retaliation manipulation within a scenario-based exam setting.

Overall, 88 students volunteered to participate for course credit. The scenario was divided into two different sections. The first section assessed the perceived aggression manipulation. The second section assessed the fear of retaliation manipulation.

To evaluate the perceived aggression manipulation, the first section of the second pilot

test asked the students to:

Imagine you received an exam back in one of your classes. Your grade was the grade you typically receive and was about what you expected. In looking through

the exam, you find the instructor wrote the following comments:

Reflecting on these comments, students were then asked to respond to a series of questions about the scenario. Two items asked to rate the comments on a 7-point scale (1=not at all, 7=extremely) about how the comments made them feel (specifically, whether they felt anger and frustration) (alpha=.90). Participants were also asked to evaluate the instructor (which would allow the researcher to see if the perceived aggression manipulation positively influenced retaliatory reactions). The 6-item measure asked them to rate the instructor on a Likert-like scale (1=strongly disagree, 7=strongly agree) (alpha=.92). Sample items include “The instructor is insensitive” and “The instructor has respect and dignity for students (reverse coded). Lastly, students were asked to evaluate the overall nature of the comments, which was the manipulation check for the instructor comments. The 5-item measure asked participants to rate the comments on a Likert-like scale (1=strongly disagree, 7=strongly agree) (alpha=.86). Sample items include “The comments provided by the instructor were mean-spirited” and “I felt the comments written by the instructor were more personal attacks than constructive criticism.” To evaluate the fear of retaliation manipulation, the second part of the scenario asked students to imagine that after they received the exam feedback, a Department representative asked them to evaluate their instructor. In the scenario for the high fear of retaliation condition, the students were told that the Department asked them to write their name, class section and instructor name on the form, and the Department representative told them that the instructor would see their completed evaluations within the next day or so. In the scenario for the low fear of retaliation condition, students were not required to write their names on the instructor evaluation form, and were told that the instructor would not receive a copy of the evaluation;



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