Research Program

The Group Processes and Leadership Laboratory has a number of research agendas underway. Our research is theory driven, largely drawing on social identity theory, as well as related subtheories such as the social identity theory of leadership, uncertainty identity theory, and intergroup leadership theory.

Below is a sample of our on-going research programs.


Unexpected Leadership

Social transformation is an ever-present, often disruptive and sometimes violent and destructive feature of the modern world. Leaders play a key role, for good and for evil, in initiating and steering this process that lies at the intersection of social psychological research on leadership, influence and social change. Traditionally, leadership research and practice focus on what we consider to be ‘expected’ leaders: white men. We are, however, interested in the opposite: how social categories can be transformed, for good or for evil, by what we might call “outsiders”, those who are powerless or low-status individuals and members of demographic minorities; marginal, fringe, or atypical members of a group; members of minority subgroups, or factions within a larger group.

Social identity is an important component in this situation, where considerations of followers’ self-conception are evoked and managed by the group’s leadership. Drawing on the social identity theory of leadership (Hogg, 2001; Hogg, van Knippenberg, & Rast, 2012a), we investigate the group processes and contextual differences that promote the emergence of these ‘unexpected’ leaders. Integrating uncertainty-identity theory (Hogg, 2007), for instance, we have demonstrated that feelings of uncertainty empower ‘unexpected’ leaders, ranging from non-representative, fringe, or marginal group leaders (Rast et al., 2012; Rast, Hogg, & Tomory, 2015) to autocratic leaders (Rast, Hogg, & Giessner, 2013) to change-oriented leadership (Rast, Hogg, & Giessner, 2016).

Our current research continues this theme by identifying and investigating the social psychological process that foster ‘unexpected’ leader emergence in times of uncertainty (see Rast, 2015). This includes, but is not limited to minority influence, leader rhetoric, extremist leadership, and the selection and emergence of female leaders. We are especially interested in how/when leaders, particularly extremist, deviant, or non-prototypical leaders, can strategically use uncertainty to their advantage as a means to strengthen their support by providing ways to ease follower uncertainty and by emphasizing a shared social identity.

In addition to our research program in this area, we also organized a European Association of Social Psychology Small Group Meeting on unexpected leadership (Rast, Hogg, & Randsley de Moura, 2015) and edited a special issue of the Journal of Issues on this topic (Rast, Hogg, & Randsley de Moura, 2018).


Intergroup Leadership

Leaders are often called upon to bring conflict-ridden subgroups together to achieve organizational goals. Conflicts often revolve around self-contained subgroups with distinct identities that define their members. The challenge is to avoid provoking a subgroup identity threat. To address this challenge, Hogg, van Knippenberg, and Rast (2012b) developed a formal theory of intergroup leadership, which argues that effective intergroup leadership requires the leader to develop and promote an intergroup relational identity – a social identity defined in terms of the cooperative and mutually promotive relationship between subgroups.

Our current research examines strategies that help a leader build an intergroup relational identity, including appropriate leadership rhetoric, identity embodiment, and boundary spanning coalitions (e.g., Rast, 2012; Rast, Hogg, & van Knippenberg, in press). We are also applying this theory to real-world situations, such as conducting applied research aimed at improving cross-group interactions between Christians and Muslims in the US or doctors and nurses in hospitals. We hope to create cost-effective training interventions for organizations and militaries to improve collaboration and cooperation between units and departments.


2016 US Presidential Election

We have published theoretically driven research on the past two US Presidential Elections. Our research focuses on understanding the pre-election intergroup context between Democrats and Republicans, and how this shapes the post-election intragroup and intergroup context. We have published recently examining the effects of winning and losing the Presidency on perceived attitudinal similarity of voters and the Democrat and Republican Presidential candidates (Alabastro, Rast, et al., 2013); we examined how voters respond ingroup and outgroup Presidential candidates following an intergroup success or failure (Rast, Hackett, Alabastro, & Hogg, 2014); and finally, we investigated the impact of the Tea Party on Democratic and Republican attitudes (Gaffney, Rast, et al., 2014).

Building off these studies, we are currently studying the impact of the Republican primary candidates (and their policy positions) on voter attitudes. Once the Republican (Trump) and Democratic (Clinton) candidates were selected, we then moved forward to examine the intergroup relations between constituents and how this impacts Presidential voting intention. Since Trump’s electoral victory in November 2016, we have continued conducting experiments and surveys investigating the impact of Trump’s leadership on group processes and intergroup relations within the US and abroad, including but not limited to collective action and protest (Gaffney, Hackett, Rast, Hohman, & Jaurique, in press), prejudice and discrimination, social change, equality, deviance, group polarization, and intra- and intergroup communication.


White and Southern Pride

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered and attacked nearly a dozen victims (killing nine) at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. When arrested, Roof confessed to committing the shooting in an attempt to ignite a race war in America. After the shooting, websites and media outlets began posting Roof’s manifesto on white supremacy, as well as pictures of Roof with the Confederate Flag. He is currently on trial and facing at least 33 charges of hate crimes and nine counts of murder.

Around this same time, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Republication Party’s Presidential nominee. In his candidacy announcement, Trump discussed his view of Hispanic immigrants in America. He stated, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with [them]. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” More recently, in a campaign visit to Alabama, Trump’s speech was met with screams of “white power” from the audience.

Unfortunately, both of these events seem to have evoked a greater amount of intergroup hostility and racism in the US. This negativity has spread to other racial/ethnic groups as well (e.g., Scott Walker proposing a wall built across the Canada-US border to keep illegal Canadians from entering America). As such, we are interested in better understanding the social identity associated with “southern pride” or “white pride”, and then applying this to reduce intergroup conflict between White and Hispanic or African Americans, or potentially even Americans and Canadians.