A Motivational Analysis of Group Schisms

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Splinter groups are frequently recognized to be more violent and extreme in ideology than their parent groups, suggesting a need to understand how such schisms arise. Despite their practical significance, however, group schisms are relatively neglected as a topic of interest in social psychological research. Drawing from the literatures of motivation and group processes, the present research sought to further social psychological perspectives on group schisms with an emphasis on explaining the phenomenon of extreme splinter groups. A motivational model of group schisms exploring the roles of goal commitment, group commitment, and expectancy beliefs was developed and tested across six studies using varied designs and samples. Pilot Studies 1-3 supported the central tenet that commitment to a focal goal is associated with increased support for a schism from a moderate group to join an extreme splinter group. Studies 1-3 extended these findings by exploring the effects of social identity and expectancy beliefs. Study 1 found that commitment to a focal goal increased the desire to split from a group to pursue more extreme means to a goal, but social identification with the parent group worked independently to reduce desire for a schism. Study 2 revealed that the relationship between goal commitment and support for a schism could be attenuated when the parent group was perceived as open to compromise. Finally, Study 3 yielded evidence of a three-way interaction effect of commitment, identification with a parent group, and perceptions of a potential splinter group’s efficacy on support for a schism. Implications of these findings for understanding group processes in general and extremist splinter groups in particular are discussed.