Social Identity, Leadership and Group Behavior: Theory and Experiments

Moumita Roy

Advisor: Daniel E Houser, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Cesar Martinelli, Johanna Mollerstrom, Thomas Stratmann

Online Location, Online
April 28, 2021, 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM


Social identity has the potential of influencing economic decision-making and has become a defining feature of contemporary society. This dissertation focuses on the behavioral impact of social identity on group behavior and discusses how it can affect diversity, equity and inclusion in organizations and the society at large.

In chapter 1, I report data from a novel laboratory experiment designed to examine whether clientelism can be sustained as a political strategy, and whether social identity impacts the nature or efficacy of clientelism. Electoral clientelism or vote buying has been regarded as undermining democratic institutions and weakening the accountability of the state towards its citizens, especially the poor. Social identity as a form of political mobilization may contribute to this, enabling support to be won with clientelist transfers.  Specifically, I design a voting and leadership game in order to examine whether individuals vote for clientelist allocations by a leader even at the expense of more efficient and egalitarian allocations. The main finding is that group identity does not significantly impact the prevalence of clientelist plans. Leaders are more likely, however, to choose allocations that provide fewer benefits (lower rents) to themselves when they are part of the majority ingroup than when they are in the minority.

In chapter 2, I use a novel laboratory experimental design to study how group identity - both the leader’s and the group’s impact a leader’s effectiveness. I report data from leader-follower games where the leader may or may not share a social identity with the rest of the group. The main findings are that outgroup leaders find it challenging to be as effective as ingroup leaders in encouraging cooperation because they are less likely to be followed and are also less motivated themselves. The belief elicitation results suggest that groups have prior negative beliefs about the effectiveness of outgroup leaders. Negative perceptions of outgroup leaders and the ineffectiveness of outgroup leaders in motivating their groups to a better social outcome can result in a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy. My results have important policy implications regarding equity concerns, cooperation within teams and breaking the shackles of discrimination and prejudice with more representation of minority groups in leadership positions.

In chapter 3, I present a multidisciplinary literature review on diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially in leadership. The many and various benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion help us to understand that it is not only an ethical concern, but it is also advantageous and profitable to pursue a more diverse and inclusive culture in teams, workplaces, organizations, and societies. But attention to diversity, should not be simply about underrepresentation; it should not be limited to cataloging the presence or absence of leaders from diverse groups. It involves rephrasing the conversation about diversity and inclusion, and addressing biases, both conscious and unconscious that may hinder integration.