Ukrainians Illustrate how Super-Ordinate Goals Unite Groups

A relatively mature area of social psychology shows how competition breeds contempt and cooperation breeds liking.  This is a rather intuitive and simplistic finding, yet there are likely things that competing groups can do to foster cooperation that they may not be considering.  Just as brothers may fight, but unite against outsiders to their family, so too may competitors unite in the face of some super-ordinate goal.  Sometimes such a goal just needs to be made salient.

Vladimir Putin is making such a goal salient in the Ukraine.  From this New York Times article:

“Yanukovych freed Ukraine and Putin is uniting it,” said Iegor Soboliev, a 37-year-old ethnic Russian who heads a government commission to vet officials of the former regime. “Ukraine is functioning not through its government but through the self-organization of its people and their sense of human decency.”

Mr. Soboliev is a former investigative journalist who grew frustrated that carefully documented revelations of government misbehavior — which he says “wasn’t merely corruption, it was marauding” — were having no impact. He and a few friends formed Volya, a movement dedicated to creating a country of “responsible citizens” and a “state worthy of their trust.”

“People in Odessa, Mykolaiv, Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk are coming out to defend their country,” Mr. Soboliev said. “They have never liked the western Ukrainian, Galician point of view. But they are showing themselves to be equally patriotic. They are defending their country from foreign aggression. Fantastical things are happening.”

Just as in American history, where people rally around the flag in the face of external threats, so too are Ukrainians uniting at a time which could be marked by competition to fill a power vacuum.  This is one area where ecologically valid examples mirror lab studies of the importance of super-ordinate goals in uniting groups.  People who want to unite groups that may otherwise be prone to less productive competitive behavior may want to consider following Putin’s lead and introducing super-ordinate goals amongst would-be enemies.

- Ravi Iyer