The study investigated whether manipulating the sense of what the norms of the own group (in this case, being a Manchester United fan) were; can affect how people judge authority (i.e. referee) decisions in groups. Specifically, we were interested in the concept of ‘loyalty’. Half of the participants were assigned to ‘loyalty’ condition whereby the interview transcript they read at the start talked about their group as being primarily loyal. On the other hand, the remainder of participants received a transcript where Manchester United was presented as fair group – one that respects rules and fair play. This is similar to some of the techniques that social psychologists have been using over the past few years and is referred to as ‘priming’.
Then, the videos that participants watch were categorised by two dimensions: fairness of the decision and favourability of the decision. In terms of fairness, we previously surveyed football fans (who were of neutral affiliation to MUFC) and asked them which of the referee decisions were fair and which were unfair. In this way, from a pool of 32 videos, we picked 16 that became stimuli for the main study. In terms of favourability of the decision, the videos were split into favourable or unfavourable, based on the outcome of the decision (e.g. when a penalty was given against MUFC, the decision was categorised as unfavourable).
The data shows some effects of thinking of your group as either ‘loyal’ or ‘fair’. So it appears that those who were in the ‘loyal’ condition were more likely to accept the favourable decision (regardless of its fairness) than those who were in ‘fair’ condition. Therefore, the data suggests that if you think as your group as primarily loyal, you may be more likely to accept decisions that favour your group unfairly (yet this bias is was not evident in any other circumstances, e.g. rejecting decisions that were fair but unfavourable).
Furthermore, across all four types of videos (fair/favourable, fair/unfavourable, unfair/favourable, unfair/unfavourable) there are significant differences in decision acceptance. In general, fair decisions were accepted before unfair decisions were. However, within those fair decisions, favourable decisions were more likely to be accepted than unfavourable decisions. This demonstrates a clear interaction between fairness and favourability of the outcome in accepting referee decisions. This is interesting as previous research suggested that people in groups only care about the outcomes and not so much about fairness, but the present study suggests that this is not the case.
Altogether, the data appears to support some of the anecdotal evidence of how people in groups engage with authority decisions. Football is only one of the examples whereby authorities govern groups; for example, police often need to make decisions that may be favourable to one group of citizens, but not the other. One of the avenues of future research is to investigate whether these authority/subordinates relationships unfold in similar ways across different settings.