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File:Black sheep-1.jpg
A black sheep stands out from the flock
File:Black sheep2.jpg
The Black Sheep, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose by William Wallace Denslow

In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family. The term stems from the genetic effect in sheep whereby a recessive gene occasionally manifests in the birth of a sheep with black rather than white coloring; these sheep stand out in the flock.

The term has typically been given negative implications, implying waywardness.[1] It derived from the atypical and unwanted presence of other black individuals in flocks of white sheep.

In psychology, the black sheep effect refers to the tendency of group members to judge likeable ingroup members more positively and deviant ingroup member more negatively than comparable outgroup members.[2]

New members of a group must prove themselves to the full members, or “old-timers”, to become accepted. Full members have undergone socialization and are already accepted within the group. They have more privilege than newcomers but more responsibility to help the group achieve its goals. Marginal members were once full members but lost membership because they failed to live up to the group’s expectations. They can rejoin the group if they go through re-socialization. In a Bogart and Ryan study, the development of new members' stereotypes about in-groups and out-groups during socialization was surveyed. Results showed that the new members judged themselves as consistent with the stereotypes of their in-groups, even when they had recently committed to join those groups or existed as marginal members. They also tended to judge the group as a whole in an increasingly less positive manner after they became full members.[3]

Depending on the self-esteem of an individual, members of the in-group may experience different private beliefs about the group’s activities but will publicly express the opposite—that they actually share these beliefs. One member may not personally agree with something the group does, but to avoid the black sheep effect, they will publicly agree with the group and keep the private beliefs to themselves. If the person is privately self-aware, he or she is more likely to comply with the group even if they possibly have their own beliefs about the situation.[4]

In situations of hazing within fraternities and sororities on college campuses, pledges may encounter this type of situation and may outwardly comply with the tasks they are forced to do regardless of their personal feelings about the Greek institution they are joining. This is done in an effort to avoid becoming an outcast of the group.[3] Outcasts who behave in a way that might jeopardize the group tend to be treated more harshly than the likeable ones in a group, creating a black sheep effect. Full members of a fraternity might treat the incoming new members harshly, causing the pledges to decide if they approve of the situation and if they will voice their disagreeing opinions about it.

In 1988, Marques, Yzerbyt and Leyens conducted an experiment where Belgian students rated the following groups according to trait-descriptors (e.g. sociable, polite, violent, cold): unlikeable Belgian students, unlikeable North African students, likeable Belgian students, and likeable North African students. The results provided support that the favorability is the highest for likeable ingroup members and the lowest for unlikeable ingroup members, whereas the favorability of unlikeable and likeable outgroup members is between the both former ones.[2] These extreme judgements of likeable and unlikeable (i.e., deviant) ingroup members, relatively to comparable outgroup members is called "black sheep effect". This effect has been shown in various intergroup contexts and under a variety of conditions, and in many experiments manipulating likeability and norm deviance.[5][6][7][8]

Explanations Edit

A prominent explanation of the black sheep effect derives from the social identity approach (social identity theory[9] and self-categorization theory[10]). Group members are motivated to sustain a positive and distinctive social identity and, as a consequence, group members emphasize likeable members and evaluate them more positive than outgroup members, bolstering the positive image of their ingroup (ingroup bias). Furthermore, the positive social identity may be threatened by group members who deviate from a relevant group norm. To protect the positive group image, ingroup members derogate ingroup deviants more harshly than deviants of an outgroup (Marques, Abrams, Páez, & Hogg, 2001).[11]

In addition, Eidelman and Biernat showed in 2003 that personal identities are also threatened through deviant ingroup members. They argue that devaluation of deviant members is an individual response of interpersonal differentiation.[12] Khan and Lambert suggested in 1998 that cognitive processes like assimilation and contrast, which may underline the effect, should be examined.[7]

Limitations Edit

Even though there is widely support for the black sheep effect, the opposite pattern has been found, for example, that White participants judge unqualified Black targets more negative than comparable White targets (e.g. Feldman, 1972;[13] Linville & Jones, 1980).[14] Consequentely, there are several factors which influence the black sheep effect. For instance, the higher the identification with the ingroup, and the higher the entitativity of the ingroup, the more the black sheep effect emerges.[15][16] Even situational factors explaining the deviance have an influence whether the black sheep effect occurs.[17]


Origin Edit

In most sheep, a white fleece is not albinism but a dominant gene that actively switches color production off, thus obscuring any other color that may be present.[citation needed] As a result, a black fleece in most sheep is recessive, so if a white ram and a white ewe are each heterozygous for black, in about 25% of cases they will produce a black lamb. In fact in most white sheep breeds only a few white sheep are heterozygous for black, so black lambs are usually much rarer than this.

Idiomatic usage Edit

The term originated from the occasional black sheep which are born into a flock of white sheep due to a genetic process of recessive traits. Black wool was considered commercially undesirable because it could not be dyed.[1] In 18th and 19th century England, the black color of the sheep was seen as the mark of the devil.[18] In modern usage, the expression has lost some of its negative connotations, though the term is usually given to the member of a group who has certain characteristics or lack thereof deemed undesirable by that group.[19] Jessica Mitford described herself as "the red sheep of the family", a communist in a family of aristocratic fascists.[20]

The idiom is also found in other languages, e.g. French, Serbian, Bulgarian, Hebrew, Portuguese, Bosnian, Greek, Turkish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Czech, Slovak, Romanian and Polish. During the Second Spanish Republic a weekly magazine named El Be Negre, meaning 'The Black Sheep', was published in Barcelona.[21]

The same concept is illustrated in some other languages by the phrase "white crow": for example belaya vorona (белая ворона) in Russian and kalag-e sefid (کلاغ سفید) in Persian.


See also Edit

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 (1997) American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. URL accessed 2007-11-13.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Marques, J. M., Yzerbyt, V. Y., & Leyens, J. (1988). The 'Black Sheep Effect': Extremity of judgments towards ingroup members as a function of group identification. European Journal of Social Psychology 18: 1–16.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ryan, Carey S., Bogart, Laura M. (Oct 1997). Development of new group members' in-group and out-group stereotypes: Changes in perceived variability and ethnocentrism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73(4): 719–732.
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Pinto.2C_I._R._2010
  5. Branscombe, N., Wann, D., Noel, J., & Coleman, J. (1993). In-group or out-group extremity: Importance of the threatened social identity.. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 19: 381–388.
  6. Coull, A., Yzerbyt, V. Y., Castano, E., Paladino, M.-P., & Leemans, V. (2001). Protecting the ingroup: Motivated allocation of cognitive resources in the presence of threatening ingroup members. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 4: 327–339.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Khan, S., Lambert, A. J. (1998). Ingroup favoritism versus black sheep effects in observations of informal conversations.. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 20: 263–269.
  8. Pinto, I. R., Marques, J. M., Levine, J. M., & Abrams, D. (2010). Membership status and subjective group dynamics: Who triggers the black sheep effect?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 99: 107–119.
  9. Worchel, S., & Austin, W. G. (1979). The Social psychology of intergroup relations., Monterey, CA: Brooks-Cole.
  10. Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the Social group: A self-categorization theory., Oxford: Blackwell.
  11. Hogg, M. A., & Tindale, S. (2001). Blackwell handbook of social psychology: group processes., Malden, Mass: Blackwell.
  12. Eidelman, S., Biernat, M. (2003). Derogating black sheep: Individual or group protection?. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 39: 602–609.
  13. Feldman, J. M. (1972). Stimulus characteristics and subject prejudice as determinants of stereotype attribution.. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21: 333–340.
  14. Linville, P. W., Jones, E. E. (1980). Polarized appraisals of out-group members. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38: 689–703.
  15. Castano, E., Paladino, M., Coull, A., & Yzerbyt, V. Y. (2002). Protecting the ingroup stereotype: Ingroup identification and the management of deviant ingroup members.. British Journal of Social Psychology 41: 365–385.
  16. Lewis, A. C., Sherman, S. J. (2010). Perceived entitativity and the black-sheep effect: When will we denigrate negative ingroup members?. The Journal of Social Psychology 150: 211–225.
  17. De Cremer, D., Vanbeselaere, N. (1999). I am deviant, because...: The impact of situational factors upon the black sheep effect.. Psychologica Belgica 39: 71–79.
  18. Sykes, Christopher Simon (1983). Black Sheep, New York: Viking Press.
  19. (1992) The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Houghton Mifflin Company. URL accessed 2008-03-24.
  20. "Red Sheep: How Jessica Mitford found her voice" by Thomas Mallon 16 Oct 2007 New Yorker.
  21. El be negre (1931-1936) - La Ciberniz

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