In-depth: Relative Deprivation and Social Identity Theory as Antecedents of the 2014 NHS Strike

Summer Hubble is a third-year psychology undergraduate. As part of her module on intergroup conflict, she looked into the October 2014 NHS strike.

On 13th October 2014 NHS staff including nurses, midwives and paramedics took part in a four hour strike over pay (Triggle, 2014a). Six trade unions took part with a total of 410,480 union members in England and Northern Ireland potentially striking. The strike was in protest to the refusal of a 1% increase in pay. However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that the proposed increase would result in the loss of 4,000 nurses in the year 2015 and 10,000 nurses in the year 2016 (BBC News Health, 2014). I’d like to examine two social-psychological theories, relative deprivation and social identity theory, in explaining the antecedents for this conflict.

Relative Deprivation (RD) was first proposed by Stouffer et al. in 1949 (Stouffer et al., 1949; as cited in Walker & Smith, 2002). The theory states that if an individual (egoistic RD) or group (fraternal RD) believes they do not have what they deserve in comparison to other groups there will be feelings of anger and resentment (Smith, Pettigrew, Pippin, & Bialosiewicz, 2011). This process occurs in three stages. The first stage is a comparison, the second is a cognitive appraisal leading to the perception that the individual or group is at a disadvantage and the third is the assessment that this disadvantage is unfair. This assessment of fairness is important as an individual or group can be disadvantaged compared to another and perceive it as just, in which case RD does not occur. Walker and Smith (2002) state that “people’s reactions to objective circumstances depend on their subjective comparisons” (p.1).

In the case of the NHS strike, the staff felt that they were disadvantaged in terms of pay compared to the rate of inflation, which was 2% when talks began and 1.2% in September, just before the strike. Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, clearly demonstrated that the experience of RD had occurred, as she stated, “it feels to a great many people, including midwives, that there is one rule for them [MPs] and another rule for everybody else” (Triggle, 2014a, para. 31). This remark refers to the pay rise of 11.5% for MP’s, which was quoted by Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal Collage of Nursing (Triggle, 2014b). Prof. Warwick also stated, “at a time when MPs are set for a 10% pay hike, we’re told that midwives don’t deserve even a below-inflation 1% rise” (Triggle, 2014a, para. 30). This statement demonstrates one of the six preconditions for RD, as proposed by Crosby (1976; as cited in Sweeney, McFarlin & Inderrieden, 1990). Crosby’s (1976; as cited in Sweeney et al., 1990) model of RD has been used by many researchers in organisational behaviour and been found to have many of the same subjective predictors as does satisfaction with income (Sweeney et al., 1990).

Sweeney, McFarlin and Inderrieden (1990) conducted four studies to further investigate if Crosby’s (1976; as cited in Sweeney et al., 1990) preconditions for RD are useful for explaining pay satisfaction. They found empirical evidence in support of this hypothesis and note that social comparisons of similar others are particularly important. This can be seen in the case of the NHS strike, as further to the pay discrepancy between NHS staff and MPs (Triggle, 2014b, para. 13):

data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the RCN shows that the amount spent on executive directors, who sit on the boards of NHS trusts, has grown by an average of 6.1% in the last two years compared to the 1.6% extra nurses, health visitors and midwives have got.

Social identity theory (SIT) could also have played a part as an antecedent for the conflict. SIT states that part of the self-concept is defined by the social groups individuals belong to (Trepte, 2006). Tajfel (1979; as cited in Trepte, 2006) suggested four underlying principles of SIT. These are social categorisation, social comparison, social identity and self-esteem. Social categorisation is a cognitive tool to help us make sense of our surroundings; however, the mere categorisation of social groups is enough to create a bias for one’s own group (Billig & Tajfel, 1973; Tajfel & Billig, 1974; Tajfel et al., 1971; as cited in Gaertner & Insko, 2000). Social comparison between one’s own group and other groups then occurs and social identity is formed from this (Trepte, 2006). An individual’s aim is to achieve positive social identity, which also leads to in-group favouritism (Brown, 2000) and competition for a higher status position in the social order (Brown, 2000; Hogg, Terry & White, 1995).

There is much research into social identity within organisations (Haslam, van Knippenberg, Platow & Ellemers, 2003). Ashforth and Mael (1989) explain that an individual’s social identity may derive from the organisation they belong to, their work group, department, union or even lunch group. Although there is little published evidence specifically on the social identity of NHS workers, research has found that they fit with existing literature on organisational social identity (Edwards, 2003). Edwards (2003) conducted a case study and discovered identification with the NHS is mediated by the support it provides for employees and the distinctiveness and attractiveness of the NHS as a place to work. Lancaster Patient Safety Research Unit conducted an analysis of social identity within healthcare workers and found the notion of being part of a team to be emphasised greatly by participants. They conclude that the healthcare professionals in their study reported strong identification with groups within their workplace.

When balloted regarding their opinions on striking, “some 68% [of Unison members] voted in favour of a strike and 88% for industrial action short of a strike” (Triggle, 2014c, para. 10) and “more than 94% of midwives and maternity support workers taking part in a consultation said they would consider strike action” (Gallagher, 2014). These majority votes demonstrate a group norm within NHS workers, which is a thought, feeling or behaviour shared within a group. SIT states that group norms define the group and become internalised for the individual group members so that they actually influence behaviour (Hogg & Reid, 2006). These majority votes for strike action are an example of when this group behaviour is driven towards gaining a better position in the social order, as SIT predicts (Brown, 2000; Hogg, Terry & White, 1995).

Overall, there are two theories from social psychology which explain the reason for the conflict that arose from the dispute over pay. The first and most prominent theory is relative deprivation. Relative deprivation states that conflict arises when a group feels they are unfairly disadvantaged compared to another group (Stouffer et al., 1949; as cited in Walker & Smith, 2002; Smith, Pettigrew, Pippin, & Bialosiewicz, 2011).The NHS staff felt they deserved a 1% pay increase, however despite the 11.5% pay increase MP’s received (Triggle, 2014b), this request was rejected by the Department of Health. The second social-psychological theory that can explain the strike is social identity theory. Social identity theory states that the self-concept is defined by the groups individuals belong to (Trepte, 2006). NHS workers have a social identity (Edwards, 2003) and group norms which shape behaviour (Hogg & Reid, 2006). By striking the staff engaged in competition for a higher social position and a more positive identity, as predicted by social identity theory (Brown, 2000; Hogg et al., 1995).


Ashforth, B. E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. The Academy of Management Review, 141, 20-39.

BBC News Business. (2014, October 14). Economy tracker: Inflation. BBC News. Retrieved from

BBC News Politics. (2014, March 13). Fresh squeeze on NHS pay sparks union strike warning. BBC News. Retrieved from

Brown, R. (2000). Social identity theory: Past achievements, current problems and future challenges. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30(6), 745-778.

Edwards, M. R. (2003). Disentangling organisational identification: A case study of an NHS trust. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, King’s College London, England.

Gaertner, L., & Insko, C. A. (2000). Intergroup discrimination in the minimal group paradigm: Categorization, reciprocation, or fear? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 791, 77-94.

Gallagher, J. (2014, June 30). Midwives support strike action. BBC News. Retrieved from

Haslam, S. A., van Knippenberg, D., Platow, M. J., & Ellemers, N. (Eds.). (2003).Social identity at work: Developing theory for organizational practice. Hove, England: Psychology Press.

Hogg, M. A., Terry, D. J., & White, K. M. (1995). A tale of two theories: A critical comparison of identity theory with social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58(4), 255-269.

Hogg, M. A., & Reid, S. A. (2006). Social identity, self‐categorization, and the communication of group norms.Communication Theory,161, 7-30.

Lancaster Patient Safety Research Unit. (2014). Professional identity and communication. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from

Smith, H. J., Pettigrew, T. F., Pippin, G. M., & Bialosiewicz, S. (2011). Relative deprivation: A theoretical and meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 163, 203-232. doi:10.1177/1088868311430825

Sweeney, P. D., McFarlin, D. B., & Inderrieden, E. J. (1990). Using relative deprivation theory to explain satisfaction with income and pay level: A multistudy examination. The Academy of Management Journal, 332, 423-436.

Trepte, S. (2006). Society identity theory. In: J. Bryant & P. Varderer (Eds). Psychology of entertainment (pp. 255–271).New York: Routledge.

Triggle, N. (2014a, October 13). NHS staff staging four-hour strike over pay. BBC News. Retrieved from

Triggle, N. (2014b, June 16). Target MPs over pay – nurse leader. BBC News. Retrieved from

Triggle, N. (2014c, September 18). NHS staff vote in favour for strike action. BBC News. Retrieved from

Walker, I., & Smith, H. J. (2002). Fifty years of relative deprivation research. In I. Walker & H. J. Smith (Eds.). Relative deprivation: Specification, development and integration (pp. 1-12). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

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Carols, Folk and Community

At this time of year, as the school’s resident music psychologist, life is normally all about singing and playing carols. Sheffield is my adopted northern home, having trained, worked and lived there for 13 years. “Oooop” north, as those down here say, we have a lot of local traditions; Sheffield carols has being going on since the 18th century—it is one of Yorkshire’s best.

For a few hundred years, Sheffielders have gathered in local pubs (particularly in the North West of the city down into Derbyshire) and sung Christmas Carols. ‘So what?’ you might say, ‘I sing Christmas Carols at home whilst prepping the brussels.’ But these, dear southerners, are a very special, quite magical and an entirely different community experience.

Sometimes these carols are a cappella, sometimes accompanied by a brass band or the pub’s organ, but they are always complemented by a pint or two. Carol sessions begin in November and are mostly riotous, boozy and packed into the back room of a pub. Done this way, they aren’t really for listening to; they are for experiencing, joining in, and they are a life-loving event (remember that when you look at the clips!). As a psychologist interested in how we can enhance health and wellbeing through music, it is the sense of community, shared meaning, and the physicality of singing and engaging in that experience that interests me. It is quite amazing, unique, and makes me proud to be a northerner (as I’m sure it does for everyone who attends these events).

The music, however, is not your traditional ‘While Shepherds Watched’, or ‘Ding-Dong Merrily’. It has often been created locally, over hundreds of years. By locally, I mean tiny enclaves of Sheffield: Bradfield, Stannington, Loxely, Dungworth, Oughtibridge. Many of these areas will vary their words, melody, tempo and harmony depending on which location, or indeed which pub you attend. Local compositions and ancient Christmas songs are standard and our sanitised contemporary ‘standards’ are shelved, for the love of communal singing.

Sometimes songs work in a sort of fuge, or call and response manner:

Sometimes words to a known carol (e.g. While Shepherds Watched) are placed over a known tune (e.g. Cranbrook/On Ilkley Moor):

My personal favourite is Diadem: (yes there are elements of harmony, but by a this time of night, they are simply forgotten)

So many elements of this experience are fascinating as a music psychologist: How has this tradition continued and remained part of the South Yorkshire culture? How do the energy and connections (sense of group cohesion and group bonding) enable you to feel pride in being a Sheffielder or northerner? Why is it that, when the majority of traditional choirs or singing groups are made of women, these events contain the whole spectrum of the family, and particularly middle aged men?

There is something wonderful and unexpected about an unlikely, hearty bunch of folk singing the lines ‘behold the grace appears! The promise is fulfilled’ or ‘Hail hail hail, smiling morn, smiling morn.’

Happy Christmas everyone!

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Learning Together @ Home

Parents’ support is especially important for children at the beginning of their school life. However, family members are varied in the way they communicate and interact together, which may influence the process of Learning @ Home and child’s future academic achievement.

The purpose of our project is to observe how parents and children interact with each other when working together on homework, looking specifically at the support the parent provides the child. We will also be looking at what impact the home environment has on how the parent and child interact. The study has an international scope, so we will compare how parents and children from different countries complete homework together.

Would you like to help? We are inviting families to take part in this research study to help us understand what makes family learning interactions so important for children’s achievement.

We are looking for mothers whose children are just at the beginning of their school life (Reception year). In order to participate, you must be the mother of a child between 4 and 5 years old. You and your child will both participate in the project. We are aiming to recruit 100 families from various schools.

If you wish to learn more about Learning Together @ Home project or would like to participate with your child please contact me, Ekaterina Cooper, at Our Facebook page is over at and you can find out more about the project at Learning Together @ Home.

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Animal Behaviours

Last week, a brave band of ninety-two first year psychology undergrads faced wind and sunshine to observe primate behaviour at Howlett’s Animal Park. All this in the name of science! As part of the first year module of ‘Practicals in Psychology’ the students collected observational data in small groups. They recorded positive and negative social interactions in a variety of primates at the park. Previous research has shown that there is no simple relationship between group size, available space and social behaviours (de Waal, 1989; Hosey, 2005).

Although the rather fresh temperatures kept many animals in their warm indoor cages, there was still plenty of action to record, including the intimidating dominance behaviours of a huge silverback gorilla. These were not only directed against its own species but also against visitors, especially some of our male students! Talk about scary… All in all, the students carried out 135 ten-minute observations, resulting in almost 23 hours worth of data.

The data from all observers have now been collated and our first years will use this set to conduct their first ever data analysis. This will then form part of their very first practical report. Some students do find this prospect rather scarier than the silverback…


De Waal, F. (1989). The myth of a simple relation between space and aggression in captive primates. Zoo Biology, 8(S1), 141-148.

Hosey, G. R. (2005). How does the zoo environment affect the behaviour of captive primates? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 90(2), 107-129.

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Conference Roundup 2: Music and Wellbeing; Criminal Psychology

Kate Gee attended a symposium at the Royal College of Music on September 9th and 10th, which focused on recent advances in the science of singing, wellbeing and health. Kate writes:

Technical hitches are usually the presenter’s stuff of nightmares, not so for Rickard Astrom the performer, composer, lecturer (and self-confessed introvert). He is part of the Gothenburg research team BodyScore, and whilst the Bluetooth heart rate monitor connections failed him, he expertly vamped on the piano to entertain a couple of hundred conference delegates.

Astrom published a pioneering paper into the synchronization of heart-rate variability during singing, and was one of eight key note speakers invited to a joint venture between CCCU’s Sidney De Haan Research Centre and the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London.

The RCM is in a beautiful part of London, surrounded by the legacy of The Great Exhibition (The Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College, VA); a fitting centre for a contemporary exploration into the science of music.

Both the closed (RCM and Sidney De Haan) and open sessions were a complete joy to be involved with. I have met old friends, and academics that I have only previously admired on paper. I have listened to people discussing the evolutionary significance of singing, and the complex relationships between singing and chronic or terminal health conditions.

For me the beautiful part of being a music psychologist is experiencing and engaging in music, as well as producing academic critique. This conference was no exception and I took part in some phenomenal workshops: particular highlights were listening to ‘Choir with No Name’ perform, as well as discussing the personal impact singing had upon their wellbeing and sense of self. (Choir with No Name are drawn from London’s homeless population or otherwise reside on the edges of society). It was also a pleasure to experience some of the ‘VOCES8 Method’ lead by accomplished singer and educator Paul Smith. From brief encounters sometimes great things happen, and I’m hoping to be able to conduct some education and research work for The Gresham Centre as part of my knowledge exchange work.

Professor Robin Dunbar talks about singing, endorphins and evolution
Professor Robin Dunbar talks about singing, endorphins and evolution

Liz Spruin attended the Society for Police Criminal Psychology conference in Las Vegas. Liz writes:

The conference focused on the criminal justice system and the application of behavioral science knowledge to problems in criminal justice, including law enforcement, judicial, and corrections elements. There were 50 presentations, an engaging keynote speaker (Dr. Robert Hogan of Hogan Assessments), and over 25 poster session presentations. Conference topics included international perspectives and ranged from criminal justice, investigations, clinical assessments, threat assessments, and interventions to operational psychology. I presented a paper on the criminal narratives of mentally disordered offenders which was well received by the Suffolk County Detectives Association.

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Conference Roundup: BPS Social, Developmental and Cognitive Conferences

Dennis Nigbur opens the BPS Social Psychology Conference 2014 here at Christ Church
Dennis Nigbur opens the BPS Social Psychology Conference 2014

Dennis Nigbur helped organise the British Psychological Society Social Psychology Conference here at Christ Church.

We brought the conference to Christ Church this year! Delegates enjoyed three days of presentations, posters, and very nice food. The conference theme, “The personal and the political in social psychology”, played to our school’s strengths, including interdisciplinary talks about migration and political engagement. Drs Nicola Abbott, Mark Bennister, Lorena Arocha, Laura Cashman, John FitzGibbon and Anke Franz represented our School with their contributions, and our graduate Patrick Readshaw presented some of his doctoral research in Media and Communication. Our undergraduates also did a brilliant job as stewards! Robert McCrea, CEO of Migrant Help, gave a well-received keynote speech, mentioning the collaboration between his organisation and our university. #spsconf

Nicola Abbott speaks on her bullying research
Nicola Abbott speaks about her bullying research
Amanda Carr talks about her research on toddlers' use of technology
Amanda Carr talks about her research on toddlers’ use of technology

Nicola Abbott attended the BPS Social Psychology Conference as well as the BPS Developmental Conference in Amsterdam

In addition to the fantastic location, this conference attracted delegates from across the globe, providing a diversity of expertise in Developmental Psychology. Among which, I and Dr. Amanda Carr represented Psychology here at Canterbury Christ Church University. I presented a paper evaluating an anti-bullying programme that used role-play to empower students to help victims of bullying. Amanda’s paper examined the effects of screen time (e.g. iPads) on children’s focused attention. The conference covered a wide range of issues in Developmental Psychology, however, a number of clear ‘hot’ topics emerged including: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Gender, Bullying and Technology use (including a fascinating keynotes from Professor Francesca Happe, Professor Carol Martin, Dr Yusuke Muriguchi and Professor Patti Valkenberg). All credit to Patrick Leman – we enjoyed the Psychology, and ourselves! Interestingly, next year the Developmental Psychology Section will be joining with the Social Psychology Section for a combined Annual Conference in Manchester! We look forward to the Developmental and Social bonding at #devsocconf.

Dr Andrew Dunn introduces Professor Emeritus Graham Hitch, who spoke about a decade of research on the episodic buffer
Andrew Dunn introduces Graham Hitch

Ian Hocking attended the BPS Cognitive Section Conference in Nottingham

This year’s conference had a variety of themes: face processing in the forensic context, attention capacity, learning and memory in visual search, thinking and reasoning, and emotion and cognition. I was there to present the findings of a study that examined the role of training techniques in creative problem finding, which David Vernon and myself recently carried out. As expected, I received plenty of useful feedback and met colleagues with similar interests. The conference itself ran like clockwork under the watchful eyes of Dr Andrew Dunn and Dr Duncan Guest. Highlights included innovative use of eye-movement tracking (in show jumping!) and a keynote by Dr Richard Harris, Professor Andy Young and Professor Tim Andrews on continuous vs. categorical face processing. #cogsec2014

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Official Opening of the New Psychology Labs

After a year of planning, architectural meetings, and a long ride on the logistical roller-coaster, we can finally celebrate our new labs! These are state-of-the-art in design and equipment terms. We’re looking forward to the expansion in our research and teaching capacity.

A big thanks to Faculties and Estates (particularly Rob Thrower), as well as Computing Services (especially Jan Hope), for doing all the hard work.

Onwards, upwards and (speaking psychology) inwards!

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Golden Apples in Psychology

Here at CCCU we started the week off with a bang by hosting our Learning and Teaching conference #CCCLT14. Staff from across the University gathered to discuss and recognise good practice. The day consisted of presentations and workshops on a diverse range of topics, from employability to “I can see clearly now, the feedback has come!” …and even pottery! But across all talks and workshops, the overall message was clear: the Higher Education Curriculum should not be viewed as static. Instead it should evolve to include students as partners in the exploring and developing Learning and Teaching.

One way that CCCU is already doing this is by holding the Golden Apple Awards–a scheme run by the Students’ Union to enable students to reward staff who exhibit exceptional teaching and/or support, or are particularly inspiring within their field. Students from across the University are welcome to nominate any member of staff or support department who have influenced their development.

Nowhere was this more prevalent than in the Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences, with a staggering 50 members of staff nominated. Not only that, but 10 of those nominations were for staff within the School of Psychology, which included the winner, Britta Osthaus!

An example of one student nomination was read out, which clearly highlighted the exceptional teaching and support that Britta provides, and her tremendous enthusiasm for teaching. We are thrilled to have a Golden Apple in our Team–congratulations Britta!

Golden Apple Award winner Britta Osthaus at the CCCU Learning and Teaching Conference 2014
Golden Apple Award winner Britta Osthaus at the CCCU Learning and Teaching Conference 2014
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