(Note** The original video referenced in this blog post is no longer available for view. We believe the content of the post remains relevant, but do apologize for any confusion.)
It is not uncommon for a group of people to have one person that fills a dominant role in the group. Whether this be a respected and acknowledged of elected leader or a person that wants to be seen as the leader and attempts to assert their authority over the other people through force of will.
Identifying this relationship can provide a great deal of insight into the group because we can observe how the other group members respond to the blatant attempts at dominance. Do they recognize the threat and respond with dominance right back (fight the threat)? Do they recognize the threat and become clearly uncomfortable (flight from the threat)? Or do they recognize the threat and simply submit, letting the dominant person do whatever they want? Identifying the pre-set patterns that the members of the group execute in the face of dominance can help Marines predict the future actions of people.
Watch this video clip taken from A&E’s Beyond Scared Straight series (NOTE – not every swear word is bleeped out, so this might not be appropriate for the office). The Dominance that the two prison inmates are showing is pretty clear, so I’m not going to waste your time and discuss those, but the file folders that we do want to build on are those that show how people respond to that clear and obvious threat.
The reactions that the teenagers in this episode show are clear “Submissive” and “Uncomfortable” cues. The first teen shown in the clip (David, the fighter) shows submission at the beginning of the clip by instantly doing whatever the male inmate tells him to do, even when it is something undesirable for the teen. In addition to his response to the commands, you can see that his eyes are wide, which is often an indicator of fear, and his body movements are limited.
A few minutes later in the clip, when David is approached again, the inmate confirms the teen’s submissive behavior by directly challenging David to hit him. David’s shoulders stay lowered through this engagement, further confirming the submissive posture. If the shoulders were raised to protect his neck, it would lead me to believe he was shifting to the “uncomfortable” cluster and that he was looking to protect himself. Because his shoulders stay down, he confirms that he has become submissive to the threatening inmate.
The second teen they show (Renee, the shoplifter) has one arm across her chest when she is first approached (potentially rubbing her shoulder as a Pacifying behavior showing that she is uncomfortable in the situation). When approached, she momentarily executes the freeze response, halting all movement and awkwardly leaving her arm in place. The brain relies on the freeze response in order to gain more information before deciding to fight or flee, so it is important to observe how she responds as she transitions out of the freeze response. She remains in a “submissive” posture and continues to limit her movement in a hope to minimize any additional attention. Her eyes are wide in fear, further confirming her submissiveness.
The last girl that is approached (Ashley, also shop lifting), she can be assessed as being uncomfortable. As soon as the male inmate references her “pretty eyes” she turns her head and begins looking for an escape. This observation can be confirmed when the camera focuses on her bouncing leg, which is an indicator that the body is preparing to execute the flight response. Even without any training, the inmate picks up on this indicator and calls her out on it. This teen also shows us why we need to focus on the indicators from the shoulders and below. Despite the expression of anger she tries to maintain on her face and the verbal statements that she isn’t going to cry, her conscious attempts at Dominance are undermined by her true emotional state. When her attempt at dominance failed, you can see the teen shift into a submissive posture as the female inmate enters and continues to challenge her. The teen’s inability to maintain eye contact, the lowering of her voice, and her instant obedience to orders furthers confirms her submission to the inmates.
The way the members of a group interact with each other can provide a wealth of information that we can use predict their future actions. Many people have pre-set patterns that they rely on, and when you can uncover the groups patterns, you open up that window. Once you find the dominant person in the group, figure out how people respond to the authority. Do they just accept it and submit? Does it make them uncomfortable and anxious? Or do they fight fire with fire and respond with dominance right back?