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Impact of Incivility

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Impact of Incivility: How uncivil behavior harms students and disrupts learning

A body of research that spans several disciplines has documented the negative effects of personal and workgroup incivility (Estes & Wang, 2008; Lim, Cortina, & Magley, 2005) which can prove particularly risky for college retention.  These effects are both physical and psychological and hold even when controlling for general stress (Lim, Cortina, & Magley, 2005). 

People working in an environment characterized by incivility miss information that is right in front of them. In one study, an experimenter belittled the peer group of the study participants. Participants in turn performed 33% worse on anagram word puzzles and came up with 39% fewer creative ideas during brainstorming tasks than control groups (Porath & Erez, 2007).

Targets of incivility experience feelings of isolationdisengagement, depression, anxiety and increased rates of physical illness (Estes & Wang, 2008), all factors closely tied to retention risks for college students. 

Observers of uncivil behavior also experience negative emotionality (e.g. sadness, fear, anxiety) (Chui & Dietz, 2014; Miner & Eischeid, 2014).  These reported experiences of negative emotionality are greater in severity when observers are witnesses of incivility toward same-gender coworkers.  This relationship is especially strong in males for reported feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety and strongest in females for reported feelings of demoralization (Miner & Eischeid, 2012; Montgomery, Kane, & Vance, 2004).  

Negative emotionality is reported as less severe when observers are witness to incivility toward opposite-gender coworkers.  These findings provide evidence for the notion that observers tend to believe or identify more with targets who share similar social characteristics to themselves (e.g. gender) (Miner & Eischeid, 2012; Montgomery, Kane, & Vance, 2004).   As professors, awareness of gender dynamics at play in these interactions can serve as an important tool for supporting students.

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