Social undermining

Social undermining is the expression of negative emotions directed towards a particular person or negative evaluations of the person as a way to prevent the person from achieving his or her goals. This behavior can often be attributed to certain feelings, such as dislike or anger. The negative evaluation of the person may involvecriticizing his or her actions, efforts or characteristics.[1] Social undermining is seen in relationships between family members, friends, personal relationships and co-workers. Social undermining can affect a person’s mental health, including an increase in depressive symptoms. This behavior is only considered social undermining if the person’s perceived action is intended to hinder their target. When social undermining is seen in the work environment the behavior is used to hinder the co-worker’s ability to establish and maintain a positive interpersonal relationship, success and a good reputation.[2] Examples of how an employee can use social undermining in the work environment are behaviors that are used to delay the work of co-workers, to make them look bad or slow them down, competition with co-workers to gain status and recognition and giving co-workers incorrect or even misleading information about a particular job.[

Do social relationships necessarily protect us from stress, or can they exacerbate the effects of stress on depressive symptoms? To date, research on stress-buffering effects of social support has focused on the positive aspects of social relationships (Cohen, Gottlieb, & Underwood, 2000; Cohen & Wills, 1985). This article takes an approach that recognizes the potential importance of negative aspects of social relationships, or what Vinokur, Price, and Caplan (1996) refer to as social undermining, in the relationship between stress and depressive symptoms. Specifically, in a panel study of married people, both social support (defined here as emotional support received by the participant from the spouse) and social undermining (defined here as negative behaviors initiated by the spouse that are directed toward the participant) were examined as potential moderators of the association between perceived stress and depressive symptoms.

Emotional and behavioral reactions to social undermining: A closer look at perceived offender motives

This study examined how perceptions of underlying offender motives affect victims’ emotional and behavioral reactions toward their offender. Perceived offender motives of malice and greed were embedded in a cognition–emotion–behavior model based on theories of attribution, forgiveness and revenge, and tested in the context of social undermining. Findings suggested that victims distinguished between offender malice and greed, and that these attributions shaped subsequent emotional reactions, which in turn demonstrated independent relations with revenge, avoidance, and reconciliation.


  1. ^ Jump up to:a b Joseph, N. T., Myers, H. F., Schettino, J. R., Olmos, N. T., Bingham-Mira, C., Lesser, I. M., & Poland, R. E. (2011). Support and undermining in interpersonal relationships are associated with treatment response to a trial of antidepressant medication. Psychiatry: Interpersonal And Biological Processes, 74(3), 240-254.
  2. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Greenbaum, R. L.; Mawritz, M.; Eissa, G. (2012). “Bottom-line mentality as an antecedent of social undermining and the moderating roles of core self-evaluations and conscientiousness”. Journal of Applied Psychology 97 (2): 343–359.doi:10.1037/a0025217.
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  4. Jump up^ Vinokur, A. D.; Van Ryn, M. (1993). “Social support and undermining in close relationships: Their independent effects on the mental health of unemployed persons”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65 (2): 350–359. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.65.2.350.
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  11. Jump up^ Tepper, B. J. (2000). “Consequences of abusive supervision”. Academy of Management Journal 43: 178–190. doi:10.2307/1556375.
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  13. ^ Jump up to:a b Hoobler, J. M.; Brass, D. J. (2006). “Abusive supervision and family undermining as displaced aggression”. Journal of Applied Psychology 91 (5): 1125–1133. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.5.1125.
  14. Jump up^ Adams, S. H.; John, O. P. (1997). “A hostility scale for the California Psychological Inventory: MMPI, observer Q-sort, and Big-five correlates”. Journal of Personality Assessment 69: 408–424.doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa6902_11.
  15. Jump up^ Andersson, L. M.; Pearson, C. M. (1999). “Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace”.Academy of Management Review 24: 452–471.doi:10.5465/amr.1999.2202131.
  16. Jump up^ Crocker, J.; Canevello, A. (2008). “Creating and undermining social support in communal relationships: The role of compassionate and self-image goals”.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95 (3): 555–575. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.95.3.555.
  17. ^ Jump up to:a b Benyamini, Y.; Medalion, B.; Garfinkel, D. (2007). “Patient and spouse perceptions of the patient’s heart disease and their associations with received and provided social support and undermining”. Psychology & Health 22 (7): 765–785.doi:10.1080/14768320601070639.
  18. Jump up^ Cranford, J. A. (2004). “Stress-buffering or stress-exacerbation? Social support and social undermining as moderators of the relationship between perceived stress and depressive symptoms among married people”. Personal Relationships 11 (1): 23–40.doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2004.00069.x.PMC 1557676. PMID 16946802.
  19. Jump up^ Mackert, M.; Stanforth, D.; Garcia, A. A. (2011). “Undermining of nutrition and exercise decisions: Experiencing negative social influence”. Public Health Nursing 28 (5): 402–410.
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  21. ^ Jump up to:a b c d McCaskill, J. W.; Lakey, B. (2000). “Perceived support, social undermining, and emotion: Idiosyncratic and shared perspectives of adolescents and their families”. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin 26(7): 820–832. doi:10.1177/0146167200269007.
  22. ^ Jump up to:a b Crossley, C. D. (2009). “Emotional and behavioral reactions to social undermining: A closer look at perceived offender motives”. Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes 108 (1): 14–24.doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2008.06.001.

Further reading[edit]

Academic articles