Noncomplementarity: Video and Activity

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When people act friendly toward us, we tend to act friendly in return. When people act hostile toward us, we tend to act hostile in return. This is called complementarity (or complementary behavior). But what happens when we engage in noncomplementarity (or noncomplementary behavior); what happens when we don’t match the tone coming at us?

Play this 8-minute video for your students. The first couple minutes set the scene. Eight friends are sitting outside on a summer evening. They’re chatting, drinking wine, and eating cheese. And then a man with a gun appears. He demands money, and if he doesn’t get it, he’ll start shooting. But there’s a problem. No one has any money. Pause the video at the two-minute mark. Ask students to discuss with the students around them what they would do. Invite volunteers to share their responses.

Pause the video again at the 2:40 mark. Did the friends try any of your students’ solutions? At this point in the video, we’re about to learn what one guest tried. Do your students have any guesses as to what her solution was?

Continue the video, and then at the 5:10 mark pause the video again. Give students a minute to think about what they just heard. Allow students a couple minutes to share their reactions with the students around them, then ask a couple volunteers to share their reactions.

Finish playing the video.

Ask students if they have an example where they experienced or witnessed noncomplementary behavior. Give students a minute to think of an example, then give students a couple minutes to share their examples in pairs or small groups. Finally, ask for a couple volunteers to share their examples. Be sure to identify what the initial tone was and how the response didn’t match.

Conclude this activity by explaining how noncomplementary behavior is not limited to individuals. In Aarhus, Denmark, the police learned that some of their youth were disappearing; they left to join the terrorist group ISIS in Syria. Parents were panicked. While other countries were taking very strong approaches to such behavior, such as rescinding passports and shutting down mosques, the city of Aarhus took a very different approach. Thorleif Link and Allan Aarslev, Aarhus crime prevention officers, figured that treating these young people harshly would only make matters worse. Instead “[t]hey made it clear to citizens of Denmark who had traveled to Syria that they were welcome to come home, and that when they did, they would receive help with going back to school, finding an apartment, meeting with a psychiatrist or a mentor, or whatever they needed to fully integrate back into society.” Has their approach worked? “Starting in 2012, 34 people went from Aarhus to Syria. As far as the police know, six were killed and 10 are still over there. Of the 18 who came back home, all showed up in Aarslev and Link's office, as did hundreds of other potential radicals in Aarhus — about 330 in total.” The psychological scientist Arie Kruglanski believes that Aarhus is the first to “to grapple with [extremism] based on sound social psychology evidence and principles” (Rosin, 2016). 

Leave students with this rhetorical question: what would happen if more people who led with hostility were met with kindness?


Rosin, H. (2016, July 15). How a Danish town helped young Muslims turn away from ISIS. Retrieved from Shots: Health News from NPR: ​ 

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.