In-group favoritism, sometimes known as in-group–out-group bias, in-group bias, or intergroup bias, refers to a pattern of favoring members of one’s in-group over out-group members. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, allocation of resources, and many other ways. For example, it has been shown that people will seek to make more internal (dispositional) attributions for events that reflect positively on groups they belong to and more external (situational) attributions for events that reflect negatively on their groups.
This interaction has been researched by many psychologists and linked to many theories related to group conflict and prejudice. The phenomenon is primarily viewed from a social psychology standpoint. Two prominent theoretical approaches to the phenomenon of in-group favoritism are realistic conflict theory and social identity theory. Realistic conflict theory proposes that intergroup competition, and sometimes intergroup conflict, arises when two groups have opposing claims to scarce resources. In contrast, social identity theory posits a psychological drive for positively distinct social identities as the general root cause of in-group favoring behavior.
Origins of the research tradition
In 1906, the sociologist William Sumner posited that humans are a species that join together in groups by their very nature. However, he also maintained that humans had an innate tendency to favor their own group over others, proclaiming how "each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exists in its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders" (p. 13). This is seen on the group level with ingroup-outgroup bias. When experienced in larger groups such as tribes, ethnic groups, or nations, it is referred to as ethnocentrism.
Realistic conflict theory (or realistic group conflict) posits that competition between groups for resources is the cause of in-group bias and the corresponding negative treatment of members of the out-group. Muzafer Sherif's Robbers Cave Experiment is the most widely known demonstration of Realistic Conflict Theory. In this experiment, 22 eleven year-old boys with similar backgrounds were studied in a mock summer camp situation. The boys were divided into two equal groups and encouraged to bond, and then the researchers introduced a series of competitive activities in which the groups were pitted against one another. Hostility and out-group negativity ensued. Researchers then attempted to reverse the hostility by engaging the boys in situations of mutual interdependence, an effort which eventually resulted in relative harmony between the two groups. This study demonstrated that regardless of two groups’ similarity, group members will behave viciously toward the out-group when competing for limited resources.
It is argued that one of the key determinants of group biases is the need to improve self-esteem. That is individuals will find a reason, no matter how insignificant, to prove to themselves why their group is superior. This phenomenon was pioneered and studied most extensively by Henri Tajfel, a British social psychologist who looked at the psychological root of in-group/out-group bias. To study this in the lab, Tajfel and colleagues created what are now known as minimal groups (see minimal group paradigm) which occur when “complete strangers are formed into groups using the most trivial criteria imaginable”. In Tajfel’s studies, participants were split into groups by flipping a coin, and each group then was told to appreciate a certain style of painting none of the participants were familiar with when the experiment began. What Tajfel and his colleagues discovered was regardless of the fact that a) participants did not know each other, b) their groups were completely meaningless and c) none of the participants had any inclination as to which “style” they like better, almost always across the board participants “liked the members of their own group better and they rated the members of their in-group as more likely to have pleasant personalities”. By having a more positive impression of individuals in the in-group, individuals are able to boost their own self-esteem as members of that group.
Robert Cialdini and his research team looked at the number of university T-shirts being worn on college campuses following either a win or loss at the football game. Not surprisingly, the Monday after a win there were more T-shirts being worn, on average, than following a loss.
In another set of studies done in the 1980s by Jennifer Crocker and colleagues, self-esteem was studied using minimal group processes in which it was shown that individuals with high self-esteem who suffer a threat to the self-concept exhibit greater ingroup biases than people with low self-esteem who suffer a threat to the self-concept. While some studies have supported this notion of a negative correlation between self-esteem and in-group bias, other researchers have found that individuals with low self-esteem have a higher prejudice to both in-group and out-group members. Some studies have even showed that high-self-esteem groups showed a greater prejudice than did lower self-esteem groups. This research may suggest that there is an alternative explanation and additional reasoning as to the relationship between self-esteem and in-group/out-group biases. Alternatively, it is possible that researchers have used the wrong sort of self-esteem measures to test the link between self-esteem and in-group bias (global personal self-esteem rather than specific social self-esteem).
Versus out-group negativity
Social psychologists have long made the distinction between ingroup favouritism and outgroup negativity, where outgroup negativity is the act of punishing or placing burdens upon the outgroup. Indeed, a significant body of research exists that attempts to identify the relationship between ingroup favouritism and outgroup negativity, as well as conditions that will lead to outgroup negativity. For example, Struch and Schwartz found support for the predictions of belief congruence theory. The belief congruence theory concerns itself with the degree of similarity in beliefs, attitudes, and values perceived to exist between individuals. This theory also states that dissimilarity increases negative orientations towards others. When applied to racial discrimination, the belief congruence theory explains that it’s the perceived dissimilarity of beliefs that has more of an impact on racial discrimination than race itself.
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