In-group favoritism

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This article is about own group favoring behaviour and cognition in a strategic sense. For other phenomena rated to psychological group formation, see Ingroups and outgroups.

In-group favoritism, sometimes known as in-group–out-group bias, in-group bias, or intergroup bias, is a pattern of favoring members of one's in-group over out-group members. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, in allocation of resources, and in many other ways.[1][2]

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[edit]

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).[3] 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.[1]


Social identity theory argues that one of the key determinants of group biases is the need to improve self-esteem. The desire to view one's self positively is transferred onto the group, creating a tendency to view one's own group in a positive light, and by comparison, outside groups in a negative light.[4] That is, individuals will find a reason, no matter how insignificant, to prove to themselves why their own 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 that—regardless of the facts 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—participants almost always "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.[1]

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.[1][5]

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.[6] While some studies have supported this notion of a negative correlation between self-esteem and in-group bias,[7] other researchers have found that individuals with low self-esteem have a higher prejudice to both in-group and out-group members.[6] Some studies have even shown that high-self-esteem groups showed a greater prejudice than did lower self-esteem groups.[8] 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).[9]

Biological Basis[edit]

In 2011 De Dreu et al. provided evidence for a biological basis of favoritism. They paper reveals that the hormone oxytocin increases in-group favoritism, and other group biases.[10]

Versus out-group negativity[edit]

Main article: Group conflict

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.[11] 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.[12][13][14] For example, Struch and Schwartz found support for the predictions of belief congruence theory.[15] 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 argues that the perceived dissimilarity of beliefs has more of an impact on racial discrimination than does race itself.

Research finds evidence of in-group bias in police investigations[16] and judicial decisions.[17]

In-group derogation[edit]

Cross-cultural studies have found that in-group derogation, the tendency to criticize members of one's own group or culture more harshly than members of outside groups, is more common among members of disadvantaged and minority groups than among members of the majority or dominant group. According to psychology professor Christine Ma-Kellams et al. (2011), system justification theory seeks to explain why "minorities sometimes endorse system-justifying views of their group". They said their research into in-group favoritism and derogation partially supported this theory, but that the theory failed to address all of the nuances.[18]

Ma-Kellams et al. also found that, compared to individualist cultures, people from collectivist cultures, such as East Asian cultures, tended to judge their own group members less favorably than they judged outsiders, whereas people from individualist cultures were inclined to judge members of their own group more favorably than they judged outsiders.[18] Social identity theory[citation needed] and Freudian theorists explain in-group derogation as the result of a negative self-image, which they believe is then extended to the group.[18] Ma-Kellams et al. theorized that "ingroup derogation may be more culturally normative and less troubling for East Asians" as evidenced by the fact that East Asians were also likely to report high levels of positive affect (emotion) towards members of their in-group, demonstrating ambivalence towards the unfavorable characteristics they had acknowledged about their in-group. According to Ma-Kellam et al., culturally-ingrained attitudes and beliefs, rather than low self-esteem, may play a role in collectivist cultures' in-group derogation due to their ability to tolerate holding seemingly contradictory views.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. (2010). Social psychology. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
  2. ^ Taylor, Donald M.; Doria, Janet R. (April 1981). "Self-serving and group-serving bias in attribution". Journal of Social Psychology. 113 (2): 201–211. doi:10.1080/00224545.1981.9924371. ISSN 0022-4545. 
  3. ^ Sumner, William Graham. (1906). Folkways: A Study of the Social Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals. Boston, MA: Ginn.
  4. ^ Billig, Michael; Tajfel, Henri (1973-01-01). "Social categorization and similarity in intergroup behaviour". European Journal of Social Psychology. 3 (1): 27–52. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420030103. ISSN 1099-0992. 
  5. ^ Cialdini, Robert B.; Borden, Richard J.; Thorne, Avril; Walker, Marcus Randall; Freeman, Stephen; Sloan, Lloyd Reynolds (1974). "Basking in Reflected Glory: Three (Football) Field Studies". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 34 (3): 366–375. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.34.3.366. 
  6. ^ a b Crocker, Jennifer; Thompson, Leigh L.; McGraw, Kathleen M.; Ingerman, Cindy (May 1987). "Downward Comparison, Prejudice, and Evaluations of Others: Effects of Self-Esteem and Threat". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52 (5): 907–916. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.5.907. ISSN 0022-3514. 
  7. ^ Abrams, Dominic; Hogg, Michael A. (1988). "Comments on the motivational status of self-esteem in social identity and intergroup discrimination". European Journal of Social Psychology. 18 (4): 317–334. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420180403. 
  8. ^ Sachdev, Itesh; Bourhis, Richard Y. (September 1987). "Status differentials and intergroup behaviour". European Journal of Social Psychology. 17 (3): 277–293. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420170304. 
  9. ^ Rubin, Mark; Hewstone, Miles (February 1998). "Social Identity Theory's Self-Esteem Hypothesis: A Review and Some Suggestions for Clarification". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 2 (1): 40–62. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0201_3. PMID 15647150. 
  10. ^ Dreu, Carsten K. W. De; Greer, Lindred L.; Kleef, Gerben A. Van; Shalvi, Shaul; Handgraaf, Michel J. J. (2011-01-25). "Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (4): 1262–1266. doi:10.1073/pnas.1015316108. ISSN 0027-8424. 
  11. ^ Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). "An integrative theory of intergroup conflict". In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole
  12. ^ Bourhis, R. Y.; Gagnon, A. (2001). Brown, R.; Gaertner, S. L., eds. "Social Orientations in the Minimal Group Paradigm". Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Intergroup processes. 3 (1): 133–152. doi:10.1002/9780470693421.ch7. 
  13. ^ Mummendey, A.; Otten, S. (2001). Brown, R.; Gaertner, S. L., eds. "Aversive Discrimination". Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Intergroup processes. 3 (1): 112–132. 
  14. ^ Turner, J. C.; Reynolds, K. H. (2001). Brown, R.; Gaertner, S. L., eds. "The Social Identity Perspective in Intergroup Relations: Theories, Themes, and Controversies". Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Intergroup processes. 3 (1): 133–152. doi:10.1002/9780470693421.ch7. 
  15. ^ Struch, Naomi; Schwartz, Shalom H. (March 1989). "Intergroup Aggression: Its Predictors and Distinctness From In-Group Bias". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 56 (3): 364–373. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.56.3.364. 
  16. ^ West, Jeremy. "Racial Bias in Police Investigations" (PDF). 
  17. ^ Depew, Briggs; Eren, Ozkan; Mocan, Naci (2016-02-01). "Judges, Juveniles and In-group Bias". National Bureau of Economic Research. 
  18. ^ a b c d Ma-Kellams, Christine; Spencer-Rodgers, Julie; Peng, Kaiping (2011-01-01). "I Am Against Us? Unpacking Cultural Differences in Ingroup Favoritism via Dialecticism". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 37 (1): 15–27. doi:10.1177/0146167210388193. ISSN 0146-1672. PMID 21084525.