Ingroups and outgroups

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In sociology and social psychology, an ingroup is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an outgroup is a social group with which an individual does not identify. For example, people may find it psychologically meaningful to view themselves according to their race, culture, gender, age, or religion. It has been found that the psychological membership of social groups and categories is associated with a wide variety of phenomena.

The terminology was made popular by Henri Tajfel and colleagues during his work in formulating social identity theory. The significance of ingroup and outgroup categorization was identified using a method called the minimal group paradigm. Tajfel and colleagues found that people can form self-preferencing ingroups within a matter of minutes and that such groups can form even on the basis of seemingly trivial characteristics, such as preferences for certain paintings.[1][2][3][4][5]

Associated phenomena

The psychological categorization of people into ingroup and outgroup members is associated with a variety of phenomena. The following examples have all received a great deal of academic attention.

In-group favoritism

This refers to the fact that under certain conditions, people will prefer and have affinity for one’s ingroup over the outgroup, or anyone viewed as outside the ingroup. This can be expressed in one's evaluation of others, linking, allocation of resources, and many other ways.[6]

Outgroup derogation

Discrimination between ingroups and outgroups is a matter of favoritism towards an ingroup and the absence of equivalent favoritism towards an outgroup.[7] Outgroup derogation is the phenomenon in which an outgroup is perceived as being threatening to the members of an ingroup.[8] This phenomenon often accompanies ingroup favoritism, as it requires one to have an affinity towards their ingroup. Some research suggests that outgroup derogation occurs when an outgroup is perceived as blocking or hindering the goals of an ingroup. It has also been argued that outgroup derogation is a natural consequence of the categorization process.[9]

Social influence

People have been shown to be differentially influenced by ingroup members. That is, under conditions where group categorization is psychologically salient, people will shift their beliefs in line with ingroup social norms.

Group polarization

This generally refers to the tendency of groups to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members, although polarization toward the most central beliefs has also been observed. It has been shown that this effect is related to a psychologically salient ingroup and outgroup categorization.

Group homogeneity

Categorization of people into social groups increases the perception that group members are similar to one another. An outcome of this is the outgroup homogeneity effect. This refers to the perception of members of an outgroup as being homogenous, while members of one's ingroup are perceived as being diverse, e.g. "they are alike; we are diverse”.[10][11] This is especially likely to occur in regard to negative characteristics. Under certain conditions, ingroup members can be perceived as being similar to one another in regard to positive characteristics. This effect is called ingroup homogeneity.[12]

Postulated role in human evolution

In evolutionary psychology, ingroup favoritism is seen as an evolved mechanism selected for the advantages of coalition affiliation.[13] It has been argued that characteristics such as gender and ethnicity are inflexible or even essential features of such systems.[14][15] However, there is evidence that elements of favoritism are flexible in that they can be erased by changes in social categorization.[16] One study in the field of behavioural genetics suggests that biological mechanisms may exist which favor a coexistence of both flexible and essentialist systems.[17]

See also


  1. See "Kandinsky versus Klee experiment", Tajfel et al. (1971) in Tajfel, H. (1970). Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination.
  2. Tajfel, H. (1970). "Experiments in intergroup discrimination (abstract)". Scientific American (Springer Nature) 223: 96–102.,_H._%281970%29._Experiments_in_intergroup_discrimination._Scientific_American,_223,_96-102. 
  3. Tajfel, H. (1970). Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination = Tajfel, H. (1970). Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination.
  4. Tajfel, H.; Billig, M. G.; Bundy, R. P.; Flament, C. (April–June 1971). "Social categorization and intergroup behaviour". European Journal of Social Psychology 1 (2): 149–178. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420010202. 
  5. Tajfel, H. (1974). Social Identity and Intergroup Behavior.
  6. Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Akert, R. D. & Sommers, S. R. (2015). Social psychology (9th, illustrated, revised ed.). London: Pearson Education. ISBN:978-0-133-93654-4. ISBN 0-13393654-6. 
  7. Brewer, Marilynn B. (Fall 1999). "The Psychology of Prejudice: Ingroup Love and Outgroup Hate?". Journal of Social Issues 55 (3): 429–444. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00126. 
  8. Hewstone, Miles; Rubin, Mark; Willis, Hazel (February 2002). "Intergroup Bias". Annual Review of Psychology 53: 575–604. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135109. PMID 11752497. 
  9. Zhong, Chen-Bo; Phillips, Katherine W.; Leonardelli, Geoffrey J.; Galinsky, Adam D. (2008). "Negational categorization and intergroup behavior". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34 (6): 793–806. doi:10.1177/0146167208315457. PMID 18391025. 
  10. Leyens, Jacques-Philippe; Yzerbyt, Vincent; Schadron, Georges (1994). Stereotypes and Social Cognition. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. pp. 104–107. ISBN:978-0-803-98583-4. ISBN 0-80398583-5. 
  11. Quattrone, George A.; Jones, Edward E. (1980). "The perception of variability within in-groups and out-groups: Implications for the law of small numbers.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38 (1): 141–152. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.38.1.141. ISSN 0022-3514. 
  12. Jackson, Lynne M. (2011). The Psychology of Prejudice: From Attitudes to Social Action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 110–112. ISBN:978-1-433-80920-0. ISBN 1-43380920-6. 
  13. L. Cosmides; J. Tooby; R. Kurzban (April 1, 2003). "Perceptions of race". Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7 (4): 173–179. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(03)00057-3. PMID 12691766. Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  14. L. A. Hirschfeld (1996). Race in the Making: Cognition, Culture, and the Child's Construction of Human Kinds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Mit Press. ISBN:978-0-26208247-1. ISBN 0-26208247-0. 
  15. F. J. Gil-White (August–October 2001). "Are Ethnic Groups Biological "Species" to the Human Brain? Essentialism in Our Cognition of Some Social Categories". Current Anthropology (University of Chicago Press) 42 (4): 515–553. doi:10.1086/321802. 
  16. R. Kurzban; J. Tooby; L. Cosmides (December 18, 2001). "Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 98 (26): 15387–15392. doi:10.1073/pnas.251541498. PMID 11742078. Bibcode2001PNAS...9815387K. 
  17. G. J. Lewis; T. C. Bates (November 2010). "Genetic Evidence for Multiple Biological Mechanisms Underlying In-Group Favoritism". Psychological Science 21 (11): 1623–1628. doi:10.1177/0956797610387439. PMID 20974715. Retrieved 16 July 2012.