In-group and out-group

In sociology and social psychology, an in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an out-group is a social group with which an individual does not identify. People may for example identify with their peer group, family, community, sports team, political party, gender, religion, or nation. 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 in-group and out-group categorization was identified using a method called the minimal group paradigm. Tajfel and colleagues found that people can form self-preferencing in-groups within a matter of minutes and that such groups can form even on the basis of completely arbitrary and invented discriminatory characteristics, such as preferences for certain paintings.[1][2][3][4]

Associated phenomena

The psychological categorization of people into in-group and out-group 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 in-group over the out-group, or anyone viewed as outside the in-group. This can be expressed in one's evaluation of others, linking, allocation of resources, and many other ways.[5]

Out-group derogation

Discrimination between in-groups and out-groups is a matter of favoritism towards an in-group and the absence of equivalent favoritism towards an out-group.[6] Out-group derogation is the phenomenon in which an out-group is perceived as being threatening to the members of an in-group.[7] This phenomenon often accompanies in-group favoritism, as it requires one to have an affinity towards their in-group. Some research suggests that out-group derogation occurs when an out-group is perceived as blocking or hindering the goals of an in-group. It has also been argued that out-group derogation is a natural consequence of the categorization process.[8]

Social influence

People have been shown to be differentially influenced by in-group members. That is, under conditions where group categorization is psychologically salient, people will shift their beliefs in line with in-group 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 in-group 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 out-group homogeneity effect. This refers to the perception of members of an out-group as being homogenous, while members of one's in-group are perceived as being diverse, e.g. "they are alike; we are diverse”.[9][10] This is especially likely to occur in regard to negative characteristics. Under certain conditions, in-group members can be perceived as being similar to one another in regard to positive characteristics. This effect is called in-group homogeneity.[11]

Postulated role in human evolution

In evolutionary psychology, in-group favoritism is seen as an evolved mechanism selected for the advantages of coalition affiliation.[12] It has been argued that characteristics such as gender and ethnicity are inflexible or even essential features of such systems.[13][14] However, there is evidence that elements of favoritism are flexible in that they can be erased by changes in social categorization.[15] One study in the field of behavioural genetics suggests that biological mechanisms may exist which favor a coexistence of both flexible and essentialist systems.[16]

See also


  1. See "Kandinsky versus Klee experiment", Tajfel et al. (1971) in Tajfel, H. (1970). Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination.
  2. Taijfel, H. (1970). "Experiments in intergroup discrimination" (PDF). Scientific American. 223 (5): 96–102. Bibcode:1970SciAm.223e..96T. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1170-96. JSTOR 24927662. PMID 5482577.
  3. Tajfel, Henri; Billig, M. G.; Bundy, R. P.; Flament, Claude (1971). "Social categorization and intergroup behaviour". European Journal of Social Psychology. 1 (2): 149–178. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420010202.
  4. Tajfel, H. (1974). "Social identity and intergroup behaviour". Social Science Information. 13 (2): 65–93. doi:10.1177/053901847401300204.
  5. Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Akert, R. D. & Sommers, S. R. (2015). Social psychology (9th, illustrated, revised ed.). London: Pearson Education. ISBN 978-0-13393654-4.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. Brewer, Marilynn B. (Fall 1999). "The Psychology of Prejudice: In-group Love and Out-group Hate?". Journal of Social Issues. 55 (3): 429–444. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00126.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Leyens, Jacques-Philippe; Yzerbyt, Vincent; Schadron, Georges (1994). Stereotypes and Social Cognition. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. pp. 104–107. ISBN 978-0-80398583-4.
  10. 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.
  11. Jackson, Lynne M. (2011). The Psychology of Prejudice: From Attitudes to Social Action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 110–112. ISBN 978-1-43380920-0.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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. JSTOR 10.1086/321802.
  15. 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. Bibcode:2001PNAS...9815387K. doi:10.1073/pnas.251541498. PMC 65039. PMID 11742078.
  16. 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.
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