Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Social Identity Theory

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Social Identity Theory

There are two essential terms used in the social identity theory:

Heterogeneous refers to when things being compared are all different and unique. They are different in character/components.

So for an individual, the in-group members (e.g., white people) would be heterogeneous. They are identified as unique individuals, all different from each other, and are referred to by their names: Tom, Jack, Susan, etc.

Homogeneous refers to when things have similar structures, similar characters, and similar constituents.

So to an individual, everyone in an out-group (e.g., a group of one race compared to another) will appear to be the same as the others in the out-group, with no real discernible characteristic between them, i.e., homogeneous. They will all be seen as unfavourable, and the individual will not want to know them to see past this image.

For additional marks in the exam, you should use these terms: heterogeneous and homogeneous. Be careful not to confuse these definitions with heterogenous and homogenous (note the extra ‘e’)!

Tajfel’s social identity theory: experiment

Tajfel conducted several ‘minimal group paradigm experiments’ to demonstrate the human tendency to form social identities in groups that leads to prejudice.Tajfel et al. (1971) studied minimal groups.

Minimal groups are groups in which there is no history of the competition.

Experiment 1

First, we will describe Experiment 1.

Aims

  • To find out what causes prejudice.
  • They wanted to test whether the act of grouping alone was sufficient to cause prejudice between groups of similar people.
  • They wanted to determine whether members of different groups (who do not compete with each other) still prefer their group members.

Participants

The participants were 64 teenage boys from a comprehensive school in Bristol.

Procedure

1. The boys had to estimate the number of dots flashing on the screen.

2. The researchers divided them into eight groups of eight, four groups in each condition.

Neutral condition

  • They told them that some people overestimated or underestimated the scores, and they were divided into groups accordingly.
  • But the overestimates and underestimates did not reflect accuracy.
  • They randomly divided them into four groups.

Value condition

The boys were told that some people are more accurate than others at tasks like this.

3. Then, they told the boys that the experimenter would test them on their different judgments.4. Then, the experimenter randomly divided two neutral and two value groups together and told them that of the four groups:

  • One had boys who estimated high.

  • One had boys who estimated low.

  • One group had boys who guessed accurately.

  • And one group had boys who guessed less accurately.

5. Each boy received information about his group, but not about the others. They also did not learn who they were.6. The boys then had to do a task in a booklet and reward or punish their own or other groups with money.7. Then, they had to choose a number that represented the rewards/punishments they had given to their group member or a member of another group.

Results

Researchers found no significant difference between neutral and appreciative conditions. However, they did find significant favouritism toward the in-group AND a significant negative bias toward the out-group.However, Tajfel found the social categorisation in the first experiment was not sufficient and conducted another one.

Experiment 2: ‘Klee and Kandinsky’

Another attempt to form in-groups and out-groups was made in Experiment 2.

Aim

Tajfel wanted to find out whether participants would favour and give more points to the in-group members than to the out-group.

Participants

48 boys aged 14 to 15 from the same school in Bristol.

Procedure

  • Researchers divided them into three groups of 16 and told them that the experimenters would explore their art preferences.They were shown twelve pictures of Klee or Kandinsky and told to indicate which they liked better (with signatures covered).
  • Then they were told they would be divided into two groups based on their preferences, but again, it was just random.
  • Then they had to assign points to each other that could later be converted into prizes.
  • They did not know which person they were assigning money to, but they knew if the person was in their group or not.
  • Points between groups were linked so that boys could: reward their own or the out-group, punish their own or the out-group, or be fair to both groups and receive equal rewards/points.
  • They would assign a number to the in-group that reflected the out-groups amount. Initially, they split the number of 15 between the two, i.e., if a boy gave his in-group member eight points, the out-group member received the remaining seven points, and if he gave the in-group member 14 points, the out-group member received one point.
  • They then tried different variations to eliminate other variables and test whether the boys would maximise their gain at the expense of the out-group or lose points themselves to make the out-group suffer even more.
  • So if they gave the in-group seven points, the out-group would get one, if they gave the in-group 13, the out-group would get 13, and if you gave the in-group 19, the out-group would get 21.

Results

  • The majority of the boys chose to maximise the point difference in favour of their in-group (this was in their best interest since they were told they would receive a prize for the points).

  • They overwhelmingly chose to assign points to other boys in their in-group and did so consistently, ignoring the fair alternative, i.e., they favoured their in-group.

  • The boys even failed to maximise their gains only to disadvantage the out-group (negative out-group bias). Thus, in the variation task, they gave their in-group members seven points, even though this was technically the lowest amount, to ensure that the out-group members got as little as possible.

Social identity theory evaluation

We need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of this study.

Strengths

  • The study was reliable because there were strict controls on the information the boys received and their experiences.
  • The study results support the hypothesis and are consistent with social identity theory. It shows that we naturally tend to favour the in-group and discriminate against the out-group.
  • The study provides a valuable insight into how prejudice works and shows that being put into a group is enough to trigger prejudice.
  • There is supporting evidence from experiments with similar goals and methods.

Weaknesses

  • Groups were made meaningless so the effect of grouping could be tested without a history of the competition, but adding the element of a potential prize to match scores may have caused the nature of the competition to occur anyway, causing the boys to discriminate. This factor indicates a problem with reduced validity.
  • Another problem with validity is that the boys may have behaved the way they did only because they knew they were participating in an experiment. Since this was a university setting and not a natural environment, this may have led to demand characteristics (i.e., they behaved the way they thought the experimenter wanted them to).
  • In addition, the study appeared to lack population validity because the sample was limited to students and therefore cannot be generalised.
  • However, there is supporting evidence from experiments with similar aims and methods related to other samples.

Social identity theory: supporting research

  • Locksley, Ortix, and Hepburn (1980) formed random groups (participants knew researchers randomly selected them), removed the forced task of the original study, and asked them to divide poker chips between unknown group members. They, too, found a strong in-group.
  • Branthwaite and Jones (1975) conducted a study with adults in Cardiff and found the same minimal group effect as in Tajfel’s original study.
  • The same is true of Brewer and Rothbart (1980), who conducted a study with female adults in California, and Dann & Doise (1974), who conducted a study with German soldiers.
  • Cialdini et al. (1976) analysed football scores from US universities and observed the clothing of participating students. They were more likely to wear university sweatshirts if the game was won. They also found in follow-up interviews that they used ‘we’ when the team won and ‘they’ when the team lost. This finding indicates that the association with the football team influences personal identity and self-esteem, supporting social identity theory.

Jane Elliott

  • In the 1970s, teacher and anti-racism activist Jane Elliott blamed white people’s lack of empathy for not knowing what it was like to belong to a prejudiced minority.
  • She divided a class of white children who had never seen a black person into two groups: blue-eyed and brown-eyed students.
  • She explained to them that it is a scientific fact that blue-eyed people are more intelligent than brown-eyed students. They should not mix at break, and only the blue-eyed students can use the water fountain.
  • The results were shocking. The blue-eyed students had become arrogant and separatist and were even doing better academically.
  • Two weeks later, she told them she was wrong and that the opposite was true.
  • The results were the same. The students with brown eyes were now exhibiting the same behaviour.
  • Bottom line: teaching children to empathise with others at a young age can help foster tolerance later in life.

Alternative theory

Social identity theory is not the only explanation for prejudice. Realistic conflict theory (Sherif, 1966) states that competition must be present for prejudice to occur, not just the presence of in-group and out-group.


Social Identity Theory - Key takeaways

  • Tajfel and Turner (1979) suggested that the formation of groups causes prejudice.
    • First, belonging to a social group leads to in-group self-categorisation.
    • Self-categorisation leads to favouritism for one’s in-group ( preferring it over out-groups).
    • Favouritism leads to hostility toward the out-group.
    • The in-group begins to feel superior to the out-group.
    • Individuals’ self-esteem increases due to belonging to the ‘superior’ in-group.
    • Individual status increases.
  • Tajfel et al. (1971) conducted an experiment with minimal groups to test whether the act of grouping alone was sufficient to produce prejudice between groups of similar people and cause a preference for one’s group.
  • They found significant favouritism toward one’s group AND significant negative bias toward the out-group (but no significant difference between neutral and value groups).
  • In Experiment 2, the majority of boys chose to maximise the point difference in favour of their in-group and even failed to maximise their gain only to disadvantage the out-group (negative out-group bias).
  • The strengths of Tajfel’s study were that the results supported the social identity theory hypothesis, that the study was reliable because of strict controls, that it provided helpful insight into how prejudice works, and that it showed that being put into a group was sufficient to trigger prejudice.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Identity Theory

Tajfel and Turner (1979) suggested that the formation of groups causes prejudice.

  • First, belonging to a social group leads to in-group self-categorisation.
  • Self-categorisation leads to favouritism for one’s in-group ( preferring it over out-groups).
  • Favouritism leads to hostility toward the out-group.
  • The in-group begins to feel superior to the out-group.
  • Individuals’ self-esteem increases due to belonging to the ‘superior’ in-group.
  • Individual status increases.

This process explains prejudice against out-groups.

The weaknesses of Tajfel’s study were that it had reduced validity because it claimed to have measured grouping effects without the history of the competition. In contrast, it may have created competition by introducing winning prizes with the points. Demand characteristics may also have affected validity.


There were problems with population validity because the sample consisted only of high school students.

Yes, it is a valuable framework for understanding groups because it shows how being in a group can cause favouritism to one’s in-group and cause negative out-group bias, hence, explaining how prejudice forms.

Social identity theory explains that when a person belongs to a group, they develop favouritism to that in-group and a negative bias towards the out-group. This is how prejudice forms.

Final Social Identity Theory Quiz

Question

What is the definition of prejudice and discrimination?

Show answer

Answer

A prejudice is an attitude or judgement about someone based on little knowledge about the person. They are based on assumptions or opinions about another group different from one’s own and are found in groups of different ethnicities, genders, and even football clubs.


Discrimination is the resulting behaviour or treatment enacted based on prejudices.

Show question

Question

Who came up with the social identity theory?

Show answer

Answer

Tajfel and Turner (1979).

Show question

Question

According to social identity theory, what is the fundamental belief of how prejudice forms?

Show answer

Answer

Social identity theory suggests that the formation of groups causes prejudice (not the conflict between them).

Show question

Question

What are the definitions of in-groups and out-groups?

Show answer

Answer

An in-group is a group of people to which one feels they belong. This group is referred to as ‘we’. One usually shares a common characteristic with this group, but this does not mean that this characteristic is exclusive to their in-group. For example, two football clubs in a city share the common in-group of location, but support different football clubs so would consider either group an out-group.


An out-group is a group of people who identify with a different group than yourself. This is a group to which the person does not belong and is referred to as ‘them’.

Show question

Question

What is social categorisation?

Show answer

Answer

Social categorisation refers to seeing oneself as part of a group. Everyone belongs to several groups regarding gender, race, religion, and age.

Show question

Question

What is social identification?

Show answer

Answer

Social identification refers to when one begins to identify more openly with the group and adopt its beliefs, norms, and attitudes.

Show question

Question

What is social comparison?

Show answer

Answer

Social comparison is when one begins to compare groups in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and sees their group as superior.

Show question

Question

Which behaviour is usually shown to the in-group and out-group respectively?

Show answer

Answer

Favouritism to the in-group and negative bias to the out-group. This is how prejudice and discrimination form.

Show question

Question

What were the findings of Experiment 1 by Tajfel et al. (1971)?

Show answer

Answer

They found significant favouritism toward one’s group AND significant negative bias toward the out-group (but no significant difference between neutral and value groups).

Show question

Question

What were the findings of Experiment 2 by Tajfel et al. (1971)? 

Show answer

Answer

The majority of the boys chose to maximise the point difference in favour of their in-group and even failed to maximise their gains only to disadvantage the out-group (negative out-group bias).

Show question

Question

What were the strengths of the study by Tajfel et al. (1971)?

Show answer

Answer

  • The study results support the hypothesis and are consistent with social identity theory. It shows that we naturally tend to favour the in-group and discriminate against the out-group.
  • The study was reliable because there were strict controls on the information the boys received and their experiences.
  • The study provides a valuable insight into how prejudice works and shows that being put into a group is enough to trigger prejudice.
  • There has been supporting research whose findings also supported the social identity theory hypothesis (Locksley, Ortix & Hepburn, 1980), (Branthwaite & Jones, 1975), (Brewer & Rothbart, 1980), (Cialdini et al. 1976), and (the Jane Elliott case).

Show question

Question

What were the weaknesses of the study by Tajfel et al. (1971)?

Show answer

Answer

  • The weaknesses of Tajfel’s study were that it had reduced validity because it claimed to have measured grouping effects without the history of the competition. In contrast, it may have created competition by introducing winning prizes with the points. Demand characteristics may also have affected validity.
  • There were problems with population validity because the sample consisted only of high school students.

Show question

Question

What is an alternative theory of how prejudice is formed?

Show answer

Answer

Realistic conflict theory (Sherif, 1966) states that competition must be present for prejudice to occur, not just the presence of in-group and out-group.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Social Identity Theory quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.