Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 6: Me, you, and them: Effects of social categorization (pp. 194209)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. "I" Becomes "We": Social Categorization and the Self (pp. 194197)
    1. Seeing oneself as a group member
    2. Accessibility of gender identity in the classroom
    3. Liking ourselves: Social identity and self-esteem
    4. Social identity and emotions
    5. Balancing individuality and connectedness
  2. Others Become "We": Social Categorization and the In-Group (pp. 197200)
    1. Perceiving fellow in-group members
    2. Liking in-group members: To be us is to be lovable
    3. Giving in-group members the language advantage
    4. Treating the in-group right: Justice and altruism
  3. Others Become "They": Social Categorization and the Out-Group (pp. 200209)
    1. Perceiving the out-group as homogeneous: "They're all alike!"
    2. Out-group homogeneity in the legal system
    3. Effects of mere categorization: Discrimination favoring the in-group
    4. Discrimination and social identity
    5. Effects of perceived disadvantage: Let's compete with them
    6. Effects of extreme threat: They threaten us, so let's attack first
    7. Moral exclusion
"I" Becomes "We": Social Categorization and the Self
Seeing oneself as a group member

A group's typical characteristics become norms or standards for one's behavior when seeing oneself as a group member.

Mackie (1986) demonstrated that people come to think in group-typical ways.

People who identify more strongly with their group see themselves as a more typical group member. This was demonstrated by Spears, Doosje, and Ellemers (1997).

Accessibility of gender identity in the classroom

Accessibility of gender roles may influence women's and men's career and educational choices. Indirect evidence comes from Smith (1977), who showed differences in choices of men and women in single-sex vs. mixed-sex schools (see SP p. 195).

Liking ourselves: Social identity and self-esteem

People strive for positive self-esteem. This self-esteem can be influenced by group memberships; a positive group membership raises self-esteem.

This tendency to bask in the reflected glory (BIRG) of positive group identification can be a way of restoring positive self-regard, particularly when the self-esteem is threatened.

Social identity and emotions

People experience emotions in response to events that affect individuals in their groups when reminded of their common identity with these individuals. This was demonstrated by Gordijn et al. (2001).

People experience these group-based emotions because the group is part of the self.

Balancing individuality and connectedness

Group membership can satisfy the need for both individuality and connectedness. Perceived differences between our group and the out-group satisfy the need for individuality, while perceived similarities between ourselves and other members of the in-group satisfy the need for connectedness. People have the best balance in relatively small groups (see SP p. 197).

Others Become "We": Social Categorization and the In-Group
Perceiving fellow in-group members

When group membership is accessible, we think about features we share with the group. The more accessible the group membership is, the more assumed similarity we perceive.

We also learn a lot about other in-group members' unique characteristics. When group membership is not accessible, we even see the group as quite diverse. This learning about each other's personalities, passions, and preferences helps us find our own place in the group.

Liking in-group members: To be us is to be lovable

Because the group is part of the self, we like in-group members more than out-group members. This liking depends merely on the knowledge of shared group membership. Evaluating the in-group as more positive and desirable than other groups occurs even when assigned to groups on a trivial or random basis.

"We" has positive connotations; the word "we" automatically activates positive associations. This was demonstrated by Perdue et al. (1990).

Giving in-group members the language advantage

A linguistic bias exists when people describe actions of in-group and out-group members. When the behavior is expected (positive behavior by in-group members and negative behavior by out-group members), the language used to describe the behavior is more abstract, implicitly casting the behavior as generalizable, and linking the behavior to characteristics. However, when the behavior is unexpected (negative behavior by in-group members, positive behavior by out-group members), more concrete language is used, which implicitly casts the behavior as ungeneralizable and an isolated specific occurrence that is an exception to the rule.

Research activity: Linguistic bias

Treating the in-group right: Justice and altruism

When people become lovable and similar to us because of group membership, we want what is best for them. Perceived individual and group interests merge when group membership is activated. This constitutes a basis for fair and altruistic behavior.

Others Become "They": Social Categorization and the Out-Group
Perceiving the out-group as homogeneous: "They're all alike!"

The tendency to perceive out-group members as "they are all alike" compared to the in-group is called the out-group homogeneity effect.

Research activity: Out-group homogeneity effect

This effect can be explained by three important potential factors. The first is lack of familiarity with the out-group; we know more in-group than out-group members, and are therefore more aware of the diversity of our own group members.

The second factor is the constrained nature of interactions with out-group members; interactions with out-group members do not often involve individual interaction, unlike interactions with in-group members.

The final important potential factor is that people focus on characteristics that make them different and unique from others. Regarding out-group members, this difference is quite obvious; group-defining characteristics of out-group members differ from our own characteristics. Regarding in-group members, we have to look deeper to find differentiating characteristics. This is demonstrated by Park and Rothbart (1982), who showed that more personal details are remembered about same-sex individuals than about opposite-sex individuals (see SP p. 202).

Not all groups see the out-group as more homogeneous; when the in-group is a minority, it tends to be perceived as more homogeneous. This can be explained by familiarity with the out-group; minority-group members may know even more out-group than in-group members.

Minority status can also increase the actual variability of groups. Unequal power and differences in accessibility of group membership cause members of a group to act in more uniform and homogeneous ways (see SP p. 203).

People also perceive out-group members as "looking all alike." The effect that people can recognize faces of their own ethnic in-group members more easily than faces of other ethnicity groups is termed the cross-race identification bias. Identification accuracy grows with familiarity.

Effects of mere categorization: Discrimination favoring the in-group

Negative stereotypes, mutual ignorance and fear, distribution of resources, and a history of conflict can explain ethic conflicts. However, discrimination can occur even in a minimal intergroup situation. In this situation individuals are randomly assigned to groups without defining group characteristics, without knowing other in-group or out-group members, without a basis for stereotypes, and without a history of conflict or antagonism.

Discrimination and social identity

Participants favor the in-group over the out-group even when it costs the in-group in absolute terms.

The favoritism of the in-group over the out-group can be explained by social identity theory. This theory argues that people are motivated to derive positive self-esteem from their group memberships. Preferring the in-group to the out-group is a way of feeling good about ourselves. It has been consistently demonstrated that people's self-esteem is increased when discriminating against the out-group (see p. 205).

Effects of perceived disadvantage: Let's compete with them

Threats to groups trigger discrimination.

Higher status groups tend to discriminate on dimensions relevant to the group's distinction, while lower status groups discriminate on less directly relevant dimensions.

Unequal status amplifies discrimination and felt emotions.

Effects of extreme threat: They threaten us, so let's attack first

When people perceive threats of an out-group to their in-group they (a) exalt in in-group symbols and values, and (b) derogate, hate, and attack the out-group. So in-group favoritism is accompanied by out-group derogation when the in-group feels threatened by an out-group.

Judging the out-group by in-group standards leads to out-group failure, which is used to justify derogation.

Moral exclusion

Discriminatory behavior can become extreme when the out-group is morally excluded; meaning that rules of justice and civility do not apply to out-group members. The out-group is then perceived as fundamentally inferior to the in-group. Group members reject personal responsibility for their hateful acts. They rationalize their behavior by the thought that the out-group brought it on themselves, and appeal to the in-group's welfare as a source of higher moral authority.

So what does this mean?

A group's typical characteristics become norms for one's behavior when seeing oneself as a group member. People evaluate their in-group as more positive than other groups because, according to social identity theory, people are motivated to derive positive self-esteem from their group memberships. This can occur even in a minimal intergroup situation. In-group favoritism is accompanied by out-group derogation when the in-group feels threatened by an out-group. People perceive the out-group as homogeneous (out-group homogeneity effect). This effect can be explained by lack of familiarity, the constrained nature of interactions, and the focus on characteristics that make people unique from others.

Next topic

When group memberships are negative

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 6 introduction
  2. Categorizing oneself as a group member
  3. Me, you, and them: Effects of social categorization
  4. When group memberships are negative
  5. Chapter overview (PDF)
  6. Fill-in-the-blanks
  7. Multiple-choice questions