Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 6: When group memberships are negative (pp. 209224)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Effects of Stigmatized Group Memberships (pp. 210212)
    1. Effects on performance
    2. Effects on self-esteem
  2. Defending Individual Self-Esteem (pp. 212216)
    1. Using attributions to advantage
    2. Attributional ambiguity in the workplace
    3. Making the most of intragroup comparisons
    4. Women's self-esteem: What's so special about gender?
  3. Individual Mobility: Escaping Negative Group Membership (pp. 216218)
    1. Disidentification: Putting the group at a psychological distance
    2. Dissociation: Putting the group at a physical distance
  4. Social Creativity: Redefining Group Membership as Positive (pp. 218219)
  5. Social Change: Changing the Intergroup Context (pp. 219222)
    1. Social competition
    2. Recategorization: Changing the definition of in-group
    3. "Color-blindness" or valuing group differences?
  6. One Goal, Many Strategies (pp. 222224)
Effects of Stigmatized Group Memberships
Effects on performance

Negative stereotypes about the abilities of a group's members cause stereotype threat, and can serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The knowledge of people's prejudice activates the stereotype, which results in anxiety and worries about the impact of failure on the group as a whole. This undermines performance. This is demonstrated by Steele and Aronson (1995), who showed that stereotype threat harms performance.

Case study: The effects of being stigmatized

Stereotype threat and its effects on performance can be reduced when there are external excuses available for possible poor performance, or when a role model exemplifying high performance by members of the stereotyped group is present.

Effects on self-esteem

Belonging to a negatively stereotyped group poses a threat to self-esteem, because group membership contributes directly to one's individual self-identity. This was demonstrated by Twenge and Crocker (2002) and by Luhtanen et al. (1991) (see SP p. 212).

Defending Individual Self-Esteem

Being stigmatized does not always lead to lowered self-esteem: When stigmatized, people can attribute negative reactions to prejudice, or when they compare themselves to fellow in-group members, their self-esteem is not lowered.

Using attributions to advantage

By attributing negative outcomes to prejudice against one's group rather than to personal failings, one can protect self-esteem against the negative effects of failure. This has been demonstrated by Crandall et al. (2000), see p. 213.

However, attributing negative outcomes to prejudice has its costs. Negative feedback is sometimes realistic, so should not be discounted. Discounting may also breed a sense of hopelessness and loss of control. In addition, attributing one's failure to being stereotyped may cause people to see you as a complainer, which leads to social rejection. Finally, trust in positive feedback is also destroyed when this feedback is attributed to "appearing unprejudiced" or as being given "out of sympathy."

Attributional ambiguity in the workplace

Feedback that can be ambiguously attributed can create workplace problems like not trusting others, and suspicion of being a token.

These negative effects can be overcome when the role of merit is emphasized.

Making the most of intragroup comparisons

Comparing oneself with one's in-group members is typical of minority groups. Intragroup comparisons boost one's self-esteem when better off than others, or remind one of in-group members that are doing well.

Women's self-esteem: What's so special about gender?

Despite all these strategies to protect one's self-esteem, women still have lower self-esteem than men. This has consequences, for instance, for career aspirations. This difference may be caused by gender roles that are learned and reinforced early in life.

Individual Mobility: Escaping Negative Group Membership

Individual mobility is a strategy one can turn to when other strategies intended to buffer self-esteem are ineffective. This strategy involves individual escape from membership in a negative group, either through disidentification or through dissociation. Individual mobility is preferred to social creativity when group boundaries are permeable.

Disidentification: Putting the group at a psychological distance

Disidentification entails minimizing personal connections to the group. One can disidentify by avoiding reminders of membership in a stigmatized group, by publicly criticizing and devaluating an in-group member's poor performance (the black sheep effect), or by considering oneself to be an exception rather than a typical group member.

A potential cost of disidentification is that people who play down their group membership risk negative responses from others.

Dissociation: Putting the group at a physical distance

Dissociating is the act of escaping from a negatively stereotyped group; casting off one's old identity and becoming a member of a new group. The benefits include freedom from discrimination, but the potential costs are isolation when not being accepted by the new group, or other dangers that are associated with the new group. In addition, you give up the opportunity to influence others' thinking about their group.

Social Creativity: Redefining Group Membership as Positive

One can redefine group characteristics in positive terms in order to attempt to change society's evaluations of this group. This can be done by introducing and emphasizing alternative dimensions on which the group is superior. These kinds of social creativity strategies are used more when group boundaries are relatively fixed.

Sometimes social creativity may unintentionally provide rationales and justification for continued exclusion. Then the final strategy is social change.

Social Change: Changing the Intergroup Context

Social change strategy refers to the strategy to improve the overall societal situation by confronting and challenging the hierarchy of group domination.

This strategy is preferred by people who identify strongly with their group, and see individual mobility as impossible.

Social competition

Engaging in social competition means taking direct action to improve the relative position, status, power, and resources of the in-group. However this strategy leads the other group to perceive this group as threatening, resulting in increased levels of prejudice and discrimination. Engaging in social competition is most effective when group members stick together.

Recategorization: Changing the definition of in-group

Cross-categorization refers to a situation where out-group members on one dimension are in-group members on the other dimension. This cannot reduce prejudice, but redirects it; double out-group members are evaluated even more negatively.

Another form of recategorization is forming a new inclusive in-group from which self-esteem and identity can be derived.

Case study: Changing the definition of in-group

"Color-blindness" or valuing group differences?

The color-blindness ideology holds that race should not affect the way people are treated, and should therefore be disregarded and even actively ignored.

This ideology fits with the emphasis on individual achievement, and the concern that emphasizing group differences may foster in-group hostility and prejudice.

However, the color-blindness perspective may just succeed in distracting attention from group differences; it does not necessarily lead to intergroup acceptance. In addition, acknowledging intergroup differences does not inevitably lead to enhanced intergroup bias.

One disadvantage of the color-blindness approach is that people do not get to know other cultures, and do not learn to live and work alongside culturally different individuals. Another disadvantage is that it denies an important social identity, and desensitizes the majority group to the value that group membership has for minority groups.

The solution to these problems is a balance: Members from different groups can share common goals, while simultaneously maintaining their own social identity.

One Goal, Many Strategies

No single approach is uniformly the best strategy. Different groups tend to prefer different strategies. The most important factors that affect strategy choice are strength of group identification, and perceptions of the possibility of individual mobility. Individuals are less likely to seek individual mobility when they identify strongly with their low-status group, or perceive the possibilities of individual mobility as low.

So what does this mean?

Awareness of other people's prejudice about the abilities of a group's members causes stereotype threat, which harms performance. This can be reduced when there are external excuses available, or when a role model is present. Belonging to a negatively stereotyped group also poses a threat to self-esteem. One can defend one's individual self-esteem by using attributions to advantage, and making the most of intragroup comparisons. When these strategies are insufficient, people may turn to long-term solutions involving individual mobility (disidentification or dissociation), social creativity, or social change (social competition, recategorization, color-blindness, or valuing group difference).

Back to chapter 6 introduction

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