Insiders / Outsiders – Groups Form at the ‘Drop of a Hat’

More fun from the annals of social psychology (and to think now that it seemed like the. most. boring. part of psychology when I was studying it).

From PsyBlog, a list of 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies to explain why we do ‘dumb or irrational things.’ The one I want to highlight today is Why Groups and Prejudices Form So Easily: Social Identity Theory. In a 1971 study, teenaged boys were asked which of two paintings they prefered and were told that their preferences would determine which of two groups they would join. Afterwards, they were brought one by one into a cubicle and asked to distribute virtual money (in another experiment, they were asked to distribute simply symbols that had no instrinsic value whatsoever) to the other boys. All they knew about each boy was which group he belonged to. (There are more details at the link.)

The result was that the boys “favoured their own group over the other. And this pattern developed consistently over many, many trials and has subsequently been replicated in other experiments in which groups were, if you can believe it, even more minimal.”

The blogger continues:

“The most puzzling aspect of this experiment is that the boys had nothing whatsoever to gain from favouring their own group — there didn’t seem to be anything riding on their decisions.

“Out in the real world there’s a good reason to favour your own group — normally it is also advantageous to yourself. You protect yourself by protecting others like you.

“What Tajfel argued, though, was that there was something riding on the decisions the boys made, but it was something very subtle, yet incredibly profound.
Tajfel argued that people build their own identities from their group memberships.

“Tajfel and colleagues’ experiment shows that group membership is so important to us that we join the most ephemeral of groups with only the slightest prompting. We will then go out of our way to make our own group look better compared to others.”

Some of the other studies are about the halo effect (if we like one aspect of a person, we attribute other good aspects to them, and vice versa), cognitive dissonance (lying to ourselves), the false consensus bias (we think most other people think, behave, feel like we do), bystander apathy, manipulation of weak groups by a powerful one, and conforming to other people’s standards.



Ch commented:

This group behavior stuff really reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s granfalloons and karasses:
Hah, I just noticed this article talks about Henri Tajfel!

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