Description of the phenomenon
The phenomenon of in-group bias is retrieved mostly from the real world experiences that indicate favoritism and subjective positive perceptions for the members of the group with which individuals identify and opposition, dislike and subjective negative perceptions for the members of other groups (Wilcox, 2011; Jørgensen, Bäckström & Björklund, 2012).
Wilcox (2011) observes that in-group bias occurs not as a result of a social historical precedence, but mostly as a result of shared prejudices that shape people’s minds, but not their guts. Therefore, the in-group bias appears as an individual manifestation of a collective thinking, developed through cognitive processes. The collective thinking is a shared process, exerted by the members of a group who identify with the values of the group, wherein the values are the ones that generate prejudices and the biased in-group behavior.
Castano, Yzerbyt, Paladino and Sacchi (2002) find that individuals who identify themselves with a group are likely to show higher levels of in-group bias, which is an indication that the group can be mirrored by an individual who belongs to the specific group. Walter (2007) recounts Henri Tajfel’s experiment with in-group bias, which showed that individuals selected randomly to be part of a group automatically manifested a favoring behavior towards their group members and although not an eliminatory condition, most expressed negative out-group attitudes.
The in-group bias manifests through preferential treatment or allocation of resources in favor of the members of one’s group, disfavoring the members of other groups, which can be catalogued as discrimination (Jørgensen, Bäckström & Björklund, 2012).
In-group Bias Social Identity Theory
Returning to Henri Tajfel, he is the one who advanced the social identity theory as an in-group bias theory. In fact, Tajfel developed the social identity theory and based on its findings the researcher delineated the in-group bias. As such, Tajfel defined the social identity theory as an individual need for mirroring the socially accepted values and belonging to a social group that makes individuals significant members, sharing socially accepted values, which contribute to increasing their self-esteem (Tajfel, 1981, in Eysenk, 2012). The social identity theory as related to the in-group bias phenomenon also implies achieving group values that are comparable to out-group, so that the individuals belonging to a group to be able to position themselves and the members of their groups on a favorable scale, as compared to the members of the other groups, whom they discriminate. In fact, as Eysenk (2012) notes, the social identity theory predicts in-group bias because someone identifies with a particular group, while prejudicing other groups.
Empirical evidence indicate that social identity theory contributes to increasing one’s self- esteem and this is one major reason for which in-group bias occurs, influencing group members to reward the members of their group, when being allowed to reward either the members of their group or of other groups (Melyre & Smith, 1985 in Eysenk, 2012). Castano, Yzerbyt, Paladino and Sacchi (2002) indicate that the social identity theory predicts not only unique identities as perceived by individuals, but the theory also predicts that people are affected by the social perceptions, judgments and behaviors of the other members of the group they belong to.
In-group Bias Realistic Conflict Theory
The psychological studies refer to the conflict as to a manifestation of aggression towards somebody else, which is based on personal frustrations or on image that people form regarding other persons or groups, which they consider as threatening (Roeckelein, 2006). The in-group bias based on the realistic conflict theory states that individuals belonging to a group are triggered in a competition with the members of other groups, assigning to each other negative images and perceptions, while nurturing the in-group and out-group biases (Roeckelein, 2006).
Sherif’s experiment with the teenagers in the summer camp indicated that groups can become competitive, fighting for scarce resources, while accentuating the intergroup conflict and generating spontaneous social comparisons that infuse the in-group bias favored by the group cooperation (Wilcox, 2011). Sherif’s experiment also implied bringing the members of the conflicting teams in neutral activities, which only made the conflict more intense, but it also included cooperative activities between the two groups, which contributed to the conflict resolution between the groups (Waller, 2007). This indicates that the belonging to a group generates positive feelings upon the members, even members who were previously part of conflicting groups. Sharing mutual goals and mutual values imposes positive feelings within the in-group, but when the goals are different from a group to another, a conflict arises between the groups, and the members of each group assign negative features to the members of the conflicting group(s), while valuing the features of their group.
Castano et al. (2002) consider that there is a complementarity between the realistic conflict theory and the social identity theory, outlining the fact that the originality of the social identity theory consists in the fact that it emphasizes the symbolic identity association.
Indeed, the two theories complete each other. According to the empiric evidence presented for each theory, members of a group manifest favorable behaviors and perceptions towards the other members of the same group. The social identity theory states that while associating with the values of a group and with the image of the group, in general, people tend to compare themselves with other groups, manifesting a biased behavior towards the members of other groups, considering themselves as better than the rest. Therefore, implicitly, the social identity theory facilitates the in-group bias and the out-group discrimination and prejudice.
Although it focuses on the conflict that can appear between the members of two distinct groups, the realistic conflict theory also delineates the positive feelings, perceptions and behaviors that people manifest towards the member of their own group, as they share the same goals and visions. Therefore, both theories confirm the in-group bias, as a result of the individual association with the group’s norms. However, the social identity theory explains the in-group bias as a natural outcome of people’s expressed need of belonging and of attaining their self-esteem. The realistic conflict theory, on the other hand, does not mention this outcome as the reason for the in-group bias attitudes. On the contrary, it indicates that members of other groups can become member of a certain group, if they change their goals, values, attitudes, according to the group’s norms. Hence, the realistic conflict theory applies in situations when conflict appears as a result of following distinct goals and values, but it can disappear when they are changed to correspond to another group’s norms. However, the social identity theory emphasizes the uniqueness of a group and it is applied in situations wherein individuals need to attain self-esteem.
Castano, E., Yzerbyt, V., Paladino, M.P. and Sacchi, S. (2002) “I belong therefore I exist: ingroup identification, ingroup entitativity and ingroup bias” Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc..vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 135-143.
Eysenck, M.W. (2002) Simply psychology. East Sussex: Psychology Press.
Jørgensen, Ø. Bäckström. M. & Björklund, F. (2012) “A measure of internal and external motivation to control in-group bias”. Lund Psychological Reports. Vol. 12, no. 2., pp. 1-28.
Roeckelein, J.E. (2006) Elsevier’s dictionary of psychological theories. Amsterdam: Elsevier B.V.
Waller, J.E. (2007) Becoming evil: how ordinary people commit genocide and mass killing. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wilcox, C. (2011) Bias: the unconscious deceiver. United States: Xlibris Corporation.