A web site full of stuff that should be useful
in Intergroup Discrimination
Prejudice is an attitude
(usually negative) toward the member of some group solely on their
membership in that group.
Prejudice can also bee
seen as part of the general process of ethnocentrism.
Discrimination can be seen as the behavioural expression of prejudice.
which attempt to explain the origins of prejudice fall into two major
categories. Personality theories, which see the source of prejudice as being in
the individual and social
which see prejudice as a result of group membership.
An example of a
personality theory would be Bandura’s social learning theory, which
argues that attitudes such as prejudices are learned from role models.
Many social psychological
theories argue that society may be much more important than personality
types in accounting for prejudice. Such
theories see prejudice as a result of group membership and group
An interesting social
psychological approach was demonstrated by Sherif. Sherif (1966) believes
that prejudice arises out of conflict between two groups. For example when two groups want to achieve the same goal but
cannot both have it, hostility is produced between them.
between various groups during periods of economic decline, for example,
may be one of the factors contributing to prejudice.
Tajfel like Sherif
believes that the personality approach is inadequate in explaining
prejudice and he also uses a social psychological approach.
However, Tajfel et al (1971) argue that ‘competition’ is not a
sufficient condition for inter-group conflict and hostility.
Tajfel does not deny the importance of ‘competition’ between
groups, personality types as explanations for the origins of prejudice but
argues that mere perception of the existence of another group can itself
produce discrimination. Tajfel
et al argue that, before any discrimination can occur, people must be categorised
as members of an in-group or an out-group, but more significantly the very
act of categorisation by itself
produces conflict and discrimination.
By in-group we mean a
group to which a person belongs, or thinks he or she belongs.
By out-group we mean a group to which a person does not belong, or thinks he or she does not belong.
The aim of Tajfel’s study was to demonstrate that merely putting people into groups (categorisation) is sufficient for people to discriminate in favour of their own group and against members of the other group.
The study consisted of two laboratory experiments. The independent variable was the type of allocation they were asked to make and the dependent variable was the choices they made (either being fair or showing discrimination)
The First Experiment (under-estimators and over-estimators)
The subjects were 64
boys, 14 and 15 years old from a comprehensive school in a suburb of
The subjects came to the
laboratory in separate groups of 8. All
of the boys in each of the groups were from the same house in the same
form at the school, so that they knew each other well before the
The first part of the
experiment served to establish an intergroup categorisation.
At first the boys were
brought together in a lecture room and were told that the experimenters
were interested in the study of visual judgements.
Forty clusters of varying numbers of dots were flashed on a screen
and the boys were asked to record each estimate in succession on prepared
There were two conditions
in the first part of the experiment.
In one condition, after the boys had completed their estimates they
were told that in judgements of this kind some people consistently
overestimate the number of dots and some consistently underestimate the
number, but that these tendencies are in no way related to accuracy.
(‘under-estimators - over-estimators’ condition).
In the other condition
the boys were told that some people are consistently more accurate than
others. (‘better’ -
Four groups of 8 served
in each of the two conditions.
After the judgements had
been made and scored by the experimenter the boys were told that they were
going to be grouped on the basis of the visual judgements they had just
subjects were actually assigned to groups at random.
The second part of the
experiment aimed to assess the effects of categorisation on intergroup
The subjects were taken
to separate cubicles and told which group they were in. The students were given a booklet of matrices and told that
the task would consist of giving to others rewards and penalties in real
money. The boys would not
know the identity of the individuals to whom they would be assigning these
rewards and penalties since everyone would be given a code number.
The value of each point
they were rewarding was a tenth of a penny.
Each row of the matrix
was labelled “These are reward and penalties for member no. ..... of
your group” or “..... of
the other group”. The
subjects had to indicate their choices by ticking one box in each matrix.
The boys were required to
make three types of choice.
were in-group choices, where both top and bottom row referred to members
of the same group as the boy. (other than himself)
There were out-group choices, with both top and bottom row referred
to members of the different group from the boy.
3. There were intergroup choices, where one row referred to the boys’ own group and one row referred to the other group.
The important choice for
Tajfel is the intergroup choice.
Below is an example of a matrix
The Second Experiment (aesthetic preference)
The second experiment was
very similar to the first. 48
new boys were used as subjects and all the subjects knew each other well.
The experiment differed
in two ways.
The boys were shown slides of paintings by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, which were shown without the painter’s signature and were asked to express their preferences.
Half of the subjects were
assigned at random to the ‘Klee group’ and half to the ‘Kandinsky
The other major
difference was in the type of matrices used.
In this experiment matrices were employed which allowed the
experimenters to investigate three variables.
The three variables were:
If we look at an example below of one of the matrices we can see how the three variables can be measured
Maximum joint profit
giving the largest reward to the
in-group would both be achieved by choosing the last pair in the row,
giving 19 to a member of your own group, and 25 to a member of the other
group. However, to maximise
your own rewards while also
maximising the difference, you might well choose one of the middle
boxes and give 12 to a member of your own group and 11 to a member of the
The experiments carried
out by Tajfel clearly demonstrate that inter-group discrimination is easy to
trigger off. Tajfel demonstrates that the very act of categorisation into
groups is enough to produce conflict and discrimination.
In making their
intergroup choices a large majority of the subjects, in all groups in both
conditions, gave more money to members of their own group than to members
of the other group. Intergroup
discrimination was the strategy used in making intergroup choices.
In contrast the in-group
and out-group choices were closely distributed around the point of
The second experiment also clearly demonstrated that the most important factor in making their choices was maximising the differences between the two groups.
Evaluation of Procedure
Limitations of Procedure
Tajfel’s experiment has
been criticised because it is very artificial (not ecologically valid).
Would the simple act of categorisation be sufficient to create
discrimination in a more ecologically valid situation?
In everyday life categorisation does often come with some degree of
experiment has also been criticised because it contains demand characteristics. The
experiment aimed to demonstrate that competition was not a sufficient
factor in the creation of intergroup discrimination.
Tajfel demonstrated that merely categorising people into in-groups
and out-groups is sufficient to create intergroup discrimination.
However it has been suggested that if schoolboys are divided into
groups, by adults, they will automatically interpret these groups as
‘teams’ and think in terms of competition.
Tajfel has also been criticised for the way he interpreted his results. Brown (1988), for example, suggests that the behaviour of the boys can be seen in terms of fairness as much as discrimination. Although the boys showed bias towards their own group, this bias was not very extreme and seemed to be moderated by a sense of fairness.
Strengths of Procedure
A major strength of the procedure was the high level of control Tajfel managed to employ. For example, there was no face-to-face interaction between group members; the boys only knew of other in-group/out-group members by a code number; although the boys did not realise this, they were in fact assigned randomly to the e two groups; the boys could only award points to others (either in-groupers or out-groupers) and never to themselves and that they could not know what others would do or in any way influence how others behaved
In a later study Tajfel uses Social Identity Theory (SIT) as an explanation for intergroup discrimination. Social identity theory argues that the boys favoured their own group because it increases their self-esteem. Even though the boys were never giving points to themselves they knew that if they gave less to the other group and more to their own group that they would be in the group which gained most points therefore improving their self esteem because they belonged to the ‘best’ group.
Tajfel's social identity theory has become one of the main theories in European social psychology.
The theory is useful
because as well as explaining the social causes of prejudice it may also
be able to explain individual differences, i.e. why some people are more
likely to discriminate than others. Some
individuals , for example, may be more prone to prejudice because they
have an intense need for acceptance by others.
For such individuals, personal and social identity may be much more
interlinked than for those with a lesser need for social acceptance. This need for a sense of security and superiority can be met
by belonging to a favoured in-group and showing hostility towards
It is possible to
criticise Tajfel's Social Identity Theory.
Tajfel maintained that competition was not a sufficient factor in
the creation of intergroup discrimination.
Tajfel did not deny that competition between two groups influences
intergroup discrimination but demonstrated that merely categorising people
into in-groups and out-groups is sufficient to create intergroup
findings have been replicated using a wide range of subjects in a wide
range of cultures.
psychologists have demonstrated that conflict is not inevitable.
In cultures which do not emphasise competition, as much as perhaps
the West does, categorisation does not always seem to lead to
This is not to say that Social Identity Theory does not work but suggests that within societies which emphasise co-operation and fairness intergroup discrimination will be less likely to happen.
Tajfel, H. (1970) Experiments in intergroup discrimination. Scientific American, 223, 96-102
GROSS, R. (1999) Key Studies in Psychology, 3rd Edition. London: Hodder and Stoughton
BANYARD, P. AND GRAYSON, A. (2000) Introducing Psychological Research; Seventy Studies that Shape Psychology, 2nd Edition. London: Macmillan