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Minimal group/Tajfel: Extending the earlier work of Sherif (>Robbers Cave Experiment/Sherif, >Group behavior/Sherif, >Social Groups/Sherif, [Taifel’s] minimal group studies were designed to reduce the group or category to its most minimal elements and then establish at what point conflict and discrimination between groups would rear their heads.
As it turned out, the intergroup discrimination arising from the highly recognizable phenomenon of gangs of boys fighting over territory and resources also arose when all obvious features that might produce such conflict (e.g., a history of antagonism, a scarcity of resources) were stripped away.
Indeed, by this means the studies provided striking evidence that boys (and later adults) would discriminate in favour of their own group in the absence of any visible signs of the groups themselves – a phenomenon typically referred to as minimal ingroup bias.
Def Minimal ingroup bias: boys (and later adults) would discriminate in favour of their own group in the absence of any visible signs of the groups themselves. >Social identity theory/Tajfel.
Predecessors: Sherifs boys’ camp studies (>Robbers Cave Experiment/Sherif, Sherif and Sherif (1967(1) showed that tensions arise between groups when they have to compete for scarce resources.
TajfelVsSherif: as set out in the influential 1971 (Tajfel 1971)(2) paper in which Tajfel and his colleagues presented the findings of the first minimal group studies, two related themes seemed to motivate Tajfel’s quest to go beyond Sherif’s ideas. First, he emphasized the importance of the social context in which behaviour was embedded and acquired meaning.
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Prejudice/Tajfel: The articulation of an individual’s social world in terms of its categorization in groups becomes a guide for his [or her] conduct in situations to which some criterion of intergroup division can be meaningfully applied. (Meaningful need not be ‘rational’.) An undifferentiated environment makes very little sense and provides no guidelines for action … . Whenever … some form of intergroup categorization can be used it will give order and coherence to the social situation. >Group behavior/Tajfel.
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Experiment 1: (see >Method/Tajfel) when allocation involved
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two ingroup or two outgroup members, participants displayed an overwhelming preference for a strategy of fairness. However, when it came to differential matrices that involved rewarding an ingroup versus an outgroup member, they were now more discriminatory in favour of the ingroup (although the modal response was still for fairness). In other words, these matrices produced evidence of significant ingroup bias. Moreover, participants’ support for this strategy did not change when the categorization procedure was given a value connotation that might justify discrimination (…).
Experiment 2: Experiment 2 was designed to distinguish further between the different reward strategies participants were using. The clear result was that [the „Maximum Difference“ strategy; see >Method/Tajfel] exerted a significant pull when opposed to the other strategies. (…) the differentiation matrices provide consistent evidence of ingroup favouritism and maximum difference strategies. (>Method/Tajfel).
Interpretation of the results: Initially, Tajfel and his colleagues interpreted [the support for the maximum difference strategy (biggest positive difference between ingroup and outgroup points in favor of the ingroup)] as supporting a generic social norm to discriminate.
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VsTajfel: many subsequent accounts interpreted this as an example of outgroup derogation (because it harms the outgroup at the expense of benefiting the ingroup).
Problem/Spears/Otten: in the MD strategy, positive differentiation and derogation are confounded, and this problem has never adequately been addressed (and is rarely if ever discussed).
Alternative Interpretations/Tajfel: (Tajfel et al. 1971)(2): (a) demand characteristics (the idea that participants were responding to cues that conveyed the experimenter’s hypothesis), (b) expectations of reciprocity, and (c) anticipation of future interaction.
Ad (a): Lindsay St Claire and John Turner (1982)(3) found that if people were asked to role-play being members of the groups (rather than being categorized themselves) and then complete the matrices accordingly they did not show the same degree of ingroup bias (MD and MIP) but tended to predict fairness.
Ad (b): Tajfel and colleagues admitted that they had no data that spoke to this issue and hence this explanation could not easily be ruled out.
Ad (c): Tajfel proposed that the most rational strategy – given that they did not know who was in ‘their’ group – was to opt for an MJP (maximum joint points) strategy. However, (…) this strategy held little appeal.
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Generic norm explanation: this explanation quickly fell from favour because of the potential circularity of a normative account: if there is a competitive norm (e.g., among participants from western countries), where does it come from and what explains that? For a solution: see >Social identity theory/Tajfel.
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1. Problem: in the literature Tajfel’s minimal group studies are often used to warrant the conclusion that discrimination is pervasive and inevitable ((s) which is not explicitly claimed by Tajfel and Turner).
2. Problem: it is the question, whether the portrayal of Tajfel’s and Turner’s studies is always accurate:
Social dominance theory: here evidence for ingroup favouritism is used to argue that intergroup discrimination is a generic feature of many intergroup relations (Sidanius and Pratto, 1999)(4).
System justification theory: (Jost and Banaji, 1994)(5): here evidence for ingroup favouritism
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is used to suggest that groups (especially those with high-status) often seek to justify their position through displays of bias towards others. >Minimal group/Psychological theories.
1. Sherif, M. (1967) Group Conflict and Co-operation: Their Social Psychology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
2. Tajfel, H., Flament, C., Billig, M.G. and Bundy, R.F. (1971) ‘Social categorization and intergroup behaviour’, European Journal of Social Psychology, 1: 149–77.
3. St Claire, L. and Turner, J.C. (1982) ‘The role of demand characteristics in the social categorization paradigm’, European Journal of Social Psychology, 12: 307–14.
4. Sidanius, J. and Pratto, F. (1999) Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression. New York: Cambridge University Press.
5. Jost, J.T. and Banaji, M.R. (1994) ‘The role of stereotyping in system-justification and the production of false consciousness’, British Journal of Social Psychology, 33: 1–27.
Russell Spears and Sabine Otten,“Discrimination. Revisiting Tajfel’s minimal group studies“, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic studies. London: Sage Publications_____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017