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Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations

Sociologists have identified several types of social groups, distinguished by their different effects on the members` attitudes, feelings, and behaviors. The differences among these groups, in political outlook, social status, even manner of dress, may lead us to embrace one while avoiding others. A typical example across the United States is the high school. Students wear high-school jackets to indicate that, to them, school is an important social group. Students attending another high school may become the targets of derision simply because they belong to a rival group. This simplifies the opposition of in-groups and out-groups.

An in-group is an esteemed social group commanding a member’s loyalty. An out-group, by contrasts, is a scorned social group toward which one feels competition or opposition. For example, in-groups are those with which a person identifies and in which he or she feels at home. Almost any social trait shared by more than a few people can give rise to an in-group such as; ethnic heritage, family name, age, economic status, occupation, drug use, or leisure activities. In-groups develop such influence as the sense of “we”-ness—togetherness, common perceptions and evaluations, and a consciousness of kind.

The out-groups on the other hand, are the opposite: groups with which a person does not identify and in which he or she does not feel at home. Another example, a town’s Democrats generally think of themselves as as in-group in relation to local Republicans. In-groups and out-groups work on the principle that “we” have valued traits that “they” lack. An important step in the formation of an in-group— from out-groups—is the creation of a social boundary that distinguishes in-group members from the rest of society.

These social boundaries are implicitly understood lines that demarcate who is in from who is out. Group boundaries are established and made visible in several identifiers such as: members of an in-group symbolize their membership visually by wearing distinctive items (a fraternity pin or a nun’s habit) or by talking in distinctive slang; conflict with out-groups also draws members together in the confrontation with a common enemy, and makes clear the line between inside and out.

So, if one does not belong to a group, the individual is keep outside and is not allowed to interact with the in-group, and to the individuals who already belong to a group, they are not allowed to move out to interact with nonmembers. Moreover, tensions among groups sharpen their boundaries and give people a clearer social identity. However, research has shown that the members of in-groups hold overly positive views of themselves and unfairly negative views of various out-groups (Tajfel, 2002).

Hence, power plays a part in these groups. An example is, the whites have historically viewed people of color as an out-group and subjected them to social, political, and economic disadvantages. Internalizing these negative attitudes, people of African, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American descent often struggle to overcome negative self-images based on stereotypes widespread among the white majority.

These social groups are important building blocks of society as they foster common identity among members. Moreover, these social groups hold primary importance in the socialization process, shaping attitudes and behavior and providing comfort and security of each member. Hence, social groups provide a wide range of benefits to its members.


Tajfel, Henri. “Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. ” Annual Review of Psychology. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews, 2002:1-13.

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