Classic
study: The model of the minimal
group paradigm

In the classical experiment of the minimalist model,
Tajfel and his colleagues (Tajfel, Flament, Billig and Bundy, 1971) tried to
explain why there was competition between groups without any real conflict of
interest. This experiment examined the minimum conditions necessary
for the emergence of team competition. The results were shocking: the existence
of single teams, whether they make sense for someone or not, is enough to
discriminate.

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Specifically, the participants in the experiment were given the instruction
that they participated in a decision-making study. After completing a test that
supposedly measures their aesthetic preferences, they were divided into two
groups: Klee and Kandinsky. In fact, the ranking was random. Participants knew
who they belonged to, while others knew only one code number and the group they
belonged to. Each participant in the experiment was asked to share points in
pairs of other participants. One member of the couple belonged to the same
group as the respondent and the other to the other group. For graduation, the
participants had to choose a pair of numbers from the tables prepared by the
researchers.

The most reasonable would be to expect the points to be
shared equally between the two teams. However, the results showed that
participants tended to give more points to their group than to members of the
other group, favoring their team members. These experiments have shown that a
simple categorization, even if based on an arbitrary and irrelevant criterion,
is capable of discriminating.

 

The theory of
social identity: Belonging to the group

The crucial role of social categorization in intergroup
behavior, as evidenced by the research of the minimal groups, led to the
development of the concept of social identity by Tajfel and Turner
(Tajfel, 1974; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). This simple idea has developed and
evolved over the years to become perhaps the most prominent contemporary
sociopsychological analysis of group processes, intergroup relationships and
collective self – the theory of social identity.

Based on the assumption that society is structured in
distinct social groups that are in power and status relationships between them
(e.g. blacks and whites in the United States, Catholics and Protestants in
Northern Ireland, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq), a precondition to social
identity is that social categories (large groups such as a nation or church,
but also intermediate groups such as an organization, or small groups such as a
club) provide their members with a social identity – one defining and
evaluating what is someone and a description and assessment of what this
entails.

Social identity does not only describe features, it is
very important that it also dictates what one has to think and how to behave as
a member. For example, being a member of the “Gypsies” group means
that you are not only defining and evaluating yourself and being defined and
evaluated by others as a gypsy, but also thinking and behaving in typical gypsy
ways.

Social identity consists of “those aspects of a person’s self-image
that originate from the social categories in which the individual feels it
belongs” (Tajfel & Turner, 1979, p. 40). Social identity is that part
of self-perception that stems from belonging to the group. It is associated
with group and group behaviors that have some general characteristics:
ethnocentrism, intragroup favor, bomber differentiation, intra-group norms,
intragroup solidarity and consistency, self-perception, members of the group
and members of the group in terms of relevant group stereotypes.

 

Social-
and personal identity

The self-perception of the individual, namely his
identity, consists of his personal identity, which contains the particular
(idiosyncratic) characteristics of the individual (e.g. friendly, calm, likes
spicy foods, is married to X, loves them two children and his parents, etc.)
and his social identity, based on the social categories he belongs to.

Personal and social identity are not mutually exclusive
concepts, but they are the two poles of a continuous one. If circumstances make
personal identity distinct, the individual focuses on the characteristics that
differentiate him from other people and exhibits individual behavior. While the
conditions make the social identity clear, the individual focuses on the
characteristics that differentiate the group that belongs to other relevant
out-groups and exhibits group behavior.

At this point, it must be made clear that the physical presence of other
individuals or groups is not necessary to trigger a person’s personal or social
identity. The “others” either as individuals or as groups are always
“cognitive” present and so individual or group behavior can even
occur when one is alone. For example, one reads a novel where the drunken and
pitiful central hero deceives his wife, and thinks he is completely different
and smiles happy, giving a kiss to his wife. The novel activated the person’s
personal identity as an exemplary spouse and led him to individual behavior.
Someone else watches on TV a football match between the supporting team and the
traditional opponent. When a goal is scored, the team celebrates and when a
goal is scored, the opposing team uses the most serious qualifiers for the
players and the referee. The football match triggered the individual’s social
identity as a fan of the particular group, and both celebrations and insults
are group behavior.

However, social identity is quite separate from personal
identity, which, as we have said, is that part of self-perception stemming from
personal characteristics and idiosyncratic personal relationships that we have
with other people (Turner, 1982). Personal identity is not associated with
group and group behaviors – it is linked to interpersonal and individual
behavior. People have a repertoire of so many social and personal identities as
are the groups with which they are identified, or the close relationships and
idiosyncratic attributes under which they define themselves.

Nevertheless, although we have many distinct social and personal
identities, we are subjectively experiencing ourselves as a single integrated
person with a continuous and uninterrupted biography – the subjective
experience of the self in the form of fragmentary and inconsistent self may be
problematic and associated with various psychopathologies.

The approach of social identity distinguishes social from personal identity
in a conscious attempt to avoid the interpretation of group and inter-group
processes in terms of personality traits and interpersonal relationships.
Social theorists believe that many socio-psychological theories of group
processes and team relationships are limited because they interpret phenomena
by summing up the effects of personality preconditions or interpersonal
relationships.

 

 

Social identity and intergroup relations

In seeking a positive social identity, groups and
individuals can adopt a range of different strategies, the choice of which is
determined by people’s beliefs about the nature of the relationships between their
own and other groups.
The choice of social identity management strategy is a function of the
perception of the members of a group regarding the “social climate”
that characterizes the bumblebee situation. The perception of the social
climate depends on the assessment of three factors (socio-structural
variables):

(1)  
of
the permeability of the boundaries between the intergroup and the out-group

(2)  
the
stability of the intergroup position in the foreseeable future

(3)  
the
legality of the system of allocation of seats

 

Social
identity theory: Structures of beliefs and strategies for improving social identity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These beliefs, which may or may not be in line with the
reality of intergroup relationships (they are ideological constructions), rely in
principle on whether it is possible, as a person, to “pass” from a
lower status group and gain acceptance to a higher status group. A system of
social mobility beliefs inhibits group action on the part of subordinate groups
and, on the contrary, encourages individuals to detach themselves from the
group and try to gain acceptance for themselves and their immediate family
within the dominant group.

Belief in social mobility is complied with scrupulously
in Western democratic political systems. Where people believe
that intergroup boundaries are impenetrable to any “passage”,
there is a system of beliefs of social change (e.g., the Hindu caste system in
India). Under these circumstances, positive social identity can only be
achieved through forms of group action, and the type of action is influenced by
whether the status quo (the existing status and power hierarchy) is perceived
as safe or precarious. If the status quo is stable, legal, and therefore safe,
it is difficult to capture an alternative social structure (i.e. there are no
cognitive alternatives), let alone a path to real social change.

Groups tend to adopt strategies of social creativity:

Ø 
They
can engage in intergroup comparisons on prototype or unorthodox dimensions that
tend to favor the subordinate group. For example, Lemaine (1966, 1974) asked
children to engage in a team competition to build the best hut and found that
the groups that had been given worse construction materials and therefore were
unable to defeat advanced by emphasizing how much had nicely made the garden.

Ø 
They
may attempt to change the consensual value attributed to intragroup features
(for example, through the slogan “black is beautiful”).

Ø 
They
can compare themselves with other groups of low or lower status (e.g.,
“racism of the poor-white”),

Where social change is linked to the recognition that the
status quo is not legal and is unstable and therefore precarious, and where
there are cognitive alternatives (i.e. alternative social structures can be
understood and achieved), then there is direct social competition – direct
collective conflict (e.g. political action, collective protest, revolutions,
war). Social movements systematically emerge under such
conditions (e.g. Klandermans, 1997).