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In-Groups, Out-Groups, and Social Identity Theory

In-Groups, Out-Groups, and Social Identity Theory

Author: Julie Tietz

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand how adherence to group norms establishes in- and out- groups and will be able to relate this to Social Identity Theory.

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In-Groups, Out-Groups and Social Identity Theory

Source: Image of Group at Sunset, Public Domain,

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Hi, I'm Julie Tietz, and welcome to Conflict Resolution-- Putting the Pieces Together. Today, we're going to talk about in-groups and out-groups and how that relates to social identity theory.

Before we get into social identity theory, let's talk a little bit about identity first. So when we're talking about identity, we are talking about our sense of self, so how we define ourselves, who we are. Our identity is then formed from our personal experiences and perceptions that other people have about us.

So through various experiences in our life and from our interactions with other people, these all help us to form our identity. Also, our identity comes from groups. So the groups that we are members of. And the groups play an important role in how we develop our identity.

So that now takes us to social identity theory. Social identity theory is a theory that says how individuals or groups identify in relationship or relation to other groups. And we are evaluating or comparing the in-groups, the groups that we are members of, to those out-groups that we are not a member of. So we are developing a sense of identity, either individually or groups, based upon our group membership or group identity.

So social identity theory helps us explain attribution bias. You may be thinking at first that they sound a little bit similar, but there is a difference here. Social identity theory explains how we identify with groups, whereas attribution bias talks about how we give certain traits to members of our in-groups and members of the out-groups, which can be positive or negative.

So social identity theory also talks about how we behave as humans, so our human behavior. And the theory says that our behavior moves between the extremes of interpersonal behavior, which is our behavior that is determined by our individual characteristics, so our own behaviors based upon ourselves, and our relationships with other people.

And we also move in between the extremes of intergroup behavior. So this is how we act or how our behavior is based upon the group. So how the group has specific rules or norms, how we behave based upon those aspects of our group.

Although we're talking about extremes, we rarely act on solely our interpersonal level or intergroup level. We really find a balance to act in between the two. So we don't solely act or behave based upon our interpersonal behaviors or individual characteristics, nor do we only act on the norms of the group or the intergroup level. We find a medium in between.

Now let's talk about reinforcement in terms of social identity theory. So when we are following the group norms, so in group norms that we have, we are reinforcing our group identity. So the more and more we act within the confines of our in-groups, the stronger our identity is with that group.

Whereas our reinforcement in terms of following our individual traits or characteristics, we are reinforcing our individuality, our individual identity, as a person. And if we are doing this and it's outside of those group norms, we then are moving away from that group identity.

A minute example could be we all wear our work logo shirt on Fridays. And for some reason, you decide that you don't want to wear that shirt anymore and you wear something else. So we are moving away from the norms of the group and you are reinforcing your individual characteristics by choosing to wear something else.

Let's talk a little bit about self-esteem here. So we all as individuals want to enhance our self-esteem. We want to feel good. And we strive and work towards that.

And so because of this, we really want to look at our in-group as a positive. So the more positive we view our in-group, the higher self-esteem we'll get.

And we do this by having a group comparison. So we compare our groups to other groups and try and find more positive things about our group and maybe even negative things about another group.

And so because of this, social identity theory says we can have some intergroup discrimination. So we're thinking that our group is better than somebody else's group without really knowing what that group is about. And as you probably can imagine, this can cause conflict.

So let's go over our key points before we go on social identity theory. Social identity theory states that we develop our identification based upon groups. So our sense of belonging comes from identifying with certain groups.

And it also says that we compare our in-groups to others' out-groups. And we oftentimes reinforce our group and individual identity. Our group identity is reinforced when we follow those group norms. Our individual identity is reinforced when we go outside our group norms and really reinforce our individual characteristics, moving away from our in-groups when we do so.

And self-esteem is important because we strive to have good self-esteem and work towards that. And we do this when we evaluate groups that we belong to in a positive light. And when we do this, we can often discriminate against other groups because we want to make sure our group is seen positively. And this can cause intergroup conflict.

That's all I have for you today. Here are your key terms. Feel free to pause and look at them a little closer.

Thanks for taking the time out. And I can't wait to catch you again next time.

Terms to Know

A person's sense of belonging to and drawing part of his identity from a group.


A person's sense of self; the way an individual defines himself or herself.


A group in which a given person defines herself or himself a member.


A group in which a given person does not define himself or herself a member.

Social Identity Theory

A theory dealing with how individuals and groups develop a sense of identity and relate to other groups in terms of their sense of identity, evaluating the in-group in terms of the out-group.