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3 Tutorials that teach In-Groups, Out-Groups, and Social Identity Theory
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In-Groups, Out-Groups, and Social Identity Theory

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

Author: marlene johnson

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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We all have a sense of identity. You might call it our sense of self. That's how we define who we are.

Well, what shapes this sense of identity? How do we develop it? I'm Marlene and I'd like to talk a little more with you about that today.

I'd like to talk about identity. And also something called Social Identity Theory. So let's start with identity. How do we form our identity?

Well, there's really a couple of factors that go into that. One is our personal experience. We all have our unique personal experiences that helps to shape who we are. The personal.

And then there's also the way others think about us. Their perceptions. How do they act around us? what do they say? What do they think? And a lot of that can come from the group.

So both personal and group experiences help shape who we are and how we think about ourselves. Now Social Identity Theory says that a portion of our sense of self that comes from groups can be really reinforced the more we follow the norms and rules of whatever group we belong to.

Now the groups we belong to we tend to call our in groups. And by in groups, that's just how we define ourselves. I'm part of this particular group or this club. Or I have this hobby or this place of worship.

And our groups will have certain ways of doing things. Maybe we've joined a club that has a particular initiation rite. People wear certain clothes or certain rules. Certain ways of being.

And the more we ascribe to that, the stronger our sense of identity is derived from that group. Now we call that are in group. Which is any group that we belong to. OK?

And if we belong to a group and that's our group, then there has to be a group that's not us. And that would be the out group.

So we have both the in group and the out group. And the stronger we follow the norms and rules of our in group, the more likely it's going to be that we're going to be comparing that group, our groups, with other groups.

Now because as human beings, we all want to have a good sense of self-esteem. We want to feel good about ourselves.

If a lot of our identity, a large portion of our identity, is coming from groups, then we're going to want to feel good about the groups we belong to. We're going to want to feel good about the ways we behave, the rules, the norms.

We're going to see these ways of being as maybe better than the way people perhaps do something in another group. Or an out group.

And this comparison, this intergroup comparison, can lead to discrimination. It can lead to discrimination. So that is one way that conflict can happen.

Because we're identifying with our groups. Part of our identity comes from this. We see our groups as superior to another group.

Now Social Identity Theory can help explain something called attribution bias. Now attribution bias is this tendency we have to give positive traits to our in group. OK? And more negative traits to the out group.

But attribution bias is not Social Identity Theory. Social Identity Theory simply states that part of our identity comes from groups.

And because of that, attribution bias is at work. And attribution bias is this tendency to give the positive traits to the groups we belong to.

Now, I've also mentioned here that our identity does come from personal. And that will be our own traits. Just things that we like. The way we are when we're by ourselves or maybe relating individually to friends. Or people we feel close to.

You may have heard the phrase, I feel like I could just let my hair down. I could be myself here. I don't have to follow any kind of rules the way I do at work. Or at a particular club or a place of worship. I'm just being myself.

And people who are finding a lot of their identity from these personal traits, you may have heard the phrase, oh, that person marches to the beat of a different drummer.

So they're really taking a strong sense of their identity. They're reinforcing who they are more from this personal traits.

Now for most of us though, for most people, I think we're constantly trying to find a balance here. A balance between the group and the personal. OK?

Our sense of identity comes from both. And the stronger we reinforce our group norms, the stronger we identify with the group.

Perhaps the stronger our sense of identity will come from here. Or if we see ourselves maybe a little bit more of a renegade, our identity will come from here. But it's a constant balance.

Social identity theory, though, does make us aware of the fact that we do have a tendency to compare groups. And because we want to feel good about ourselves and our groups, we tend to give the positive to our in groups.

Which can lead to intergroup discrimination. Thinking that groups that we are not a part of are not as good as the groups that we are part of.

So thank you for joining me today. And I look forward to 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.