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A test of social identity theory : intergroup discrimination and self-esteem in the minimal group paradigm Lemyre, Louise


To study categorization effects in an experimental context the minimal group paradigm has been designed by Henri Tajfel. Subjects are categorized into two groups on an ad hoc, trivial criterion and asked to allocate points to two anonymous persons. The reliable finding in this minimal situation consists of intergroup discrimination; i.e. ingroup favoritism plus maximum intergroup differentiation. Social Identity Theory attempts to explain such intergroup discrimination in the 'real world' as well as in the context of the minimal group paradigm. The theory postulates a basic need for positive self-esteem and a process of social identification. In situations of social categorization, social identity (i.e. the group membership) can mediate self-esteem. Relative positive group distinctiveness in favor of the ingroup is sought through competitive social comparison and can be achieved by intergroup discrimination. It consequently leads to higher self-esteem. This research was aimed at verifying experimentally whether or not self-esteem was indeed involved in intergroup discrimination, and at which of several possible levels: social categorization, cognitive differentiation of the ingroup and the outgroup, or the actual competitive discrimination against the outgroup. Eight conditions concurrently run and randomly assigned among 135 undergraduates manipulated: (a) social categorization, (b) intergroup discrimination via a point allocation task, and (c); the moment at which self-esteem was assessed; all within the minimal group paradigm. Four conditions determined a 2x2 factorial design and four others added specific supplementary controls. The dependent measures included Rosenberg's Self-Esteem scale, the Twenty Statements test, nine semantic differential scales, Sherwood's Self-Concept Inventory, and a single global rating of self-esteem. Overall the hypothesis was supported. Intergroup discrimination contributed to self-esteem as predicted by Social Identity Theory. A significant interaction effect was found using a two-way MANOVA on the 2x2 design. Specifically, categorized and discriminative subjects were equivalent to baseline subjects on self-esteem and they were higher than those who were either categorized and did not do the point allocation task, or were not categorized but did the task. The supplementary conditions confirmed that for categorized subjects, intergroup discrimination benefitted self-esteem. The results suggested that threat was perceived for those who were facing an unresolved social comparison situation which lowered their self-esteem.

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