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Responses to Endorsement of Commonality by Ingroup and Outgroup Members

October 27, 2013

By Ángel Gómez (UNED, Spain), John F. Dovidio (Yale University, USA), Samuel L. Gaertner (University of Delaware, USA), Saulo Fernández (UNED, Spain), & Alexandra Vázquez (UNED, Spain)

People show more positive affective responses, think more favorably and respond more cooperatively towards members of their group (ingroup members) than toward members of other groups (outgroup members). This tendency, called ingroup favoritism, explains why attitudes toward persons, formerly considered as outgroup members, improve when they become recognized as members of a common, superordinate ingroup (e.g., majority and minority group members on the same team). Thinking of people formerly considered only as members of a different group as members of the same superordinate or overarching ingroup, transforms mental representations of the memberships from two separate groups to a single ingroup with a “common identity.”

Relations between groups (i.e., intergroup relations) also benefit from different forms of vicarious contact. For instance, learning that ingroup members have friends from other groups, or observing positive interactions between them improve intergroup attitudes. This positive effect occurs, in part, because vicarious contact affects a person’s perception of ingroup norms concerning intergroup relations, seeing norms as more supportive of positive intergroup relations than before.

The present research integrates these two lines of research, common identity and perceptions of ingroup norms, to examine how learning that others (ingroup or outgroup members) endorse a common ingroup identity influences intergroup attitudes.

Our previous research (Gómez, Dovidio, Gaertner, Huici, & Cuadrado, 2008) showed that individuals can be systematically influenced by information that other people regard members of different groups as sharing a common ingroup identity.  Importantly, the effect on intergroup attitudes varies as a function of the group to which others belong. When common identity is endorsed by ingroup members, intergroup attitudes improve. In contrast, this view expressed by outgroup members leads people to show negative intergroup attitudes, probably because it arouses feelings of threat. If the outgroup has lower status than the ingroup, ingroup members might perceive that the common ingroup identity undermines their group’s status (Gómez et al., 2008, Study 2) and its core social values (Dovidio et al., 2010).

We conducted two studies to examine, more deeply, two possible mediating mechanisms that may be affected depending upon whether common identity is endorsed by ingroup or outgroup members: personal representations of a common ingroup identity and feelings of group threat (Gómez, Dovidio, Gaertner, Fernández, & Vázquez, 2013).  In Study 1 we investigated the effects of the source of categorization information (i.e., an ingroup or outgroup member, or a neutral source) on intergroup attitudes and the potential mediating role of personal impressions that the members of different groups are regarded with a single, inclusive identity. In Study 2, we simultaneously analyzed the roles of personal one-group representations (as we did in Study 1) and the experience of group threat in response to the expression of common identity by ingroup or outgroup members.

In both studies, participants read a newspaper article, in which the only variation was the source providing the information about categorization. In Study 1, participants learned that (a) their national ingroup (other Spaniards), (b) or outgroup members (immigrants from Eastern EU countries), or (c) a neutral group of professionals (lawyers, historians, etc.) from other European countries categorized citizens from Spain and from Eastern European countries within a common identity (i.e., as Europeans).  After this manipulation, we measured the extent to which each participant perceived the groups within a common ingroup identity (a one-group representation) and their positive attitudes toward the immigrant group.

We predicted that, compared to the neutral source condition, learning that ingroup members categorize the groups within a common identity would arouse more positive intergroup attitudes. In contrast, learning that outgroup members categorize the groups within a common identity would produce less positive intergroup attitudes. These effects should be driven by increased or reduced personal endorsement of one-group representations, respectively.


Figure 1. The 3 individuals on the left all think of themselves as members of the same group, but the individual on the right does not internalize a one-group representation: he believes each person is a member of different group.

Results of Study 1 supported these hypotheses. Learning that ingroup members viewed the ingroup and outgroup members within a common ingroup identity (ingroup recategorization) had a positive impact on intergroup attitudes. However, the same information from an outgroup source (outgroup recategorization) negatively affected intergroup attitudes. Importantly, these effects were mediated by one-group representations. Ingroup recategorization led participants to internalize one-group representations, whereas outgroup recategorization weakened personal one-group representations. These results suggest that when participants learn that ingroup members think of Eastern Europeans and Spaniards as belonging to the same group (i.e., Europeans), they also internalize a one-group representation, personally believing that Eastern Europeans and Spaniards share a common European identity. In contrast, when participants learn that outgroup members think of Eastern Europeans and Spaniards as belonging to the same group, they do not internalize a one-group representation and they maintain or even increase their perception that these are separate groups (see Figure 1).

In Study 2 we investigated whether these divergent effects are due to perception of a symbolic threat (see Esses, Dovidio, Jackson, & Armstrong, 2001) to ingroup core values. The goal was to disentangle the dynamic relationships among one-group representations, threat, and intergroup orientations. The procedure and design replicated those used in Study 1, with two main changes: (a) symbolic threat to core values was assessed, and (b) the neutral source categorization condition was not included. We predicted the source of categorization would affect positive intergroup orientations through one-group representations and symbolic threat to core values, sequentially.

To directly test this predicted mediation, a path analysis was conducted. The model we proposed considered that the manipulation of the source of categorization (ingroup vs. outgroup) directly affected one-group representations and symbolic threat to core values, whereas one-group representations affected intergroup attitudes through reduced symbolic threat to core values. The results (see Figure 2) supported this model.


Figure 2. Tests of the hypothesis that the effects of stronger one-group representations resulting from ingroup versus outgroup categorization on more positive intergroup orientations would occur through reduced threat.

Theoretically, future research might productively further explore alternative processes that may be involved. Indeed, a dual-process model might be operating, in which ingroup and outgroup information activates the mediating mechanisms in a different order. Ingroup common identity information might lead to conformity and stronger one-group representations, and through this to reduced threat and more positive intergroup attitudes. In contrast, outgroup common identity information might engender perceptions of threat and rejection of the outgroup views, and trough those to reduced one-group representations and less positive intergroup attitudes. The inclusion of a neutral group control condition would help address these alternative possibilities.

Taken together, the findings from these two studies reveal a new way to improve intergroup relations, such as learning that other ingroup members simply think of members of another group sharing common identity with the ingroup, that do not require personal contact or experience.  The results also indicate challenges:  Learning that outgroup members think of the groups within a common identity can exacerbate bias. Nevertheless, understanding both, the processes that reduce bias and the conditions that threat and reinforce bias, can inform interventions that can increase harmony while minimizing negative reactions that undermine positive intergroup relations.

Author Information

AngelGomezAmsterdamÁngel Gómez is Research Assistant with Tenure at the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at UNED, (Spain). Research interests focused on explaining the roots of extreme behaviours via identity fusion, and the strategies to improve intergroup relations through direct and extended contact and recategorization.

Dovidio_JohnJohn F. Dovidio is currently Professor of Psychology at Yale University. He previously taught at the University of Connecticut and Colgate University, where he also served as Provost. His research interests are in stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination; social power and nonverbal communication; and altruism and helping.

Eric Hehman and Sam GaertnerSamuel L. Gaertner is Professor of Psychology at the University of Delaware. His research interests are in prejudice and discrimination and he is currenlty exploring factors that promote the initiation of cross-group friendships.   

FotoSauloSaulo Fernández is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at UNED (Spain). His main research interests are humiliation and advantaged-disadvantaged group relationships, with special emphasis on the perspective of the disadvantaged group members. He is currently investigating the emotion of humiliation and its aftermath.

Foto AlexandraAlexandra Vázquez is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at UNED (Spain). Her main research interests are intragroup and intergroup relations. She is currently investigating the process of identity fusion and, in particular, how contextual factors affect fused individuals.


Dovidio, J. F., Johnson, J. D., Gaertner, S. L., Pearson, A. R., Saguy, T., & Ashburn-Nardo, L. (2010).  Empathy and intergroup relations. In M. Mikulincer & P. Shaver (Eds.), Prosocial motives, emotion, and behavior: The better angels of our nature (pp. 393-408). Washington, DC: APA Press.

Esses, V. M., Dovidio, J. F., Jackson, L. M. & Armstrong, T. L. (2001). The immigration dilemma: The role of perceived group competition, ethnic prejudice, and national identity. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 389-412.

Gómez, A., Dovidio, J. F., Huici, C., Gaertner, S. L., & Cuadrado, I. (2008). The other side of we: When outgroup members express common identity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1613-1626.

Gómez, A., Dovidio, J. F., Gaertner, S. L., Fernández, S., & Vázquez, A. (2013). Responses to endorsement of commonality by ingroup and outgroup members: The roles of group representation and threat. Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 419-431.

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 by Guelox; all rights reserved. Used by permission. No other use is permitted without contacting and gaining consent of the artist and copyright holder.

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