How do the groups we belong to influence the stereotypes we hold? In this lesson, we'll examine ingroups and outgroups and their effects on stereotypes.
Ingroup vs. Outgroup
George is a werewolf. Whenever he meets other werewolves, he already knows some things about them: what they do on full moon nights, what their sense of smell is like, even some of the foods that they crave. He knows this because he belongs to the same group as them; they are ingroup members for George.
John, meanwhile, is a vampire. When George meets John, he doesn't know what John's like on full moon nights or what his sense of smell is like, and he's not sure if John eats meat or just sticks to blood. Because John belongs to a different group than George, he is an outgroup member to George.
Ingroup and outgroup classifications aren't just for werewolves and vampires. Everyone belongs to some groups; your race, gender, favorite sports team, your college, even the place you were born are all examples of groups. People like ingroup members because they know at least partially what to expect from them.
Because the other werewolves are similar to George, he is more likely to understand and like them than he is to understand and like John, who is from a different group. Likewise, people who root for the same baseball team may be vastly different from one another, but their common bond offers some similarities. All things being equal, people tend to like others from their ingroup more than from an outgroup.
But, let's just say that George and John become friends. They get to know each other better, and George realizes that he likes being friends with John. As George realizes that he likes John, he also realizes that vampires aren't so bad. He starts to let go of the tendency to like werewolves more than vampires.
So, is George cured of the outgroup-ingroup difference? Is everyone pretty much the same to him? Well, no. Even when people are exposed to outgroup members, they still hold certain stereotypes about them. This is because there is a tendency to look at members of our own group as being diverse and members of a different group as being the same.
When George looks at werewolves, he still sees all the differences between them: that one likes the woods, and this one likes the city. That one likes black-and-white movies, and this one likes modern action flicks. Seeing the members of your own group as a diverse set of people is called ingroup heterogeneity.
In contrast, despite being friends with John, when George looks at vampires, he sees mainly the things that vampires have in common: fangs, love of blood, and that they tend not to be morning people. Seeing the members of a different group as similar to each other is called outgroup homogeneity.
Outgroup homogeneity is one basis for stereotypes. If you see the similarities between members of an outgroup, you are more likely to stereotype them. And unfortunately, many studies have shown that, even if you are friends with members of an outgroup, you're likely to cling to outgroup homogeneity.
One area of research that has demonstrated the persistent effects of outgroup homogeneity is a group of studies on facial recognition. When people are asked to look at photographs of people of the same or different race as them, they are better able to distinguish between people of the same race. This is true whether the participant is white or of a minority race.
You might think that this tendency towards not distinguishing outgroup members as well as ingroup members has to do with exposure. But, follow-up studies showed that people with many friends from other races still distinguished members of their own race better than members of a different race.
It's not just race, either; researchers did the same experiment using male and female subjects. The women were able to distinguish women from each other better, and the men were able to distinguish other men from each other.
These studies show that, thanks to outgroup homogeneity, stereotypes of other groups are somewhat ingrained. That doesn't mean that people have to act on stereotypes, but it does mean that there's a tendency to think in stereotypes for groups of which you are not a member.
An outgroup is any group that you don't belong to, while an ingroup is a group that you associate yourself with. One basis for stereotypes is the tendency to see members of an outgroup as similar (called outgroup homogeneity) and members of your ingroup as different from each other (called ingroup heterogeneity). Studies on facial recognition have demonstrated how widespread and ingrained outgroup homogeneity is.
At the conclusion of this lesson, you'll have the ability to:
- Differentiate between ingroups and outgroups
- Explain how outgroup homogeneity and ingroup heterogeneity affect stereotypes
- Discuss the research on facial recognition regarding outgroup homogeneity