Ingroups and outgroups. How we divide people in groups intuitively.

A claim that comes from the very core of the social psychology is that we cannot imagine a life without social groups. If we didn't group people, we couldn't even understand who we are ourselves. We build our identity based on the social groups we belong to, such as nationality, profession, gender and so on.ย ๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿปโ€๐ŸŽค ย ๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿซ ย ๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿญ

Before going into the details of Ingroups and outgroups, it's worth mentioning why we can't help but group people into nice little predictable categories. It's because our brains are limited in their cognitive processing capabilities. We just simply cannot handle the cognitive load of dealing with everyone as a unique individual and judging them based on logical reasoning… No, not by a long shot. The brain uses heuristics in forming judgement and taking decisions. Heuristics simply refer to "mental shortcuts" that alleviate cognitive load. And dividing people into groups is just one of those shortcuts.


The term ingroup refers to the social groups an individual belongs to. These can be wide and persistent groups such as gender or smaller ad-hoc groups such as the passengers of Oceanic flight 815. Nevertheless these groups have an impact on our behavior and the way we see ourselves and others.ย โœˆ๏ธ

One thing we people do for the sake of ourselves is that we protect our own self-image. A person who is unable to maintain a positive self-image becomes depressed. What this means in practice is that we tend to see our own ingroups, at least the most salient ones, in a positive light. If we think that our ingroup has positive attributes, that means that we as members of that group also have these positive attributes. For example Finns are hardworking, trustworthy and honest, and since I am a Finn, I posses all of these nice qualities at least to some extent. It doesn't really matter if this description of Finns or me is accurate, all that matters is that it helps me to maintain my self-image positive.ย ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ฎ

Ingroup's effect isn't just limited to how we see ourselves. We also engage into ingroup favoritism. Even if our social group was an ad-hoc one, we will just automatically favor the people in our group over those in an outgroup. This doesn't mean that dog owners would always prefer other dog owners to cat owners, for example. The key question is which ingroup is the most salient in a given situation, which group is the most meaningful to you.ย โ˜บ๏ธ


Outgroups are the social groups to which an individual doesn't belong. An outgroup is often seen as less favorable than an ingroup because of the need of seeing oneself in a good light. If there's a strong contrast in between an ingroup and an outgroup, opinions tend to polarize towards the extremes. This can be seen clearly in the case of many groups,ย for example, inย politics there's usually a huge distance between the left and the right wing party.ย ๐Ÿ‘ˆย ๐Ÿ‘‰

If outgroups are more often than not seen in a worse light, what is there to do when you absolutely need to collaborate? An example comes from my work experience in a construction company: there was a clear division in between the people working on site actually building a building and those who were selling the flats of the building to actual customers. More often than not, we didn't get along. It was clear: the sellers thought they can do whatever they want because they are bringing the money in and they don't have to respect the opinion of the site. We working on the site, on the other hand, thought that it's our site and we are bringing the money in because without us, there wouldn't be anything to sell, and therefore the sellers have to do as we say. And all this inside of the same company… But why? Weren't we supposed to strive towards the same goal?ย ๐Ÿข

Such is the effect of ingroup-outgroup distinction, but a way of fixing this would be introducing a new group. Instead of the people on site and off site being in different parts of the organizational hierarchy, they could be brought together under the same category. This would create a new social group with common goals. Just changing the hierarchy isn't enough… People also have to be made feel that they are strongly part of the new social group.ย ๐Ÿ‘ท

Outgroups can also face dehumanization. The term refers to that people start to think that members of a certain outgroup are not "fully human". This is an easy trap that we fall into even though the whole idea sounds terrible and against all what we stand for. In practice, dehumanization can make us think that people of a certain group act like animals; they are cruel and they certainly don't have emotions. Just think of a typical terrorist. How often do you think of them as having feelings, dreams and desires? How often do you think that maybe a terrorist wanted to become a vet, but he couldn't due to lack of money or that he probably takes his family to Starbucks every Saturday because his kids just adore the cheesecake they have? My guess is that you don't think about these things. And this is the exact cause of the problem; lack of empathy towards outgroups. And don't forget that empathy is a two way street, needed from both parties!ย ๐Ÿฐ


How is all this positive enough for this blog, you might ask. Well, it is. Just hear me out! Although grouping people is what our brains do and we can't escape the fact that we are holding stereotypical beliefs about other people, (If you think you don't have stereotypes, you are just blind.) knowing and accepting that our brains do this is the only way of taking a step back and rethinking the issue. If you know your beliefs are biased because of ingroup-outgroup distinction, you can raise above and think if your attitudes are formed based on false assumptions. It's difficult to do, I know, but not knowing about these things is even worse.ย ๐Ÿ˜…


That's all, have a great day!ย ๐Ÿ˜Š