Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Prejudice & Discrimination Theories #2

Realistic Conflict Theory
It is widely recognised that people tend to identify with their groups. They also tend to have negative views about some other groups – out-groups. But why do some outgroups attract hostility and discrimination but others are treated neutrally or sometimes even admired? This is what Realistic Conflict Theory (RCT) tries to explain.

RCT states that,   whenever there are 2 or more groups seeking the same limited resources, this will lead to conflict, negative stereotypes and beliefs about the outgroup – prejudice –  and discrimination between the groups. The conflict can lead to increasing animosity and eventually to violence. Competition over resources can be played out as a ‘zero-sum game’, in which only one group is the winner (obtained the needed or wanted resources) and the other loses (unable to obtain the limited resource due to the winning group achieving the limited resource first). The likely length and severity of the conflict is based upon the perceived value and shortage of the given resource.

It is tempting to think of ‘limited resources’ as BEIGE survival needs – eg: water and food – but, depending on which vMEMES are dominant in the vMEME stack, ‘resources’ can be money, jobs, places in schools or even social resources such as friends.

The word  perception is critical here as the competition for resources can itself be a perceived competition and does not always need to be necessarily a real competition.

According to RCT, positive relations can only be restored if superordinate goals are in place. As in-group and out-group work together towards superordinate goals, feelings of hostility and the tendency to conflict are reduce because they are cooperating, rather than competing, to achieve the resources they all want.

Although the theory was officially named by Donald Campbell in 1965, the structure of the theory was derived from Muzafer Sherif et al’s 1954 Robber’s Cave study and the detailed account and analysis published in 1961.This showed groups of boys getting into conflict when they were put into competition. Sherif et al used superordinate goals to remove the competition and the boys became friendly.

Realistic Conflict Theory – graphic copyright © 2016

The theory, outlined in the graphic above, has a clear application because RCT says you can reduce prejudice by getting people from different groups to meet and work together in a spirit of cooperation. Gordon Allport’s (1954) Contact Theory says that, if groups mingle, they will lose their stereotypes of each other. There are several further examples of familiarity reducing hostility in Is Racism Natural…?

John Duckitt (1994) has attempted to develop RCT a bit further, suggesting that conflict can happen even when an outgroup has lower status and isn’t really a competitor over resources. This is because the low-status group might resent the high-status group but the high-status group doesn’t think this is justified. Duckitt terms this ‘unstable oppression’ and states that the high-status group is likely to respond with hostility. Where the low-status group accepts the inequality, Duckitt terms this ‘stable oppression’.

While a very powerful theory, the original RCT can only explain inter-group hostility where there is at least a perceived competition for resources. Duckitt’s extension of RCT can help explain inter-group hostility when there is inequality between groups. But what about when there is no competition for resources and no obvious inequality between groups…?

Social Identity Theory
Social Identity Theory (SIT) proposes that the simple act of being grouped inevitably leads to prejudice against another group. Developed by Henri Tajfel & John Turner (1979) from the former’s (1970) ‘Minimal Group Studies’, SIT shows group identity and intergroup animosity going through 3 stages:-

  1. Social Categorisation
    This is putting yourself and others into groups.The very act of labelling others – eg: Muslims, women, children, eetc – either puts them in the same category as yourself or puts them into another, different category. Your group is then the in-group and the other group is the out-group.
    The in-group will almost certainly develop stereotypes of the out-group, by which they will judge all its members. Thus, women often describe men as “after one thing” while men may regard women as “nags”.
  2. Social Identification
    According to Tajfel (1982), we may each have several ‘selves’, each fitting with a group  we belong to. In this stage we associate our ‘self’ with the group values and norms and absorb the culture of the group.
  3. Social Comparison
    For their self-esteem people need their in-group to look better than the designated out-group. This is influenced by:-
    – how much the individual identifies with the group and how much of their self-esteem they have invested in it
    – the extent to which there are grounds for making comparisons with other groups (out-groups)
    – the relevance of the comparison group to the in-group
    Jennifer Crocker & R Luhtanen (1990) demonstrated that people who think highly of the group they are in have a high collective self-esteem and show loyalty to the group.
    With social comparison, there is a need to make the out-group look bad in comparison

This comparison creates psychological  distinctiveness. We desire our identity to be both distinct from and positively compared  with other groups.

R N Lalonde (1992) studied a hockey team  who were performing poorly. When questioned, several team members insisted they used ‘dirtier’ tactics than other teams.  Ie: they had found a way in which their group was better than others! However, when Lalonde watched the team play, he found they were no dirtier than other teams. What the team members demonstrated was in-group bias.
in-group favouritism, out-group denigration
has ‘real world’ applications
eg: explains football fan behaviour

Club fans often feel negatively about the fans of  other specific clubs, especially if they are based in the same town.

If two clubs in the same town are in direct competition – say, in a league with each other – then the antipathy between the two sets of fans seems relatively understandable.

But what if the two clubs are not in direct competition – eg: not in the same league?

If your team is doing badly, your social identity suffers. If the other team is doing even worse, you might feel better because at least you are not one of them.

Violence between rival fans might be explained  in terms of they are simply seeking to improve their social identity by proving themselves to be better than another group of fans.

individuals take on norms of sub-culture – Kirsten Verkooijen, Nanne de Vries & Gert Nielsen (2007)

The researchers conducted a survey of  6,000 16- 20-year-olds, asking about sub-cultural affiliations and use of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.

Those who saw themselves as involved in skater, hip-hop, techno and hippie groups  were particularly likely to use drugs. Those  who saw themselves as involved with nerdy, sporty or religious groups were least likely to use drugs.
people rate own nationality better – Edwin Poppe & Hub Linssen (1999)

Poppe & Linsen conducted a survey with 1,143  Eastern European teenagers, asking them to rate a range of European nationalities for their morality and efficiency.

While some national stereotypes were upheld –  eg: the English were the most moral, the Italians the least efficient – generally the youth of each country saw their own country as both more moral and more efficient than their neighbours.
people more likely to help those in in-group – Mark Levine, Amy Prosser, David Evans & Steve Reicher (2005)
In a secluded part of the university campus, football fans witnessed a stranger fall and apparently injure themselves.

When the stranger was wearing the colours of their team, the fans were much more likely to help than if the stranger wore neutral colours or those of a rival football club.



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