Research on intergroup relations by Tafel and others (e.g. Tafel et al., 1971; Billig and Taifel, 1973) has indicated that there are two opposing norms governing intergroup behaviour- norm for discrimination and a norm for fairness. The behaviour that results from social categorization represents a compromise between these opposing norms. The norm for discrimination is explained in terms of social comparison processes and the need to achieve a positive ingroup identity (Turner, 1975). Along similar lines, another study suggests that discrimination is strongest on the part of the self-perceived underdog in order to assert its independent and individual identity (Branthwaite and Jones, 1975). The origin of the norm for fairness has received less attention but may be attributed to general moral judgements.

Since there are opposing norms for discrimination and fairness and the observed behaviour is a resultant of the two, an explanation of intergroup behaviour cannot focus on fairness or discrimination alone, but it must take into account the balance between these forces. The relative strength of the two norms is a question of some importance, together with the factors which influence the relative strengths. This paper examines this issue and presents evidence from two studies that the status of the groups is an influence on the strength of the norm for discrimination. Both studies employed the Taifel matrix method: one in an experimental situation where the status of the groups was manipulated by the research procedures; the other in a more natural setting.