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Abstract

Investigated the relationship between social representations, intergroup causal attributions and the search for a positive social identity in two rival groups from British secondary education.

Part I studied the shared social beliefs 0f 20 ‘Public’ (PS) and 20 ‘Comprehensive’ (CS) schoolboys (age 16 years) concerning similarities and differences between the two types of schoolboy. Each subject wrote a short essay on the topic and these essays were content-analysed into 13 differences and 4 similarities between the two types of school. The two groups agreed on a number of points, but consensus within each group on a number of beliefs revealed distinct social representations.

Part II studied the effect of group membership and social categorization on causal attributions for success and failure in examinations. Twenty-four PS and 24 CS boys {age 16–17 years) were used in a 2 (school of subjects) × 2 (school of stimuli) × 2 (success/failure) design, with one between and two within-subject factors. Each subject read four background descriptions of candidates for university entrance, then made a number of ratings. On the page following each description, subjects attributed the candidate's performance to ability, effort, task difficulty and luck; a confidence rating was also made. Analyses of variance suggested that second-order interactions between group membership of the subjects, social categorization of the stimuli and achievement outcome were most important. Public schoolboys differentiated themselves from the CS boys by means of ability (p < 0.08 and effort (p < 0.0005) attributions; CS boys differentiated in tern of luck (p < 0.06).

Part III studied social identity processes in the same 48 subjects. Each subject read a 20—item questionnaire based on Part I, with 10 traits classified as Public and 10 as Comprehensive; within each set of traits half were autostereotype and half heterostereotype traits. Subjects made group-ratings, evaluations and self-ratings on each trait. Analyses of variance [2 (schools) × 2 (items) × 2 (stereotype)] were computed on each dependent measure. For the group ratings a main effect of items (p < 0.0001) revealed that PS and CS items were differentially ascribed to the two groups. In addition, CS boys valued CS-autostereotype items most highly (p < 0.05) and rated themselves higher on CS items (p < 0.0001).

Results are discussed in terms of the influence of social representations on both causal attributions and intergroup differentiation; the existence of intergroup biases in achievement attributions; and the different modes of differentiation chosen by the different status groups. Social Identity Theory is seen as a valuable framework with which to consider these findings.