The influence of permeability of group boundaries and stability of group status on strategies of individual mobility and social change


Instituut voor Sociale en Organisatiepsychologie, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Kraneweg 4, 9718 JP Groningen, The Netherlands


According to social identity theory, striving of group members for enhancement of their social identity may be resolved through individual mobility (i.e. by dissociation from one's own group in order to gain membership of a higher status group), or by social change (i.e. by upgrading the status position of the in-group as a whole). Individual mobility may only be achieved when group boundaries are permeable; social change is only feasible when group status is unstable. This study investigates how these structural characteristics of the intergroup situation affect group members' preference for the individual mobility or social change strategy. In a laboratory setting subjects were given bogus feedback to induce differential levels of individual ability and group status. Additionally, the permeability of group boundaries and the stability of group status were manipulated. The main results are that, generally, members of high status groups show more satisfaction and in-group identification than members of low status groups. Permeable group boundaries apparently induce a tendency to strive for individual mobility, regardless of the in-group's status position. In relation to members of impermeable groups, members of groups with permeable boundaries show decreased in-group identification; there is evidence of (anticipatory) identification with the higher status group instead. A collective attempt at social change seems to be evoked when group status is unstable. In all groups with unstable status, members indicate their readiness to try to improve their group's status position. Moreover, members of low status groups with unstable status positions show relatively strong in-group identification, despite the lack of positive distinctiveness available to the in-group at the time.