- Top of page
- EXPERIMENT 1
- EXPERIMENT 2
- GENERAL DISCUSSION
The idea that a person's personality can help explain prejudice has a long history in social psychology. The classic counter-argument has been that prejudice is much more a function of people's group memberships and the nature of intergroup relations rather than individual differences. Bringing these two lines of research together, it has been suggested that personality factors may not only affect intergroup discrimination directly, but also indirectly by predisposing some individuals to identify more strongly with some relevant in-group membership. Two experiments were conducted to investigate this possibility. The participants completed various personality measures (e.g. authoritarianism, personal need for structure and ethnocentrism as well as social dominance orientation (SDO) in Experiment 2). They were then assigned to minimal groups either randomly, by choice, or (supposedly) on the basis of attitudinal similarity. In Experiment 2, the minimal group paradigm was also adapted to examine the role of SDO. Overall, there was no evidence of significant relationships between traditional personality measures and either in-group identification or discrimination. In-group identification alone emerged as the strongest predictor of discrimination. There was evidence that those participants who scored higher in SDO were more likely to act in ways that supported the creation of a power hierarchy. The implications for broader understanding of prejudice are discussed.
Why are some people prejudiced while others are more tolerant? Answering this question has generated much theory and research in social psychology and the social sciences more generally. An argument is that by understanding a person's particular personality, genetic make-up (e.g. temperament) and/or childhood learning and socialization, it is possible to explain why he or she holds particular social and political attitudes including prejudice. Following the work by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950), initial interest was on the role of authoritarianism, dogmatism and cognitive style (i.e. metal rigidity, toughmindedness), but currently the focus is on social dominance orientation (SDO, e.g. Sidanius & Pratto, 1999) and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA, e.g. Altemeyer, 1988). The central thesis here is that, there is a reasonably direct relationship between people's psychology as individuals and prejudice.
RWA is understood as an individual factor, “a personality variable, a “trait” if you like” (Altemeyer, 1988, p. 3) that stems from social learning and cultural socialization and is relatively stable within a person by early adulthood. It characterizes those people who will submit to authority, who are aggressive towards socially sanctioned minority groups and who adhere to established social conventions and beliefs. Those high in authoritarianism have been found to hold punitive attitudes towards law-breakers to support the death penalty to endorse traditional roles for women and to be more prejudiced towards minority group members.
SDO is the psychological component of social dominance theory (SDT) and embodies a generalized orientation towards, and desire for, unequal relations between salient groups, regardless of whether one's own group is dominant or subordinate. SDO is argued to be multiply determined and relatively stable. It is influenced by temperament, personality and socialization experiences as well as social context, group position and gender, and as such is not only a product of certain hierarchical relationships among groups, but is also a partial cause of those relationships (Pratto, Sidanius, & Levin, 2006). In terms of its predictive power, SDO is considered to be a ‘ubiquitous motive driving most group-relevant social attitudes and allocative decisions’ (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999, p. 57). Accordingly, those high in SDO should express more prejudice towards low status group members and to some degree endorse measures that maintain dominant–subordinate hierarchical structures. A particular focus of SDT that differentiates it from the more traditional personality analysis is its emphasis on the interaction between the SDO personality and social structural factors (Sidanius, Pratto, van Laar, & Levin, 2004; but see Rubin & Hewstone, 2004).
Despite the volume of research suggesting a relationship between traditional personality variables (e.g. authoritarianism) and prejudice, a number of problems with the analysis have been identified. It has been argued that personality-based explanations: (a) tend to ignore the role that group memberships and intergroup relations play in shaping prejudiced attitudes (e.g. Billig, 1976; Duckitt, 1994; Duckitt, Wagner, du Plessis, & Birum, 2002; Pettigrew, 1958; Sherif, 1967; Tajfel & Turner, 1979); (b) cannot account for the large-scale uniformity in prejudice amongst members of certain groups and the way prejudice can increase or decrease within such groups over reasonably short time periods (e.g. Sherif, 1967) and (c) may redescribe the current reality of intergroup relations and collective understandings of those relationships rather than being measures of an individual psychological cause or drive for such structures (e.g. Billig, 1976; Duckitt, 1994; Duckitt et al., 2002; Lehmiller & Schmitt, in press; Reynolds, Turner, Haslam, & Ryan, 2001; Reynolds & Turner, 2006; Schmitt, Branscombe, & Kappen, 2003; Stellmacher & Petzel, 2005; Turner, Reynolds, Haslam, & Veenstra, 2006). A common theme, then, is that people's group memberships and associated social norms tend to be overlooked within the personality account of prejudice and that individual differences may reflect the nature of intergroup relations rather than the other way around.
The contrasting viewpoint is apparent in social identity theory and self-categorization theory (the social identity perspective, see Turner & Reynolds, 2001) where there is an explicit focus on the role played by group memberships and intergroup relations in shaping people's attitudes, beliefs and values. These theories argue that people can define themselves as either individuals in terms of their difference from others (i.e. ‘I’ and ‘me’ – personal identity) or group members where their similarities and commonalities with others become salient (i.e. ‘we’ and ‘us’ – social identity).
When a person's social identity becomes salient, there are increased perceptions of interchangeability between oneself and like-minded others – in-group members – which provides the basis for cooperation and coordinated action in achieving shared goals and interests. Moreover, sharing a social identity allows other in-group members to become a viable source of information about social reality, thus making possible processes of mutual social influence and persuasion (Turner, 1991; Turner & Oakes, 1989). Within self-categorization theory, social identity salience and processes of social influence are important because they locate the self within, and connect the self to, broader social forces. Through an analysis that recognises both the personal and social self it is possible to understand how societal factors come to impact on an individual's immediate attitudes and actions.
Shifts in the salience of a particular identity or self-categorization changes the ‘lens’ so to speak, through which the perceiver sees the world and makes sense of it. As the vantage point of the perceiver varies (e.g. an individual, Australian, academic, employee) so to can his or her cognitions, evaluations, judgments and emotional responses. People's psychology (their attitudes, behaviour, cognition) when they are responding in terms of their personal identity and interpersonal differences from others (i.e. in terms of individual personality) can be qualitatively different from when they respond when a particular group-based social identity is salient. There is now a large body of work that demonstrates this psychological discontinuity between people acting as individuals and those acting as group members – the so called discontinuity hypothesis (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987; see Onorato & Turner, 2002 for a review).
One relevant series of studies is the minimal group experiments by Tajfel, Flament, Billig, and Bundy (1971) where social categorization and identification produced intergroup behaviour independent of personality and interpersonal relations. Work by Verkuyten and Hagendoorn (1998) and Reynolds et al. (2001) provide other examples. Verkuyten and Hagendoorn assessed participants' in-group stereotypes (related to the treatment of the Turkish minority in The Netherlands) and their individual differences in authoritarian attitudes (10 items based on Altemeyer's RWA scale). The salience of participants' personal or national identity (Dutch) was then manipulated and prejudice towards Turkish immigrants was assessed. In line with predictions, authoritarianism only correlated with prejudice when personal identity was salient. In the national identity condition, prejudice correlated with in-group stereotypes, but not with authoritarianism. Reynolds et al. (2001) manipulated whether people identified as individuals compared with other individuals, as males vs. females, as Australians vs. Americans, and as young vs. older people. Making certain intergroup comparisons and their associated norms, values and beliefs salient affected the relationship between authoritarianism and prejudice towards Aboriginal Australians quite substantially (e.g. r =.89 in the gender condition and r =.01 in the national identity condition; see also Haslam & Wilson, 2000).
The social identity perspective follows in the intergroup tradition of Sherif (1967) and suggests that personality tends to become irrelevant to prejudice where social identity or group membership is salient. This is not to say that group-based categorizations of oneself and others will inevitably produce ethnocentrism, discrimination or out-group denigration (e.g. Reynolds, Turner, & Haslam, 2000; Turner & Reynolds, 2001). The degree to which social identification predicts discrimination and intergroup conflict is influenced by broader shared understandings of intergroup relations. For example, whether there is cooperation or conflict between groups depends on the perceived legitimacy, stability and permeability of intergroup relations within the social system (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, 2005).
It has been difficult to reconcile theory and research concerning the role of group membership in explaining prejudice and discrimination with the classic personality account. Some researchers have suggested that variables, such as authoritarianism and SDO, may affect processes of in-group identification itself (Perreault & Bourhis, 1999; Sidanius, Pratto, & Mitchell, 1994). In other words, an individual who has a certain personality or cognitive style may be predisposed to be effected by group factors in particular ways such that they identify more strongly with relevant in-groups. Along these lines, authoritarians are believed to be people who have an intolerance of ambiguity and perceive the world in ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ terms (Brown, 1965). People with such personalities may be perceptually ready to define themselves and others as members of in- and out-groups and differentiate strongly between their own and other social groups (e.g. Duckitt, 1989). Likewise, people who are ethnocentric and believe their groups are superior (aspects of SDO) may be more likely to identify with the in-group and differentiate it more strongly from relevant out-groups.
To date, this possible relationship between personality and in-group identification has been examined using the MGP (minimal group paradigm) because the groups are ‘relatively meaningless’ and lack any ‘concrete reality’ outside the experimental setting (Sidanius et al., 1994, p. 153). In addition, the MGP provides an environment where if such orientations are going to play a role in in-group identification and/or patterns of discrimination, they will be readily observable because other factors are controlled.
Sidanius et al. (1994) measured participants' gender, self-esteem and SDO, and then, supposedly based on their responses to a dot estimation task, classified them as being underestimators or overestimators. The in-group identification measure, comprising one item that assessed the degree to which participants agreed with their classification, was then completed along with a number of measures assessing the perceived relationship between the groups. The main discrimination measure was the differential evaluation of underestimators and overestimators on two positive and two negative traits. For this variable, in-group identification was a significant predictor of discrimination (over gender and self-esteem) as was the interaction between in-group identification and SDO. Those who agreed more with their classification to the minimal group and had high SDO expressed more in-group favouritism. Thus, identification was moderated by participants' endorsement of SDO.1
Along these same lines, Perreault and Bourhis (1999) designed an experiment to explore the role of personality variables in predicting in-group identification and associated discrimination between minimal groups. Personality measures, such as authoritarianism (based on a French Canadian abbreviated version of Adorno et al., 1950, F-scale), ethnocentrism and personal need for structure (PNS), were included as possible individual orientations that influence how people construe their membership of minimal groups and associated discrimination against the out-group. An additional feature of the research was that participants were ascribed to minimal groups (Group K or Group W) or could choose their group membership.
Perreault and Bourhis (1999) found that in-group identification was the only variable significantly correlated with discriminatory behaviour. In addition, while none of the personality variables explained on their own a significant amount of the variance in discriminatory behaviour, ethnocentrism predicted discrimination through in-group identification. Given evidence of a strong correlation between ethnocentrism and authoritarianism, Perreault and Bourhis also argued that if a different measure of authoritarianism had been used, a relationship with discrimination through in-group identification may have emerged.
In summary, Sidanius et al. (1994) demonstrated that in-group identification and the interaction between SDO and in-group identification were important while Perreault and Bourhis (1999) found evidence that ethnocentrism was related to discrimination only insofar as individuals did identify with their minimal in-group. They suggested that if a different measure had been used, the same pattern may have been evident for authoritarianism. There is clearly more work to be done. In particular there is a need to assess systematically whether personality variables do explain why some people identify more strongly with the in-group than others and are therefore more prejudiced.
We conducted two experiments to investigate the independent and interactive relationships between authoritarianism, other personality variables and in-group identification in explaining prejudice. The first aim was to address some of the methodological issues that previous researchers themselves identified in order to ascertain whether personality, in-group identification, or in-group identification in interaction with personality dimensions, would be predictive of discrimination. For this reason, we included more contemporary measures of the personality variables of interest (e.g. authoritarianism), a conventional measure of in-group identification (e.g. Doosje, Ellemers, & Spears, 1995) and an assessment of discrimination through use of the Tajfel matrices rather than evaluative ratings alone (Sidanius et al., 1994).
The second aim was to explore the discontinuity hypothesis. On the basis of self-categorization theory it would be expected that to the degree that personality is related to patterns of discrimination, it should become less so the more one's social rather than personal identity becomes contextually meaningful. For this reason, we adapted Perreault and Bourhis' (1999) design to include a condition where like the original minimal group studies people were allocated to groups (supposedly) on the basis of a meaningful dimension of comparison (e.g. preferences for Klee or Kandinsky, performance on a dot estimation task). In this criterion condition, social categorization is meaningfully correlated with attitudinal similarity. As such, identification should be stronger and behaviour towards the out-group should be explained more by one's identification with the in-group rather than particular personality dimensions (Bourhis, Turner, & Gagnon, 1997; Turner & Bourhis, 1996).
By way of summary, in line with the above arguments, it is possible to identify three main hypotheses. In line with previous work on the MGP, in-group identification should be the most important predictor of discrimination between minimal groups (Hypothesis 1 – H1). Following Sidanius et al. (1994) and Perreault and Bourhis (1999), to the degree that personality variables impact on the pattern of discrimination between minimal groups they should do so through or in interaction with in-group identification (Hypothesis 2 – H2). In relation to the discontinuity hypothesis, if there is a direct relationship between certain personality variables and discrimination between minimal groups, these should be attenuated the more one's social identity becomes salient. As such, while personality variables may predict discrimination in the random and voluntary conditions, in the criterion condition in-group identification should be the strongest predictor and personality less so (Hypothesis 3 – H3).
- Top of page
- EXPERIMENT 1
- EXPERIMENT 2
- GENERAL DISCUSSION
In this paper, two studies have been reported which aimed to investigate the direct and interactive roles of personality variables and in-group identification in explaining discrimination between minimal groups. One of the central implications of the minimal group studies (Tajfel et al., 1971; Turner, 1980) was the idea that social identity was a central psychological factor in whether people discriminated or not. These findings, and subsequent theory and research associated with them, focused attention on group processes and intergroup relations rather than personality factors alone in understanding prejudice.
Building on this work, some researchers proposed an alternative route through which personality variables may impact on patterns of discrimination. They suggested that certain personality variables or cognitive styles may predispose people to be more or less affected by group factors (Perreault & Bourhis, 1999; Sidanius et al., 1994). For example, because people high in authoritarianism are more likely to form discrete cognitive boundaries, it is argued that they may be more ready to define themselves and others as members of contrasting groups. In this way, personality variables may explain discrimination through or in interaction with processes of in-group identification.
Based on these arguments, two minimal group studies were conducted to investigate whether it was in-group identification, or personality variables directly, or in interaction with in-group identification, which explained patterns of discrimination. Broadly following Perreault and Bourhis (1999), participants completed a range of personality measures (authoritarianism, SDO, ethnocentrism, PNS, a ‘dummy’ engagement variable); they then were allocated to minimal groups (Group X or Group Y) either on an explicitly random basis by their own choice preference or (supposedly) on the basis of attitudinal similarity. The main dependent variable was the way in which points that represented money were allocated to members of the in- and out-group (Tajfel et al., 1971).
In the second experiment, the minimal group paradigm was adapted to include a condition where the role of SDO and central predictions of SDT could be examined (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). In this condition, participants were informed that their behaviour on the matrices could affect how subsequent positive and negative tasks would be allocated between the groups. If their own and the other group behaved fairly in their point allocations, then both groups could decide how the tasks should be assigned; but if one or both groups behaved unfairly, then one group would be given the power to decide (determined by the toss of a coin). This instruction was designed to separate the desire for hierarchical relations from the desire for one's own group to be in a dominant position.
In both the experiments, the findings are consistent and clear. There was no evidence that traditional personality variables significantly explained the degree to which a person may or may not identify with their group. A ‘dummy’ personality variable, however, that was included to provide a comparison with the more traditional variables (i.e. authoritarianism, ethnocentrism, PNS), was a significant predictor of in-group identification in Experiment 1. This variable assessed engagement with psychology. The finding suggests that those participants who were more interested in psychology (and therefore perhaps paying most attention) identified more strongly with their in-group. With respect to explaining discriminatory behaviour, in both the experiments, personality variables did not directly or in interaction with in-group identification, significantly predict patterns of discrimination. On the basis of these findings, there is no evidence that in-group identification reflects a particular personality or cognitive style or that individual differences are of central concern in explaining discrimination in the minimal group paradigm.
In the power condition, introduced in Experiment 2, the minimal group paradigm was adapted to investigate the central aspects of SDT. Here, we found that there was a general shift away from discrimination indicating participants' preference for egalitarian rather than hierarchical relations between groups. With respect to this movement towards parity, it also was the case that compared with those who had a lower SDO score, those higher in SDO tended not to shift as far resulting in a significant correlation between SDO and discrimination. In line with SDT, those higher in SDO do appear to support more hierarchical group relations and this was the case even though those participants were informed explicitly that their own group would not necessarily be in the dominant position. This finding is important because it helps clarify that SDO does assess support for group-based dominance and is not necessarily tied to one's own group's self-interest (e.g. being in an advantaged or dominant position, see e.g. Sidanius, 1993).
An interesting aspect of findings in Experiment 2 is that there was no general relationship between SDO and discrimination. The relationship was evident only in the power condition where a comparison between egalitarian and hierarchical social structures was introduced. For example, it was only in this condition that those above and below the median in SDO and authoritarianism revealed significant differences in the levels of discrimination. Pratto and Shih (2000) also found a relationship between SDO and implicit group prejudice only under restricted conditions, in their case where there was intergroup threat.
These findings while not supporting the portrayal of SDO as a ‘ubiquitous motive’ or a ‘general desire for group-based dominance’ (Sidanius et al., 2004, p. 848) suggest that, under certain conditions SDO, and perhaps other related variables, are predictive of discrimination. Evidence that SDO and authoritarianism shape behaviour in some situations but not in others, makes it difficult to characterize these factors as personality dimensions in the traditional sense. There is no evidence of a general psychological orientation that shapes social and political attitudes. At the very least, such factors do not seem to predispose individuals in any way to being susceptible to group factors, such as increased levels of in-group identification (e.g. Perreault & Bourhis, 1999; Sidanius et al., 1994).
Following on from this point, and in line with recent work, SDO and authoritarianism may be better understood as representing a set of ideological beliefs that do not affect individual and group behaviour in a generic way, but rather do so most when dimensions related to such ideological beliefs (e.g. egalitarianism) become contextually meaningful or relevant for the perceiver (Guimond, Dambrun, Michinov, & Duarte, 2003; Lehmiller & Schmitt, in press; Reynolds et al., 2001; Reynolds & Turner, 2006; Schmitt et al., 2003; Sidanius et al., 2004; Turner & Reynolds, 2003). Certain social contextual factors (e.g. awareness or salience of group-based hierarchies) can increase the relevance of certain ‘personalities’ which then play a determining role in shaping behaviour. This research suggests that the path forward is to continue to move away from a dichotomy between the personality and the intergroup traditions, and to further investigate the interdependencies between group and personality processes.