“We prefer to help ingroup members than outgroup members”. Critically discuss this statement using relevant psychological theory/theories and research.Social Psychology is a discipline within psychology that is the explicit study of human social behaviour and, there are many theories and empirical studies that have been used to explain and even predict ingroup and outgroup behaviour, such as helping preferences (Greenwald and Pettigrew, 2014, pp.669-670; Brewer, 1999, pp.429-430).
As a consequence of this, the following essay will critically discuss the statement that “we prefer to help ingroup members than outgroup members”, using relevant psychological theory/theories and research.One of the main social psychological theories relating to ingroups is that of social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1979, p.47), which can be used to explain ingroup favouritism and ingroup helping preference. This theory argues that cognitive appraisals of similarities between members of particular groups lead to social categorisations and identification with that group and comparisons to others and other groups (Tajfel and Turner, 2004, pp.276-293) and, thus, more likely to help and favour the ingroup as part of a human evolutionary adaptation for survival (Shiping and Xin, 2015, p.22). There is a plethora of empirical research that supports social identity theory and ingroup favouritism, such as the experiments by Turner (1978, pp.
235-250), that showed that members of a randomly allocated group are significantly more likely to show favouritism with rewards to the ingroup members than the outgroup members. Similar findings were gained by comparable results by Tajfel and Turner (1979, p.47), and Turner, Brown and Tajfel (1979, pp.187-204), who used a monetary reward decision task, suggested that this is a consistent and externally reliable finding. Therefore, the argument can be made here that the statement that we prefer to help ingroup members than outgroup members appears to be valid and can be explained in relation to social identity theory as a form of favouritism due to the similarities between members and their shared group identity. However, there is contradictory evidence by Mummendey and Schreiber (1984, pp.231-233), who conducted a revised replication of the experiments by Turner (1978, pp.
235-250), finding that ingroup members were no more likely to favour ingroup members than outgroup members, and in some case actually favoured outgroup members more and more often. As a consequence of these conflicting findings, it may be the case that there are methodological limitations associated with all of this research or that there are still gaps in the research literature relating to ingroup favouritism and social identity theory that requires future research. On a similar note, there is empirical research that suggests that ingroup members “are more willing to incur a personal cost to benefit ingroup members, compared to outgroup members” (Balliet, Wu and De Dreu, 2014, p.1556). In order to assess this, Balliet, Wu and De Dreu (2014, pp.1556-1581) conducted a meta-analysis that focused on research that had investigated co-operation and ingroup favouritism. The results of this meta-analysis did show that there was a significant tendency to favour ingroup helping as well as offered support for social identity theory. In addition to this, it was also found that ingroup favouritism was more likely to occur providing that there were little to no similarities between the ingroup and outgroup.
However, Balliet, Wu and De Dreu argued that there were many inconsistencies within the research literature and many methodological limitations associated with the research on ingroup favouritism. As a meta-analysis produces a comprehensive representation of the subject matter under investigation, it can be concluded from this evidence, there is support for the statement that we prefer to help ingroup members, but as there are methodological limitations to the research on this subject, further research is needed to resolve the potential gaps in the existing research literature. It could be the case that there is the need for qualitative research to provide further explanations and depth to the knowledge acquired from quantitative research, making the knowledge of this subject more comprehensive and useful.
Self-esteem of ingroup members could be said to be a possible explanation as to why we prefer to help ingroup members than outgroup members (Crocker and Luhtanen, 1990, pp.60-67). For example, Aberson, Healy and Romero (2000, pp.157-173) performed a meta-analysis investigating the association between ingroup bias and self-esteem. The results of this meta-analysis showed that self-esteem whether high or low was associated with ingroup bias. It was concluded by the researchers that self-esteem may produce ingroup bias, favouritism, and ingroup helping as a consequence of either maintaining high levels of self-esteem or through attempts to enhance low self-esteem of ingroup members or the group as a whole. A strength of this study is that of the meta-analysis research method employed, as it allowed for a large amount of empirical research to analysed, potentially producing a more comprehensive and useful representation of the relationship between ingroup bias and self-esteem compared to what could be achieved by a standalone study like that of an experiment.
In spite of this, however, Aberson, Healy and Romero do not provide a detailed description of the search strategy used to gather the evidence, which can, therefore, reduce the reliability and external reliability of findings of this study. As such, it can be argued that the statement does appear to be valid as ingroup members are more likely to help other ingroup members as a means by which to improve or maintain self-esteem. In addition to much of the research already discussed, there is empirical evidence that has indicated that there are instances where ingroup members will voluntarily help outgroup members, which would bring into question the validity and reliability of the statement about an ingroup helping preference bias. For example, two experiments performed by Val Leeuwen, van Dijk and Kaynack (2013, pp.781-796) showed that collective ingroup guilt was an explanation for outgroup helping as a means by which to enhance the pride of the ingroup.
Likewise, previous research by Van Leeuwen (2007, pp.661-671) consisted of two experiments with 78 and 73 participants respectively. It showed that threats to ingroup identity were also an explanation for outgroup helping. As a consequence of this evidence, it could be argued that outgroup helping is the result of non-altruistic motivations of the ingroup, with those who wish to restore their reputation, image and/or identity. Similar results were produced by Nadler, Harpaz-Gorodeisky and Ben-David (2009, pp.823-834), which adds external reliability to this finding. In addition to this, Van Leeuwen and Täuber (2012, pp.772-783) conducted a series of experiments that showed that outgroup helping was used as a strategy by the ingroup to improve the ingroup image and facilitate more cohesiveness and warmth between ingroup members.
This supported previous findings by Leeuwen and Täuber (2011, pp.147-156) that showed that outgroup helping was only initiated as a means by which to protect or enhance the reputation of the ingroup. Therefore, it may only be the case that outgroup helping occurs when there is something wrong with the ingroup. Yet, in terms of the statement that we prefer to help the ingroup more than the outgroup, this statement may still be valid, as members of the ingroup may only reluctantly help the outgroup whilst their preference for ingroup helping remains. On a similar note, very recent mixed method research by Kogut and Ritov (2017, pp.87-102) used laboratory and field experiences using a wide range of sample demographics to investigate outgroup helping by ingroup members. It was found that distinctions and similarities between ingroup and outgroup members significantly predicted outgroup helping in that the more similarities between the ingroup and outgroup increased the likelihood of helping, whereas if there were more differences the likelihood of outgroup helping was reduced. One strength of this research is that of the mixed method research design that Kogut and Ritov used as it allowed the researchers to gather a wide range of quantitative data from both artificial and natural settings, which could suggest that the ecological validity of the results is high, but also that the internal reliability of the results is high also as the data from the two methods can be compared to check for consistency.
Likewise, the sample consisted of undergraduates, community members, and people of different religions, meaning that the sample representation and generalisability of the result is also likely to be high. Thus, it could be the case that outgroup helping only occurs if there are similarities between ingroup and outgroup members, similar to that explains ingroup helping. In relation to the statement, it is unclear here whether or not the statement is valid and reliable, as outgroup helping due to similarities is very similar to ingroup helping in itself. Finally, there is also research evidence and psychological theory that has shown the ingroup helping may not always be preferable over outgroup helping if the ingroups members have had contact and exposure to members of the outgroup (Johnston and Glasford, 2017, n.p.
n). For instance, the contact hypothesis states that contact or exposure, such as through co-operative interaction, reduces notions of difference and dismisses stereotypes, which enables positive relationship and interactions with outgroups by changing notions of “us” compared to “them” to terms like “we” (Gaertner et al., 1993, pp.1-26). There is empirical research that supports the hypothesis, such as that of a survey study by Gaertner et al (1994, pp.
224-249) of 1357 high school pupils from a multi-cultural school to investigate whether the contact hypothesis could be used to predict and facilitate reductions in ingroup bias. It was found that contact and exposure to outgroup members did significantly predict reductions ingroup and intergroup bias, creating a more cohesive and inclusive overall ingroup of all pupils. A strength of this study is that of the sample size and use of pupils from a multi-cultural school, which means that the sample representation and generalisability of these results are likely to be high, thus also increasing the usefulness of the results of this study. However, as this was only a survey study, only behavioural intentions were actually measured as opposed to actual behaviour, and so the validity, reliability, and usefulness of the contact hypothesis and contact itself reducing bias are limited. Nonetheless, it could be argued that the statement that we prefer to help ingroup members than outgroup members may only be valid in circumstances and situations where the ingroup has not been exposed to or had contact with the outgroup, and so in the case where there has been contact, this statement may not be valid. In conclusion, this essay has critically discussed the statement that “we prefer to help ingroup members than outgroup members”, using relevant psychological theories and research.
Social identity theory can be used to support this statement and explain ingroup favouritism in that similarities between group members lead to the development of a social group identity that encourages co-operation, thus making ingroup members more likely to help other ingroup members. In addition to this, there is a large amount of empirical evidence that has demonstrated an ingroup bias towards ingroup helping, which would further support the validity of the statement. In spite of this, however, this essay has highlighted evidence wherein ingroup members have been shown to provide help and support to outgroup members, though some consistent findings within such research are that such help is only given in order to protect the reputation or image of the ingroup. Furthermore, there are methodological limitations associated with the research on this subject, that brings into question the extent to which a comprehensive knowledge of ingroup and outgroup helping exists within the current literature. Thus, it may be the case that the statement is only valid to a certain extent and in specific situations. As such, there may still be gaps in the research literature that require further research to resolve. To close, future research should continue to investigate and explore the topic of ingroup and outgroup helping, possibly focusing more on ingroups helping outgroups or even using qualitative methods to explore this subject in order to provide further depth and explanation to the findings of quantitative research.
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