Negative intergroup discrimination and private collective self-esteem

John A. Hunter, Moira Suttie, Kerry S. O'Brien, Scott Davidson, Mike Banks, Sarah Kafka, Maurice Stringer

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The following chapter reports the results from 2 minimal group studies and 2 studies incorporating more realistic social categories (i.e., based on national identities). Each study investigated the link between negative forms of intergroup discrimination and private collective self-esteem (CSE). In the first minimal group study and the first study utilizing realistic groups we investigated the extent to which intergroup discrimination was associated with increased private CSE. In the first minimal group study, category members took away more valuable resources from outgroup than ingroup members. This discrimination did not, however, lead to elevated private CSE. In the first study conducted using realistic social categories New Zealanders took more valuable resources away from outgroup (i.e., Australians) than ingroup members (i.e., New Zealanders). Following this, these participants experienced enhanced levels of private CSE. In the second study utilizing minimal groups and the second study incorporating realistic social categories (i.e., based on national identities) we investigated the extent to which intergroup discrimination predicted and was predicted by private CSE. In the second minimal group study, category members gave more white noise to ingroup than outgroup members. Low levels of private CSE did not predict this pattern of responding. Contrary to expectations the amount of white noise allocated to the outgroup was found to be negatively associated with subsequently assessed private CSE. In the second study utilizing realistic groups, New Zealanders gave more white noise to outgroup members (i.e., Australians) than ingroup members. Following this, these participants experienced enhanced levels of private CSE. Among these category members, low private CSE failed to predict the amount of white noise allocated to either ingroup or outgroup members. Since the mid to late seventies social identity theory (SIT; Tajfel & Turner, 1979) has emerged as one of the most influential theories of intergroup discrimination. SIT has led to important theoretical advances, stimulated a colossal amount of empirical research and been expanded beyond the parameters of intergroup discrimination to account for phenomenon in other important areas of social psychology (see Abrams & Hogg, 1999; Brown, 2000; Ellemers, Spears & Doojse, 1999; Haslam, 2004; Ojala & Nesdale, 2004; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher & Wetherell, 1987). In spite (or perhaps because) of its many achievements SIT is not without controversy (see Brown, 2000). One enduring source of controversy surrounding the theory relates to the nature of the presumed link between self-esteem and intergroup discrimination (Abrams & Hogg, 1988; Hogg, 2000; Turner, 1999). Pointing out that the role of self-esteem had not been adequately articulated within the theory, Abrams and Hogg (1988; Hogg and Abrams, 1990) developed the self-esteem hypothesis (SEH). Emphasizing that Turner's early theoretical statements were taken to their logical conclusion in this regard (e.g., Hogg & Turner, 1987, p. 337; Turner, 1981, p. 80-82, Turner, 1978, p .105; Turner, 1982, p. 33; Turner, et al., 1979, p. 190) Abrams and Hogg argued that the SEH contains two interrelated corollaries. The first was that intergroup discrimination enhances social identity and thus self-esteem. The second, (which has been explicitly criticized by Turner, 1999, p. 24), based on the assumption that people 'need' self-esteem, was that low or threatened self-esteem will enhance intergroup discrimination. Since Abram and Hogg's exposition dozens of additional studies have examined one or other corollaries of the SEH. The findings discussed in subsequent reviews (e.g., Abrams, 1992; Crocker, Blaine & Luhtanen, 1993; Rubin & Hewstone, 1998) together with that emerging afterwards (e.g. Aberson, Healy & Romero, 2000; Fein & Spencer, 1997; Houston & Andreopoulou, 2003; Hunter, Platow, Bell, Kypros & Lewis, 1997; Hunter, 2003a; Hunter et al., 2004; Hunter et al. 2005; Hunter et al. 2011; Hunter, Reid, Stokell, & Platow, 2000; Long & Spears, 1998; O'Brien, Hunter & Banks, 2007; Verkuyten & Hagendoorn, 2002) are broadly in keeping with those outlined by Abrams and Hogg. Taken together this data indicates that, although there is moderate support for the first and much less for the second proposition of the hypothesis, the majority of the evidence is inconsistent and contradictory. Some, noting the mixed empirical evidence, suggest that self-esteem (as both cause and effect) is only peripherally related to intergroup discrimination (Hogg & Abrams, 1993; Hogg & Mullin, 1999). Others, noting that the equivocal findings are a consequence of methodological and conceptual shortcomings, argue that when assessed appropriately (i.e., when it is social identity derived) self-esteem may be an important intervening variable associated with intergroup discrimination (Long, Spears & Manstead, 1994; Hunter et al., 2011; Rubin & Hewstone, 1998). A core argument of those who claim that self-esteem can help explain intergroup discrimination is that much of the empirical work in this area has utilized inappropriate measures of self-esteem. Typically much of this research has tended to assess what Rubin and Hewstone (1998) refer to as individual level, trait and/or global self-esteem. The focus on these forms of self-esteem is very much at odds with the way in which the self is conceptualized within SIT. According to SIT, the self is multidimensional, situation specific and, in the context of intergroup relations, experienced at the level of the social group (Turner, Oakes, Haslam, & McGarty, 1994). Thus, when attempting to account for the nature of the relationship between and intergroup discrimination, SIT emphasizes certain forms of self-esteem (i.e., social identity derived, state and category specific) and not others (i.e., individual level, trait and/or global). On the basis of this premise researchers have now begun to examine a variety of alternative methods by which to more accurately access social identity derived self-esteem (e.g., Bergami & Bagozzi, 2000; Ellemers, Kortekaas & Ouwerkerk, 1999; Gagnon & Bourhis, 1996; Hunter, Platow, Howard & Stringer, 1996; Platow, Harley, Hunter, Hanning, Shave & O'Connell, 1997). One such method has been provided by Luhtanen & Crocker (1992). These theorists, in an attempt to assess the esteem associated with social category membership, have developed a collective self-esteem (CSE) scale. The CSE is comprised of four separate sub-scales (private, membership, identity and public CSE). The private CSE is of particular relevance to the present investigation. This sub-scale is designed to assess the extent to which people evaluate the social groups to which they belong. The questions comprising the private sub-scale, are thus, deemed to constitute the closest approximation of Tajfel's (1982) conception of social identity (Crocker & Luhtanen, 1990, p. 63). As such, this subscale thought to be the most effective measure of social identity based self-esteem (Rubin and Hewstone, 1998). Although there is some evidence to suggest that either the full scale (Chin & McClintock, 1993, Exp. 2; Houston & Andreopoulou, 2003) or some of the other sub-scales (e.g., Aberson et al., 2000; Long & Spears, 1997, 1998) may also be useful in this regard, research incorporating the private CSE sub-scale is held to be especially, encouraging with respect to the assumptions of SIT (Rubin & Hewstone, 1998). Thus, in spite of some notable exceptions (e.g., Verkuyten, 1997) the data from several experiments have revealed that category members who engage in various forms of intergroup discrimination are likely to experience elevated levels of private CSE (Hunter, 2003b; Hunter, Reid, Stokell & Platow, 2000; Maass et al., 1996, Exp. 1; Verkuyten & Hagendoorn, 2002). Moreover, it was research using this sub-scale conducted by Branscombe and Wann (1994), that comprises the only single published study (from the 40 odd included in Rubin and Hewstone's exhaustive review) that provides some support for both corollaries of the SEH. On the whole the empirical evidence reviewed above indicates that self-esteem, when assessed in a manner consistent with SIT, can facilitate our understanding of intergroup discrimination. In spite of the encouraging nature of such research the relevance of this work is undermined by the results of an important experimental programme conducted by Mummendey and her colleagues (Mummendey & Otten, 1998; Mummendey et al., 1992; Otten, Mummendey & Blanz, 1996). This group have demonstrated an asymmetry in the minimal group paradigm (MGP), wherein category members will readily show more benign forms of ingroup bias (e.g., give more positive evaluations or allocate more positive resources to the ingroup) but (in the absence of aggravating conditions) not more negative forms of bias (i.e., give more negative evaluations or allocate more aversive stimuli to the outgroup). Because discrimination outside the laboratory often involves highly negative outcomes (see Friedlander, 2007; Levin & Rabrenovic, 2004; Staub, 1989), the results from those studies which demonstrate the positive-negative asymmetry effect (PNAE) offer a potent challenge to the SIT account of intergroup discrimination. This idea had been noted by a number of authors who have argued either that the theory is more about 'ingroup love' than 'outgroup hate' (Brewer, 1999) or that the self-enhancement motive, so central to the SIT account of intergroup discrimination, may not account for anything other than mild ingroup preferences (Mackie & Smith, 1998). The point, however, has been most clearly developed by Brown (2000).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on Psychology of Self-Esteem
PublisherNova Science Publishers
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9781621004103
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes

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