Inclass Experiments #2 : In-group Out-group Bias

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Ingroup OutgroupInclass experiments are a great way to get students to learn about social psychology and management. Continuing my post series about social psychology inclass experiments, this next social psychology experiments is aimed at demonstrating the strong effects on the formation of cognition and affect regarding in-group  versus out-group, even when the separation seems to be about some meaningless or random.


[UPDATE September 2018: All teaching materials now shared on the teaching page]


If you’re not familiar with the bias, here’s a quick explanation from Wikipedia:

In-group favoritism, otherwise known as in-group–out-group bias, in-group bias, or intergroup bias, refers to a preference and affinity for one’s in-group over the out-group, or anyone viewed as outside the in-group. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, linking, allocation of resources and many other ways. This interaction has been researched by many psychologists and linked to many theories related to group conflict and prejudice. […] Experiments using minimal group paradigm have found that even arbitrary and virtually meaningless distinctions between groups (e.g. the colour of their shirts) can trigger a tendency to favour one’s own group at the expense of others.


For this experiment, I adopted the activity from CROW‘s :

Ingroup bias – To illustrate how easily and quickly we form ingroups and outgroups, I divide my class into those wearing tennis shoes that day and those not wearing tennis shoes. Then I have each group sit in a circle with its members. The “tennis shoe” group is assigned to list as many reasons as it can think of as to why the members of the other group did not wear tennis shoes that day. The non-tennis shoe group is assigned to list as many reasons as it can as to why the other group members are wearing tennis shoes. The listing starts out fairly neutral, but it is not long before each group’s list becomes more and more derogatory, particularly when it overhears the list the other group is generating.

This worked brilliantly, much better than I expected.


I separated the class into two – a group of those who were wearing sports shoes and those who weren’t. It was about a 50/50 split. For each of those groups I assigned an observer whose role was to be outside the group and observe the group interaction. The observers had a piece of paper in which they were asked to indicate the statements being made in the group about their own group versus about the other group separated into positives and negatives. The groups were competing for cookies I brought in and their goal was to write as many reasons as they can in 3 minutes as to why the other group was or wasn’t wearing sports shoes.


This was the observer’s sheet.


Then, a representative from each group was asked to come up and tell the class all the reasons. The groups performed about the same with about 19-20 reasons, but it was already very obvious that most of the statements about the outgroup seemed very negative (lazy, poor, bad taste, etc.). The effects with the observers made it even clearer with about a 1:2 ratio of positives 2:1 ratio of negatives for the outgroup:ingroup.

From the end of semester feedback, seemed like many of the students really enjoyed this one and have learned a valuable lesson.


Try it out, tell me how it went.

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Babs X
Babs X
7 years ago

Going to try this tomorrow – looks great! Thanks for posting!

7 years ago
Reply to  Babs X

Did it work? I would like to use it too! 🙂

7 years ago

Did it work? I would like to use it too!

Gilad Feldman
7 years ago
Reply to  Kaat

It worked very well for me… twice. Give it a go and report back 🙂

Erich Moncada
Erich Moncada
4 years ago

It’s a really fun and useful excersice in class. Instead of using tennis shoes, I formed a group of iPhone owners and no-iphone users. Being Mexican students, the economic divide was pretty obvious.

3 years ago
Reply to  Erich Moncada

What does “being Mexican” have to do w/ it?