Re-imagining possibilities for minimal groups : extending the two-group paradigm.
By stripping the social setting of many of its key features – including social interaction – the minimal group studies aimed to discover the basic conditions under which ingroup bias would occur. The studies found that group categorisation was sufficient for the development of ingroup favouritism and outgroup discrimination. This key finding led to the development of the social identity perspective – a theory of intergroup behaviour which is highly influential in social psychology. However, the minimal group studies were only conducted in a two-group setting, reflecting a general emphasis on dichotomous intergroup settings in social psychology. Furthermore, the removal of interaction from the social setting, in the pursuit of experimental control, reflects a view of human beings as passive conformers rather than active agents in the development of social norms. The aim of this research was to extend the minimal group paradigm in order to study a multigroup setting that reaches beyond the two-group group paradigm that has dominated traditional research. In particular, the inclusion of a third group illuminated the role of a middle status group which has been largely ignored. Second, by allowing social interaction, which is usually excluded due to lack of experimental control, the role of human agency and creativity in the formation of norms could be studied. It was found that it was within the middle status group that the strength of ingroup bias begins to weaken as group members strategically attempt to manage their position in the middle. Furthermore, particular behavioural trends accelerated or decelerated over time as they gained or lost momentum. While ingroup bias slowed over time for the middle status group, outward giving to the high status group increased. This finding exemplifies the two-way interaction between the social environment and the social actors within this environment. Finally, an unexpected outcome of this research was the divergence between the psychological experience and social reality in such a way that an intergroup alliance between the low and high status group (when a middle status group was included) was reported when in fact the exact opposite was true.