Studying the effects of status in an interactive minimal group environment.
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Background: The Minimal Group paradigm proposed that social categorisation alone was necessary to produce group behaviour. Moreover, through Social Identity Theory the studies claimed that once people are categorised into groups they automatically take on group personas that cause them to favour their ingroups and discriminate against the outgroup. Other scholars contend that groups are not as simple as sharing a social category. They are instead more complex social systems of interacting individuals which consist of dynamics and networks as people engage in social activity and make meaning of their behaviours. Moreover, groups are typically defined by patterns and norms which emerge through interaction and evolve over time. Thus, by having removed interaction from their methodology, scholars believe that the minimal group studies became too minimal that they omitted an essential component involved in groups. There is a need therefore to re-visit these studies in an environment that captures the interactive nature of groups and illuminates the diachronic processes involved in group formation and behaviour. Aim and Rationale: This research replicated the MG studies in an interactive setting to study the influence of status on the token giving behaviours of minimal groups. Methodology: The research adopted a quantitative descriptive method. A convenience sampling strategy was used to select participants from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus. An experiment in the format of a computer game was conducted where participants after being categorised into one of two groups, were tasked with allocating tokens to other members of groups over a 40 game round period. The Virtual Interaction APPLication software provided a platform for studying how groups take shape as they interact, receive feedback, and make meaning of their behaviours over time. To measure ingroup favouritism the study measured instances of outgroup giving among the players. Outgroup giving mirrored ingroup giving without self-giving and was therefore deemed as a more reliable measure of ingroup favouritism. All data from the games was saved onto the programme and analysed using the Generalised Linear Mixed Model method. Results: Findings displayed that players in the group condition were less likely than those in the individual condition to engage in outgroup giving. This meant group categorisation produced group orientated behaviours among participants. Outgroup giving was found to be numerically higher among groups in the social equality condition than those in the social inequality condition, and increased over the rounds. An interaction between status and social equality determined that the difference in outgroup giving between low and high status groups conditions was highest in the social inequality condition. High status groups displayed significantly higher levels of outgroup giving than low status groups, with this norm increasing over the game rounds. Low status groups displayed the lowest levels of outgroup giving overall. Conclusion: This study investigated the effects of status on the token giving patterns of minimal groups in an interactive environment. The study determined that ingroup favouritism and outgroup antagonism was highest in conditions of social inequality. Unequal status groups were more likely to favour their own groups in their token allocations than equal status groups. Low status groups were least likely overall to share their tokens with the outgroup and as a result were more discriminatory than high status groups. The study also introduced a new framework for studying groups rather as dynamic and interacting phenomena as opposed to mere social categories. Using this approach, the study demonstrated that group behaviours are indeed marked by sequential patterns of interaction and change processes that increase and gain momentum over time and give rise to normative behaviours. Thus, interaction serves as the primary conduit of social influence between groups as individuals actively relate to one another and make meaning of their behaviours.