A group that a person identifies with is their “in-group”. People who do not fall within the in-group are the “out-group”.
This leads to two simultaneous cognitive processes:
- In-group bias: showing a preference for people within your group.
- Out-group bias: automatically disliking people who are not within your group.
This means that humans are naturally inclined to look favorably upon members of their in-group. At the same time, they have a bias (whether conscious or unconscious) against those who do not fall within the in-group.
Examples of In-groups
1. Football Fans
Football (called soccer in North America) is a sport that is notorious for having some of the most passionate fans.
Since club football, played at the level of national leagues, is the most popular form of football, most football fans identify ardently with one soccer club or the other.
Some of the most popular football clubs, such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, etc, have a fan base that is spread out across the globe, even though these clubs are all based in western Europe.
Given the intensity of passionate football fans have for their clubs, the supporters of each club, irrespective of their nationality, tend to identify as one big family, thus forming an in-group.
2. Nations and Nationalism
A nation is the simplest, and one of the most easily identifiable in-group.
Benedict Anderson called the nation an “imagined community” as its members imagine themselves to belong to the same in-group, even if no real ties holding them together might exist (Anderson, 1983).
Once the nation is identified as an in-group, anyone not belonging to the nation automatically becomes a foreigner or an out-group. Thus, in the case of nations, a physical border demarcates an in-group and an out-group.
The Catalan-Puerto Rican cellist and conductor, Pablo Casals summed this feature of nations up when he made his famous quip – “the love of one’s country is a splendid thing, but why must the love stop at the border?”
Related: Imagined Community Examples
3. Fraternities and Sororities
Fraternities are all-male clubs of graduate students in the US and Canada, while sororities are their female counterparts.
Members of fraternities and sororities often find themselves bound in close social and professional relationships that persist long after college ends.
In the case of elite universities, the membership of such fraternities and sororities becomes an identifier that lasts a lifetime, with the networks built as part of the club is a key element in the social and professional advancement of members through life.
Fraternities and sororities usually have names taken from a combination of Greek letters, such as Alpha Sigma Gamma or Psi Upsilon, and for this reason, are also called Greek Letter Organizations, further underscoring their elite nature (Greek being a classic language not easily accessible to most).
Due to the close bond that members of such groups share with each other, they form a closely-knit in-group. And due to the social prestige and opportunities for professional advancement that belonging to such a group enables, it plays a significant role in shaping the personal identity of its members.
Religion is one of the strongest bonds that tie the members of a group together.
Throughout history, religion has been a powerful motivator for extraordinary feats of heroism, forbearance, compassion, forgiveness, and at times, even cruelty.
Religious affiliation is one of the most fundamental markers of a person’s identity, and in many parts of the world, the most important.
Members of religion feel a sense of belonging to a wider community that cuts across geography, race, ethnicity, etc. while setting them apart from others who don’t share their religious beliefs.
For instance, in Islam, the wider Islamic brotherhood or Ummah is the global community of Muslims who form an in-group.
5. Race and Ethnicity
Ethnic and racial identities are an example of another very natural and commonly occurring in-group.
In multiracial, multiethnic societies, the members of a particular race or ethnic group may feel an affinity towards each other on account of their shared history, customs, traditions, and experiences.
This may get further reinforced by living in racial or ethnically organized housing or a preference for marrying within the racial or ethnic community.
Sometimes, the formation of such in-groups can even lead to conflict with other in-groups that may take the shape of racial or ethnic violence.
Examples of Out-groups
An out-group is a social group that is not part of the in-group. Unlike the in-group, members of an out-group may not have any common sense of identity or affiliation tying them close together.
We understand today that genders and sexual preferences do not exist as binaries but rather can be conceptualized as gradations on a spectrum.
In this model of gender relations, a small minority identifies as LGBTQIA, who may share similar experiences of being marginalized or discriminated against, and thus may identify as an in-group.
The large majority that falls outside this in-group is an out-group who may or may not be empathetic towards the in-group.
Further, members of this out-group, for the most part, do not share any solidarity with each other the way members of the in-group do.
Read More: Gender Stereotype Examples
2. Windows Users
The digital world is generally divided into two groups – those who use Apple products and those who don’t Users of Apple products such as iPhones and Macbooks are often very vocal about their love for Apple and can be thought of as an in-group.
On the other hand are users who use Microsoft Windows-based operating systems who can be considered an out-group. Windows users rarely, if ever, tend to be very passionate about their devices.
A large number of Windows users use the product simply because they can not afford the more expensive Apple devices, or because they may be required to use Windows by their employer or institution.
3. Military vs. Civilians
In any society, members of the armed forces, whether serving or veterans, tend to feel a special bond with each other on account of a shared experience.
They all have undergone special, rigorous training, having served under challenging circumstances with a constant threat of violence.
This instills in them certain shared behavioral attributes, among them a feeling of being different from the wider civilian populace.
In popular culture, this feeling is often caricatured as one of contempt by the tough, battle-hardened, drill-disciplined soldier for the soft, sybaritic, self-indulgent civilian.
This sense of difference also extends to the children of soldiers, who are, in many countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, India, Pakistan, etc., termed army brats or military brats.
Military brats often grow up on military bases or cantonments, cut off from the culture of the wider society to which they belong, thus forming a unique subculture of their own (Morton, 2002).
Thus while soldiers and their families form an in-group, to them, the rest of the society outside this in-group are an out-group, referred to simply as “civilians”, with that word heavy with attributes not always considered commendable by the in-group.
4. Christian Laymen and Laywomen
In Christianity, the laity consists of the members of the Christian faith who are not part of the clergy.
The clergy is formal leaders of the faith who are qualified to perform various rituals of the faith.
Thus, in this case, the clergy form an in-group, who, on account of the similar religious training they may have received, and the similar exalted positions they occupy within the religious order, may feel a sense of bonding with each other.
The laymen and the laywomen, on the other hand, form the outgroup, with their diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and differing levels of faith in and adherence to the tenets of their religion.
Origins of Group Bias in Psychology and Sociology
The Yale sociologist William Sumner (1840-1910) was among the earliest to use the terms in-groups and out-groups in his study of ethnocentrism examples (Sumner, 1906).
However, the terms were brought into common usage in the 1970s by the pioneering work of the Polish social psychologist, Henri Tajfel on the social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Tajfel proposed that individuals construct their social identity based on their belonging to various groups.
In psychology, there is also a concept called the outgroup homogeneity effect, wherein people create stereotypes about the outgroup. They assume people who are in outgroups are all the same, which makes it easier to demonize and dehumanize them.
Group formation is an integral part of human social behavior.
As can be seen from the examples above, an individual can belong to a number of in-groups simultaneously.
For instance, someone living in Spain might be a Christian, a Spanish nationalist, a Real Madrid FC supporter, and an Apple user, thereby being a part of all these in-groups at the same time.
On the other hand, this person or their parents may not have served in the armed forces, not have attended an elite university, and may not identify as LGBTQIA, thereby making them a part of all these out-groups too at the same time.
It is likely, then, that they may construct their social identity, and their world view, based on their belonging to these various in-groups, and their exclusion from the various out-groups.
- The Social Graces (A framework for understanding social identities)
- Culture Examples (In-Groups and Out-Groups are usually defined by cultures)
Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. New York: Verso Books.
Morton, E. (2002). Military Brats and other global nomads. London: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Sumner, W.G. (1906). Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. Los Angeles: Good Press.
Tajfel, H. and Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In S. Worchel and W. G. Austin (eds.). Psychology of Intergroup Relations. (pp. 7–24). Nelson-Hall.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.