Group Belongingness and Intra- and Inter-Group Processes in Children
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Why do children engage in group behaviour and, more specifically, what motivates them to express in-group bias and out-group discrimination? Central to social identity theory (SIT; Tajfel & Turner, 1979) and its elaboration self-categorisation theory (SCT; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987), is the view that group attitudes are critically dependent on inter-group comparison and the positive distinctiveness of the in-group. However, whereas this approach has been influential with adults, there has been mixed support in relation to children. The present research program explored the possibility that children, especially in early to midchildhood, are much more simply focused on group belonging, acceptance, and maintenance of group membership. According to this approach, children would initially be more concerned about securing a position within the group, conforming to in-group norms, and maintaining their group membership, than focusing on inter-group comparisons and positive distinctiveness. Study 1 consisted of an experimental simulation which sought to explore the impact of children’s self-presentational concerns on their motivation to be accepted by a group. Children’s accountability to their in-group was manipulated via the group’s surveillance of their responses, or lack of surveillance. In addition, the study examined whether children’s attitudes were influenced by information about how accepting the in-group was of new members. If the children’s over-riding motivation was to be accepted as a member of the in-group, it was expected that the participants would reveal (1) greater liking for the in-group when it was open and accepting, and (2) increased liking for the in-group under surveillance. The sample consisted of 77 children, aged 9-13 years who were randomly allocated to one of four conditions in a simulated drawing competition. Each child was placed in a drawing team that varied in its acceptance of new members (open versus closed) and whether they were under surveillance by their team (present versus absent). Consistent with a need for belonging and acceptance account, surveillance increased liking toward the in-group but had no effect on outgroup liking. Similarly, an open and accepting in-group instigated greater liking for the in-group but had no effect on out-group liking. Study 2 sought to expand on the need for belonging motive in a similar minimal group experiment to investigate whether an inter-group comparative context that emphasises a threat to the status of the in-group enhances concerns about being accepted by the in-group. In addition, the effects of a threat of exclusion from the in-group on the participants’ in-group and out-group attitudes were explored. Further, the study investigated the extent to which a child’s own need for belonging and acceptance might lead to differential judgments of other new members. A total of 82 children, aged 7-11 years, were randomly assigned to a high status drawing team that varied in its level of in-group exclusion threat (exclusion threat versus no exclusion threat) and whether the in-group was threatened by an out-group (out-group threat versus no out-group threat). In addition, the participants were provided information about a new member indicating that his/her attributes were supportive versus non-supportive of in-group norms. Findings provided some support for the need for acceptance motive with the in-group liked more than the out-group. In addition, both in-group exclusion threat and new member attributes influenced acceptance of the new member and desire to work with both groups. However, whereas liking for the in-group was unaffected by out-group threat, the out-group was liked less when there was an out-group threat versus no threat. Given the early support for the group belongingness motivation, the third study aimed to develop a valid and reliable scale for assessing individual variability in children’s need for group belongingness. The scale development phase drew upon SIT principles and its more recent elaborations to inform and validate four hypothesised dimensions of a general need for group belongingness: a need for membership; need for distinctiveness; fear of exclusion; and a need for similarity. The first two stages of scale development consisted of item generation, and pilot testing on a sample of 15 children (aged 8 to 9 years). Three subsequent full-scale administrations of the questionnaire were then completed. An initial 40-item scale was administered to a total of 270 children from grades four to seven, followed by a second sample of 210 middle and late primary school aged children on a reduced 20-item scale. A final fullscale administration to a sample of 246 middle and late primary school aged children was completed in order to replicate the factor structure obtained in the previous two phases. Results indicated that the Children’s Need for Group Belongingness (CNGB) scale was a reliable measure, with subsequent confirmatory factor analyses providing support for the existence of the four proposed dimensions. The main aim of the final study was to determine the extent to which individual differences in the need for group belongingness, as measured by the CNGB, were able to account for additional variance in group attitudes in experimentally created groups. A total of 96 children, aged 8 to13 years participated in a simulation experiment using the drawing team scenario. They were randomly assigned to a drawing team that varied in its status (high versus low), and their position within the group was manipulated (prototypical versus peripheral). In addition, the in-group’s norms were either friendly or unfriendly toward out-groups. Results indicated that the in-group was liked more than the out-group, with high prototypicality and a friendly ingroup norm leading to greater liking toward both groups. However, contrary to expectations, group status was not found to have an effect on attitudes. Importantly, the CNGB accounted for a significant percentage of variance in in-group liking, with out-group derogation predicted by the need for distinctiveness subscale. Overall, the findings from the current research provided broad support for the view that children’s in-group bias is significantly influenced by their need to belong to, and be accepted by, a particular group of peers. The research revealed that children’s in-group bias was impacted by the manipulation of situation variables that instigated the children’s need for group belonging, as well as by individual differences in the level of this motive in children.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)
School of Psychology
Item Access Status
social identity theory