In-Group Favoritism


  • Students will understand and be able to define in-group favoritism
  • Students will identify ways they participate in in-group favoritism
  • Students will identify ways they can cross social boundaries and guard against in-group favoritism

According to Social Identity Theory, social groups influence inter-group relations because people strive to maintain or enhance a positive social identity. The desire for positive self-esteem is thought to lead to the tendency to evaluate one's own group favorably in comparison to other groups, or "in-group favoritism."

In-group favoritism at its best offers a positive sense of belonging and affiliation, i.e. debaters enjoy debating with others who enjoy debating, football players encourage each other's athletic best. At its most insecure, however, in-group favoritism can lead to highly destructive and hurtful behaviors: gossiping against others, scapegoating and bullying and pressuring group members to do what they individually do not respect or feel comfortable doing.

Step One
Slowly begin leading students from the global to the local using the following examples of in-group favoritism. Be sure to make specific local connections based on your area. For example, if you're from West Virginia, are you a West Virginia University Mountaineers fan or a Marshall University Thundering Herd fan? The purpose of this activity is to slowly lead students to identify their own in-group favoritism and then identify ways to cross these social boundaries.

  • Global in-group favoritism – Nationalism is one kind of in-group favoritism that plays out on our global stage. We see this when professional athletes compete against each other at events such as the World Cup, the Tour de France or Wimbledon. We see it at the Olympics. We see it at The Oscars when an actor from, say, Australia wins and that entire country cheers.
  • State in-group favoritism – You see an example of state in-group favoritism play out in national events like the Miss America Pageant, when people from a given state root for their state representative.
  • City in-group favoritism – City in-group favoritism often manifests in people's sense of place —where someone lives within the city. One side of town is generally known as the "right" side to be from, and the other is "the wrong side of the tracks." Sometimes family members want their children to only play with children from a certain area.
  • School in-group favoritism – Is there place in your school where only the seniors are allowed? Does your school promote competitions where the juniors are against the seniors? Do the athletes always sit together and appear easily identifiable"? Do Advanced Placement (AP) students only hang out with other AP students?

Step Two
Now that students have multiple examples of in-group favoritism, work with students to brainstorm a list of in-groups and out-groups in your school and community. Then ask these questions regarding the positive and negative impacts of in-group favoritism:

  • What favors or special privileges do people in the same groups tend to give to each other?
  • How do you think it makes them feel to support their own group members over others?
  • How do you think it makes others who are outside their group feel?
  • What negative peer pressure (ostracism), superiority/inferiority "storytelling" and hurtful behaviors might be linked with in-group favoritism?
  • How would you explain these behaviors?
  • Do you know anyone who is popular and has found a way to avoid, even transcend, in-group favoritism and can relate to many groups without problem?
  • How have they done so?
  • If you saw in-group favoritism playing out, what might you be able to do to confront or stop it?

Step Three
In-group favoritism may be a global phenomenon, but it plays out in schools across the country. Mix It Up is a national program focused on getting groups to see the importance of crossing social boundaries.

Extension Activity: 

Have students bring in articles and advertisements from their local newspapers that demonstrate in-group favoritism. Make connections to national issues.