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What Is the Ingroup Bias? Definition and Examples

What Is the Ingroup Bias? Definition and Examples

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The ingroup bias, also known as in-group favoritism, is the tendency of people to favor their own group above that of others. It causes people to give preferences and privileges to members of their own group while often excluding those from other groups.

This bias can have a powerful influence on both individual and group behavior. It may be as simple as favoring your own sports team, or it can be something on a much larger scale, such as favoring people who share your race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality.

Let’s examine some ways that ingroup bias can influence our behaviors and decisions, from simple day-to-day actions to the social relationships we form in various areas of life.

Examples of the Ingroup Bias

This bias can manifest in various situations and contexts. Here are some examples:

Sports Fandom

Fans of a particular sports team often exhibit ingroup bias by supporting and favoring their team over rival teams, sometimes to the point of dismissing or belittling fans of other teams.

Nationality and Patriotism

People tend to show favoritism toward individuals from their own country, viewing them more positively compared to individuals from other countries. This can lead to stereotypes and prejudices against people from other nations.

Social Groups

In social settings such as schools or workplaces, individuals may form cliques or groups, and members of these groups may exhibit ingroup bias by favoring each other in various situations, such as during decision-making processes or social interactions.

Religious Affiliation

Followers of a particular religion may exhibit ingroup bias by favoring members of their own religious community over individuals from other religions, leading to tensions and conflicts between different religious groups.

Political Affiliation

Individuals often display ingroup bias based on their political beliefs, showing preference for members of their own political party while viewing members of opposing parties less favorably. This can contribute to polarization and animosity in political discourse.

Ethnicity and Race

People may exhibit ingroup bias based on ethnicity or race, showing preference for individuals who share their racial or ethnic background while displaying prejudice or discrimination toward those from different racial or ethnic groups.

Gender Bias

Ingroup bias can also manifest based on gender, with individuals showing favoritism toward members of their own gender while displaying prejudice or discrimination toward individuals of the opposite gender.

Family Dynamics

Within families, ingroup bias can occur among siblings or extended family members, where individuals may favor certain family members over others in terms of attention, support, or resources.

These examples illustrate how ingroup bias can influence attitudes, behaviors, and interactions across various domains of social life.

How the Ingroup Bias Works

If you have ever attended a sporting event, you have probably witnessed the ingroup bias first-hand. People engage in a variety of fervent, loud, and boisterous support of their own team and express their dislike and disdain for the opposing team.

They favor the members of those who they view as part of their team, including the players and their fellow fans, while at the same time disparaging anyone who is outside of their group.

This ingroup favoritism results in strong “us vs. them” feelings that can cause people to treat those in the outgroup quite differently than those in the ingroup.

Let’s think about the role that the ingroup bias has played in your own life.

At various points in your life, you have probably belonged to various groups. For example, you may have joined interest-based groups in high school or college, such as swing choir, drill team, or chess club. Perhaps you were part of an athletic team or sport. Or maybe you belong to a religion, organization, or association.

When you were part of these groups, did you ever feel you favored people within that selective social circle?

This tendency to favor people who are part of specific groups to which we belong is a cognitive bias.

This tendency to favor your own group might involve more transitory groups such as a softball team at work or more lasting associations such as your religion, nationality, or ethnicity.  No matter the nature of the group, people have a natural bias toward viewing the members of their own group as “good” and those outside of the group as “bad.”

What Causes of the Ingroup Bias?

So why do we fall prey to this bias so easily? Like many cognitive biases, the ingroup bias serves an important purpose. It is designed to foster harmony and stability within the group. By favoring the members of our own group, you are helping to ensure the overall health and continued existence of the group.

Some theories developed by social psychologists seek to explain exactly how and why this bias occurs.

Realistic Conflict Theory

According to the realistic conflict theory, ingroup bias arises from competing resources between groups. Since different groups are all competing for the same available resources, it serves the best interests of the group to favor members while spurning outsiders.

One famous example often used to illustrate how competition for resources contributes to ingroup bias is Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment.

In the study, 22 boys from similar backgrounds were divided into two groups and placed in a mock summer camp. Initially, the boys in each group were encouraged to bond and did not even become aware of the existence of the other group until the second phase of the experiment.

When the two groups were pitted against each other in various competitions for resources, intergroup conflict was high. The boys often exhibited hostile and malicious behavior toward members of the opposing group. Ingroup bias remained high, and the participants strongly favored the members of their own group.

Self-Protection Theory

Researchers have also suggested that a need to protect and improve self-esteem might play a role in ingroup bias. To hold ourselves in high esteem, we feel the need to believe that our own group is superior.

One famous experiment involved placing participants in completely arbitrary groups. Even though there was no meaning behind the existence of these random groups, the results revealed that people still viewed their own group as superior to others.

Categorization and Simplification

The human mind tends to lump things into discrete categories and uses mental shortcuts known as heuristics to speed up judgments and decisions. This can speed up decision-making, but it also leads to mistakes and errors.

Simplifying the world makes it easier to process all of the information that we encounter. But it also leads us to form groups, including ingroups and outgroups. We naturally tend to prefer the ingroup because it is the one we are most familiar with, and we often have a greater stake it its well-being and success.

Social Influence

Conformity to the norms of the ingroup can also play a part in reinforcing this bias. People often feel pressured to conform to the attitudes and beliefs of their social group. This allows them to gain approval and avoid social rejection.

If the rest of your group expresses negative attitudes toward other groups, you may feel pressured to do the same.

Impact of the Ingroup Bias

The ingroup bias can have serious real-world implications. Such attitudes often contribute to prejudice and even hostility toward outgroup members.


Children often experience bullying, loneliness, and exclusion thanks to the ingroup bias. Those who don’t fit in with the ingroup are sometimes excluded and bullied.

Workplace Interactions

In the workplace, people might favor certain people who are part of their unit or work group. Sometimes these effects are just minor, but in some cases, they can have a serious impact on how we interact with others and even how we see ourselves.

World Conflicts

On a larger scale, ingroup bias can contribute to a major conflict between groups. Each group labels outgroup members as the enemy, leading to arguments, strife, and even war.

Interpersonal Relationships

The ingroup bias can also have a significant effect on interpersonal relationships. If you always favor members of your own group while excluding those from outside groups, it can affect your relationships with people who are outside of your various social groups.

On a wider societal level, it can also play a part in prejudice, discrimination, racism, and ethnocentrism.

How to Avoid the Ingroup Bias

This type of bias can be difficult to overcome, but there are some strategies that can help minimize its harmful effects. These include:

Become More Aware of Ingroup Bias

Start paying attention to how to relate to others and think about how group affiliation might impact these interactions.

  • Acknowledge that ingroup bias exists
  • Work to understand how it can affect decision-making
  • Recognize that all people have biases
  • Be open to finding ways to address such biases

Being aware of the ingroup bias can help you better spot it.

Try Taking an Outside Perspective

Consider situations from the view of a neutral third party. Taking an outside perspective can better help you see how biases might influence the way that you treat others.

  • Put yourself in other people’s shoes
  • Try to consider how you might feel if you were in their place
  • Take alternate viewpoints when you are working to solve a problem
  • Consider how different perspectives might contribute to other solutions

Encourage Teamwork

In Sherif’s classic Robbers cave experiment, getting members of the opposing groups to work together to solve tasks helped overcome ingroup bias.

Consider how developing friendships and relationships with people from other backgrounds might help expand your worldview.

Seek Out Diverse Opinions

  • Seek feedback from others
  • Consider your own blindspots
  • Be open to comments or criticisms
  • Encourage discussions about ingroup biases
  • Talk about how you might work to change ingrained attitudes

Taking steps to address the ingroup bias can help minimize conflict between groups and promote better decision-making.


Aronson E, Wilson TD, Akert R. Social Psychology. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall; 2010.

Crisp RJ, Beck SR. Reducing intergroup bias: the moderating role of ingroup identification. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 2005;8(2):173-185. doi:10.1177/1368430205051066

Everett JA, Faber NS, Crockett M. Preferences and beliefs in ingroup favoritism. Front Behav Neurosci. 2015;9:15. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00015

Tajfel H. Social Identity and Intergroup Relations, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press; 1982.