Our intergroup attitudes and behavior are subject to complex social influences. We exist in societies that espouse certain social norms regarding intergroup relations, and we belong to groups where the sanctions concerning how we should and should not treat certain outgroups might be the same or different to wider societal norms. Understanding the ways in which people reconcile the multiple influences on their intergroup attitudes and actions represents a significant challenge for social psychologists. Historically, group norms have been viewed as playing a central role in determining whether people behave in a fair or discriminatory manner in intergroup situations. Recent empirical research has provided convincing support for the notion that people are more likely to express discriminatory attitudes and actions when they perceive that there is normative support for intergroup discrimination, compared with when there are perceived to be sanctions against prejudiced responding. Although previous theory and research has provided some insights into the role of norms in intergroup relations, there are gaps in our understanding of the psychological processes underlying how group norms influence intergroup relations, and what factors shape the impact of norms on discriminatory responding, hi addition, there has been little attempt to use general theories of social influence to understand normative influences in the intergroup relations domain. The present program of research was conducted to address these limitations, and to expand on knowledge about group-based social influence in intergroup relations, by conceptualizing norms in terms of a social identity framework (e.g., Hogg & Abrams, 1988; Tajfel & Tumer, 1979; Turner, 1982; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987).
The social identity approach provides a clear conceptual and theoretical framework for understanding the structure and functioning of norms, and their impact on intergroup behavior. According to the social identity perspective, group norms regarding the nature of relations between the ingroup and relevant outgroups form and acquire their content throughout the course of intergroup interactions. These norms become incorporated into the ingroup prototype that represents the thoughts, feelings, and actions that define the ingroup, and distinguish it from relevant outgroups. To the extent that a particular ingroup provides a contextually salient basis for self-conception, the norms linked with that group become descriptive of not only the group, but also of the self. When contextual cues render a social identity salient, people are motivated to define and evaluate themselves and others more in terms of the normative features of the ingroup than unique properties of the self. Therefore, if the norms attached to a salient ingroup describe and prescribe discriminatory intergroup behavior, conformity will be expressed as intergroup discrimination. If, however, group norms call for fairness, normative intergroup behavior will be reflected by equality in the treatment of ingroup and outgroup members.
A series of six studies was conducted to systematically test several basic social identity assumptions concerning the psychological mechanisms that drive norm-conformity in intergroup relations. Furthermore, potential moderators of the relationship between norms and discrimination were investigated to further clarify and specify the processes underlying the normative basis of intergroup discrimination. The impact of group norms encouraging fairness and discrimination on intergroup behavior was examined using both minimal groups and natural groups, thus enabling a comparison of whether group-based social influence processes function in the same way in both group settings.
In support of the social identity conceptualization of the role of norms in intergroup discrimination, findings from the present research program provided support for the moderating influence of internal group factors on the relationship between group norms and discrimination. Specifically, the results of Studies 1 and 2 indicated that the impact of pro- and anti-discrimination group norms on intergroup behavior was most marked when the norms were linked to a salient ingroup with whom individuals strongly identified. Under these conditions, individuals generally behaved in line with the normative position of the ingroup, engaging in more discrimination when the norms sanctioned discrimination compared with when the norms supported fairness.
There was also evidence that the impact of group norms on intergroup behavior varied depending on structural features associated with the type of norm provided (i.e., descriptive versus injunctive) and the source of the normative information (i.e., ingroup versus outgroup). In Study 3, norms from the ingroup were found to be most influential when they were framed in an injunctive rather than in a descriptive manner, whereas the impact of outgroup norms was most marked when they were descriptive rather than injunctive. The results of Study 3 were explained in terms of the operation of social identity (e.g., Hogg & Abrams, 1988; Tajfel & Tumer, 1979; Tumer, 1982; Tumer et al., 1987) and equity theory (e.g., Adams, 1965; Walster, Walster, & Berscheid, 1978) motives in guiding intergroup behavior.
This program of research also highlighted the important moderating influence of cognitive processing mode on the strength of the effects of group norms on intergroup responding. Study 4 provided some evidence that, under high salience conditions, norms were most influential in directing intergroup behavior when they were processed in a careful, deliberative manner, rather than in a superficial, heuristic manner. Finally, the findings from two studies (Studies 5 and 6) demonstrated that the norm-conformity effects obtained when the ingroup was salient in a contextual sense (i.e., in terms of group salience) or in a chronic sense (i.e., in terms of identification) were robust to the influence of conflicting general societal norms. High identifiers and high salience participants behaved more in line with local group norms than general societal sanctions concerning intergroup relations.
Overall, this research has provided several important insights into the social psychological processes underlying the impact of norms on discrimination, and the influence of various structural, socio-cognitive, and socio-normative moderators of the relationship between group norms and discrimination. Findings support a social identity conceptualization of how norms function to guide or constrain the expression of discriminatory behavior. Social identity factors (i.e., group salience and ingroup identification) have been shown to play an important role in determining how and when group norms for fairness or discrimination influence intergroup responding, Insights have been gained into the structural, socio-cognitive, and socio-normative conditions that promote the strongest effects of group norms on intergroup outcomes. The findings have important implications for norm-based strategies aimed at reducing the expression of prejudice. This research provides an understanding of how group-based normative influence can be structured to sustain anti-discrimination norms, and to promote conformity to these norms in intergroup contexts.