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Minimal Group Paradigm Study

Two experiments by Henri Tajfel & colleagues

The Minimal Group Paradigm is a methodology employed in social psychology to investigate the minimal conditions required for discrimination to occur between groups.
This paradigm, where a number of assumptions, concepts, values or practices were accepted in order to better allow a view of reality in relation to the onset of human group formation and of the appearance of discriminatory behaviours was originally planned to provide a baseline in order to test subsequently the minimal necessary and sufficient conditions for in-group favouritism and out-group derogation to occur based on a sense of group membership.

Experiments using this approach have revealed that even arbitrary and virtually meaningless distinctions between groups can trigger a tendency to favour one's own group at the expense others.

Amongst the earliest and most influential studies or experiments in this field were two conducted under the overall direction of Henri Tajfel after his appointment as Professor of Social Psychology at Bristol University, England, in 1967 where English school boys were shown to discrimate, based on a very flimsy and objectively irrelevant sense of group membership, against a perceived out-group.

In Tajfel H, Billig M G, Bundy R P & Flament C. Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 1:149-77, 1971. [University of Bristol, England, and University of Aix-Marseille, France] Tajfel and his colleagues describe how they set out to investigate the minimum conditions necessary for the establishment of a sense of group membership that would subsequently act to provide a basis for in-group / out-group discriminatory behaviours.
Michael Billig later went on record as stating that in this study Henri Tajfel, who was of Polish-Jewish background and who had lost many family members and friends during the years 1939-1945, was investigating an important question - "How is genocide possible?"

In an original experiment the schoolboy research subjects were randomly told that they were individually "overestimators" or "underestimators" of the number of dots in a display.
In a second experiment such categorisation was achieved by, again randomly, telling 48, 14-15 year old, schoolboys that they were individually members of a "Klee" group or of a "Kandinsky" group after expressing their preferences, for a right or left hand painting, during a viewing of a succession of six pairs of un-labeled abstract paintings about which they were only told that one was painted by Paul Klee and the other Wassily Kandinsky.
It can be suggested that there was no rationale for any of these schoolboys really feeling that they somehow "belonged" to such arbitrary, and in many ways meaningless, groups. Each boy could not feel that they had any important shared history with other group members who were just his school-fellows. He could not know if other boys he liked or disliked were in his "assigned" group or not.

It was found that even under very flimsy and apparently baseless assigned social categorisation into two distinct, and previously "unheard of" social categories, in-group favouritism and out-group derogation occured in the distribution, by the schoolboys as research subjects, of "rewards for participation" in the study.

This held true even where there was neither intra-group or inter-group interaction nor any opportunity to directly fulfil self-interests through such allocations or evaluations of such "rewards for participation". The findings of this Klee / Kandinsky study, which has often been replicated by other researchers, show that under even under objectively meaningless social categorisation conditions in-group favoritism and out-group derogation tended to routinely occur.

Before these studies by Tajfel and his colleagues, which are regarded as classic findings of Social Psychology as a branch of science, established the Minimal Group Paradigm it had been presumed that pre-existing individual personality or social tensions between groups were necessary to give rise to prejudice or discrimination.
It was held by Tajfel and his colleagues that the base condition for a sense of group membership, and the possibility of discrimination between groups, was "categorisation" itself.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882) was, in his time, the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. He remains widely influential to this day through his essays, lectures, poems, and philosophical writings.

In the later eighteen-twenties Ralph Waldo Emerson read, and was very significantly influenced by, a work by a French philosopher named Victor Cousin.

A key section of Cousin's work reads as follows:
"What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man : evidently man and human nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the development of humanity, and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than humanity is free. …
… Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from the nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental relations."
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1829)

Even before he had first read Cousin, (in 1829), Emerson had expressed views in his private Journals which suggest that he accepted that Human Nature, and Human Beings, tend to display three identifiable aspects and orientations:
Imagine hope to be removed from the human breast & see how Society will sink, how the strong bands of order & improvement will be relaxed & what a deathlike stillness would take the place of the restless energies that now move the world. The scholar will extinguish his midnight lamp, the merchant will furl his white sails & bid them seek the deep no more. The anxious patriot who stood out for his country to the last & devised in the last beleagured citadel, profound schemes for its deliverance and aggrandizement, will sheathe his sword and blot his fame. Remove hope, & the world becomes a blank and rottenness. (Journal entry made between October and December, 1823)

In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization. (Journal entry of December, 1824)

Our neighbours are occupied with employments of infinite diversity. Some are intent on commercial speculations; some engage warmly in political contention; some are found all day long at their books … (This dates from January - February, 1828)

The quotes from Emerson are reminiscent of a line from another "leading voice of intellectual culture" - William Shakespeare.
There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare: Henry IV (Pt 1), Act I, Scene II

"The first glance at History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents; and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole spring of actions."
Georg Hegel, 1770-1831, German philosopher, The Philosophy of History (1837)

It is widely known that Plato, pupil of and close friend to Socrates, accepted that Human Beings have a " Tripartite Soul " where individual Human Psychology is composed of three aspects - Wisdom-Rationality, Spirited-Will and Appetite-Desire.

Plato, Socrates and Shakespeare endorse
a Tripartite Soul view of Human Nature. Platos' Republic

Understanding the Past and Present. Why is the World the way it is today?