The most basic cultural, social, economic, and psychological tasks of life are made more difficult for subordinates and easier for dominants. These social conditions influence the psychological states and local social conditions of everyone in society, causing group differences in behavior, particularly in behavior that influences how well people do in life. ~ Felicia Pratto & Jim Sidanius
People tend to value and favor in-groups over out-groups. This apparent universality was labeled ethnocentrism by German sociologist Ludwig Gumplowicz in 1879. The concept was popularized by American sociologist William Sumner in his 1906 book on folkways.
In strongly stratified societies, social bias can lead members in subordinate groups to prefer the dominant out-group over their own in-group. A classic example of this out-group favoritism was shown by black American psychologists Kenneth & Mamie Clark in a famous doll study conducted in 1947. In the study, American black children aged 3–7 were asked through different requests to choose between a Negroid (black) doll and Caucasian (white) doll.
(The study became famous because the Clarks testified as expert witnesses in the racial discrimination case that resulted in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling which decreed that race-based school segregation was inherently a social inequality.)
It was clear that the children “identified themselves with the colored doll” as “a reflection of ego involvement.” The children also had a “clearly established knowledge of ‘racial difference'” in the dolls. In other words, the children understood the dolls as signifying black and white people.
The children were then asked about the dolls as representing races. The results were rather startling in showing these black children as not identifying with their racial in-group in a favorable way. A majority preferred to play with the white doll (67% to 32%), thought that the white doll was nicer than the black doll (59% to 38%), had a nicer color (60% to 38%), and that the black doll looked bad (59% to 17%). Preference for the white doll over the black was more pronounced in northern children that went to integrated schools.
The southern children in segregated schools are less pronounced in their preference for the white doll, compared to the northern children’s preference for this doll. ~ Kenneth & Mamie Clark
Rather than learning to admire and identify with their in-group, black children were developing identities and attitudes congruent with the racial inequality in American society.
A similar study by American psychologists Curtis Branch and Nora Newcomb in 1980 found that black children whose parents were civil-rights activists had a stronger out-group favoritism than normal, as they were more aware of the differential status between blacks and whites.
Out-group favoritism has been uncovered in several subordinate groups, including black children in the Caribbean, Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and Maori children in New Zealand.
The psyches of subordinates reflect not only some normal human desire for positive regard and belonging, but also their group’s inferior social position, just as the psyches of the dominants mirror their privileged position in society. These group differences reflect people’s awareness of their relative power and status. ~ Jim Sidanius & Felica Pratto
Though children may be more susceptible to out-group favoritism than adults, this social-psychological dynamic is common in sustaining groups which feel inferior to others.
In-group favoritism is most prevalent in groups that have equal or greater status than the out-group. Out-group favoritism occurs most often when the out-group has higher status and when the social status hierarchy is perceived to be both legitimate and stable. ~ Felicia Pratto & Jim Sidanius
Out-group favoritism is essentially a social inferiority complex compensated for by identification with the out-group.