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In-group bias

"My group is better than yours."


A sense of belonging is a powerful cohesive force in a group that can come in many forms (for example, being a fan of the hockey team that represents one’s hometown). This sense of belonging is often accompanied by a positive perception of one's own group, called an in-group. However, our perception of our in-group can be biased. Thus, one’s hockey team can quickly become, in our mind, better than all the other teams, even if this is not objectively the case: this is the in-group bias. It is possible to describe the in-group bias as the tendency to attribute more positive characteristics to one's own group than to an external group [1]. A study aimed at understanding what motivates individuals to attribute more positive characteristics to one's own group than to another group suggests that the in-group bias is present from preschool age [2]. However, the behavior of inferring negative characteristics to an outside group would seem to develop only after the age of six.


As part of a team building activity at your job, all employees are randomly divided into two teams: the Blues and the Reds. You are one of the Reds and must take part in a two-week skill game competition against the Blues. Quickly, you start to feel proud to be a member of your team and you strive to win the competition and get the bonus promised to the winners. You spend time with your teammates on your breaks and go out for drinks after work, analyzing the other team's poor performance. You discuss together what you will do with your bonus. You are convinced of the superiority of your team in many respects, and you feel a strong sense of belonging, even though it has been chosen at random and is only distinguished from the other group by its color. After the competition, you continue to bond more with the employees on your team than with others.


The development of this bias takes root early on and serves to help face the challenges of having to allocate resources between several individuals or groups. As such, when one is faced with having to share personal resources such as time, money, or give out employment opportunities, the in-group bias could serve to favor the individual and the in-group. It also serves a social function within the in-group by creating cohesion within the group and loyalty among the members [2].


Showing a positive bias towards one’s group can lead to conflict with other groups [1]. Thus, individuals with a strong in-group bias might justify prejudice, discrimination, and even pejorative actions towards a group that they view less positively than their in-group. In addition, this bias can generate a crystallization of the positive vision that an individual has of the group to which they belong, possibly despite negative characteristics linked to their group (e.g. refusal to believe that their group promotes racism).

Thoughts on how to act in light of this bias

  • Be aware of our bias towards our in-group to avoid negative consequences against an opposing group (e.g., instituting measures to evaluate candidates for a position anonymously).

  • Consider a wide range of positive and negative characteristics of one's in-group when making comparative judgements with another group.

  • Consider the other individual or group's vision and opinion and show empathy.

How is this bias measured?

Several ways of measuring this bias have been proposed. Attitudinal measures [3], which consist in measuring the beliefs and dispositions that people have towards their groups and other groups; and behavioral measures [4], which consist in comparing the behaviors adopted towards one's group and those towards other groups. In the case of a behavioral measure, for example, we would consider that there is an in-group bias when, all things being equal, the participants would help the members of their own group significantly more than they would help members of other groups.

This bias is discussed in the scientific literature:


This bias has social or individual repercussions:


This bias is empirically demonstrated:



[1] Tajfel, Henri & John C. Turner (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In William. G. Austin & Worchel, Stephen (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations: 33-47. Monterey, CA: Brooks-Cole. (Founding article)

[2] Buttelmann, David & Robert Böhm (2014). The ontogeny of the motivation that underlies in-group bias. Psychological science, 25(4), 921-927.

[3] Jetten, Jolanda, Russell Spears & Antony S. R. Manstead (1996). Inter-group norms and inter-group discrimination: Distinctive self-categorization and social identity effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1222–1233.

[4] Dovidio, John & Samuel Gaertner (1981). The Effects of Race, Status, and Ability on Helping Behavior. Social Psychology Quarterly, 44(3), 192-203. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from


Intergroup level, Representativeness heuristic, Need for social belonging, Need for self-esteem

Related biases


Olivier Lépine is a PhD/PsyD candidate in psychology at Université du Québec à Montréal. He is affiliated to the Laboratoire de Recherche Trauma et Résilience.

Translated from French to English by Susan D. Renaud.

How to cite this entry

Lépine, O. (2020). In-group bias, trans. S. D. Renaud. In C. Gratton, E. Gagnon-St-Pierre, & E. Muszynski (Eds). Shortcuts: A handy guide to cognitive biases Vol. 1. Online:

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