Group identity emphasized more by those who just make the cut

August 27, 2014, Association for Psychological Science

People and institutions who are marginal members of a high-status or well-esteemed group tend to emphasize their group membership more than those who are squarely entrenched members of the group, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Research has long shown that people prefer to be in groups that are thought to have higher status or cultural value as a way of boosting self-image and projecting an impressive image to others. Despite the fact that separations between groups are often arbitrary, and that there may be as much variation within a group as between groups, membership in particular groups can convey significant personal and social benefits.

Psychology researcher Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania was prompted to investigate the ways in which individuals and institutions communicate their as a result of many years of observation, after "noticing the behavior of people just promoted to a better position, or just after receiving a degree, or being admitted to a relatively exclusive group."

In one study, Rozin and co-authors Sydney E. Scott, Hana Zickgraf, Flora Ahn, and Hong Jiang, all of the University of Pennsylvania, examined how universities promoted themselves in the "About Us" sections of their own websites.

They found that master's universities—which are at the border of the university category, offering some master's-level programs but typically few doctoral-level programs—were more likely to emphasize "university"when referring to themselves. Specifically, master's universities used the word "university"in 62.2% of self-references, whereas national universities—which offer undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degrees—used the word in only about 46.4% of self-references.

Similarly, the researchers found that small international airports were more likely to emphasize their "international" status than were large airports.

The researchers also found evidence of the phenomenon at the individual level in undergraduates' descriptions of their universities.

Culturally, Harvard University is a well-known, even quintessential, member of the "Ivy League"—many people don't realize that the University of Pennsylvania is also a so-called Ivy. Rozin and co-authors asked undergraduate students at each institution to describe their university. For some students, the directions were phrased in a private context: "Please write down 7 things you think of when you think of your university." For others, they were phrased in a public context: "Please write down 7 things you think of when you describe your university to other people."

The data showed that Penn students were more likely to mention "Ivy League" or "Ivy" in describing their university than were Harvard students.

The researchers believe this phenomenon likely occurs in many other situations. They hypothesize that individuals may emphasize marginal membership in high-status professional groups, including "greater use of doctor titles by osteopaths, dentists, and chiropractors as opposed to medical doctors" and "greater display of officer status by lieutenants as opposed to colonels, and may also highlight marginal membership in high-status socioeconomic group membership, including "greater display of wealth by the nouveau riche than by 'old money.'"

"We believe that effects like those illustrated here are widespread, although it is sometimes difficult to collect the appropriate data," the researchers write.

Explore further: The brand tourism effect: When do lower status consumers boost luxury brands?

More information: Psychological Science, pss.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 97614545131.abstract

All data and some materials have been made publicly available via Open Science Framework and can be accessed at osf.io/28ejf/

Related Stories

Study explores where high number of women earn STEM degrees

May 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —There have been concerted efforts in recent years to determine how more women can be involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the so-called STEM fields. Research from the University of ...

Do academic rankings create inequality?

August 14, 2013

A study led by a Michigan State University scholar questions whether higher education ranking systems are creating competition simply for the sake of competition at a time when universities are struggling financially.

Want a higher GPA in college? Join a gym

July 10, 2014

For those students looking to bump up their grade point averages during college, the answer may not be spending more time in a library or study hall, but in a gym.

We work harder against lesser rivals, new study shows

February 24, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- People will work harder -- about 30 percent harder -- against members of a lower status group because the prospect of losing to those we want to keep below us poses threats we don't want to face, according ...

Recommended for you

Matter waves and quantum splinters

March 25, 2019

Physicists in the United States, Austria and Brazil have shown that shaking ultracold Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) can cause them to either divide into uniform segments or shatter into unpredictable splinters, depending ...

How tree diversity regulates invading forest pests

March 25, 2019

A national-scale study of U.S. forests found strong relationships between the diversity of native tree species and the number of nonnative pests that pose economic and ecological threats to the nation's forests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.