Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Social Identity in Young New Zealand Children

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Social Identity in Young New Zealand Children

Article excerpt

The present research compared the ethnic identity and preferences of young Maori children who attended either a bilingual unit within a state school or a state school without a bilingual unit. In addition, ingroup favouritism was investigated through the attribution of positive and negative behaviours to dark and light skinned targets. Results demonstrated stronger ingroup identity, but also stronger outgroup preference, amongst Maori children at the school without a bilingual unit than amongst Maori children at the bilingual unit. Outgroup favouritism in the attribution of positive behaviours was seen at both schools. Results are discussed in terms of social identity.

Categorisation of individuals on the basis of distinguishing features, such as skin colour, is a fundamental stage of social perception (Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Stangor, Lynch, Duan & Glass, 1992; Tajfel, 1981). By age three, almost seventy percent of children can differentiate people by the colour of their skin and the use of skin colour in categorisation is dominant (Aboud, 1988; Davey, 1983; Brown, 1995; Milner, 1983; Stangor et al., 1992). Social Identity Theory (Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel & Turner, 1986) argues that such categorisation is a precursor of in-group bias and favouritism and the development of negative beliefs about members of groups to which one does not belong. Underlying this ingroup bias, it is argued, is the desire of people to have a positive self esteem, or social identity. Part of one's esteem or identity is derived from the groups one is a member of and so the more positively these groups are perceived, the greater the positive esteem individuals can draw from their membership of such groups (Turner, 1981). Favourable comparisons with other groups (ingroup bias or favouritism), therefore enhance one's social identity (Cialdini & Richardson, 1980; Lemyre & Smith, 1985; Oakes & Turner, 1980). There are numerous examples in the literature of ingroup favouritism based on racial categorisations (Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Stangor et al., 1992; Tajfel & Wilkes, 1963; Vaughan, 1988), even from children (Aboud, 1983; Brown, 1995; Davey, 1983; Milner, 1983). Davey (1983), for example, showed young children to demonstrate marked ethnocentrism in their distribution of sweets amongst unknown children of the same and different ethnicity to themselves.

Ingroup bias is, however, moderated by the relative status of the comparison groups. Whilst majority group members display ingroup bias (Wagner, Lampen, & Syllwasschy, 1986), there are many examples of minority group members being more egalitarian or even displaying an outgroup bias; that is showing favouritism toward the majority group of which they are not a member (Brown & Abrams, 1986; Espinoza & Garza, 1985; Ng, 1985; Sachdev & Bourhis, 1991; van Knippenberg, 1984). Aboud (1983), for example, showed both majority and minority group children, aged 5-7 years, to display greater assignment of positive traits to members of the majority ethnic group and negative traits to members of the minority ethnic group. Similarly, Davey (1983) noted that a number of minority group children in her study displayed outgroup preferences.

It is important to remember that membership of a minority group has less to do with number than with social status and who has access to power, including better education and health (Sachdev & Bourhis, 1991; Tajfel, 1981; Wagley & Harris, 1958). Members of majority groups may, therefore, find it easier to make positive intergroup comparisons than members of minority groups. In turn, members of minority groups may attempt to identify with the majority group, in order to achieve higher status and esteem. Such identification with an outgroup is only feasible as a means of bolstering self esteem if group boundaries are permeable and it is possible to move from membership of one group to another (van Knippenberg & Ellemers, 1993). …

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