Thursday, 22 February 2018

Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and the Creation of Social Groups

"The aim of the studies was to assess the effects of social categorization on intergroup behaviour when, in the intergroup situation, neither calculations of individual interest nor previously existing attitudes of hostility could have been said to have determined discriminative behaviour against an outgroup. These conditions were satisfied in the experimental design. In the first series of experiments, it was found that the subjects favoured their own group in the distribution of real rewards and penalities in a situation in which nothing but the variable of fairly irrelevant classification distinguished between the ingroup and the outgroup. In the second series of experiments it was found that: 1) maximum joint profit independent of group membership did not affect significantly the manner in which the subjects divided real pecuniary rewards; 2) maximum profit for own group did affect the distribution of rewards; 3) the clearest effect on the distribution of rewards was due to the subjects' attempt to achieve a maximum difference between the ingroup and the outgroup even at the price of sacrificing other ‘objective’ advantages."
Tajfel et al. (1971)

In 1971, Tajfel et al. showed eight high school students - who thought the study was on artistic taste - paintings by Paul Klee (1879-1940) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Based on their preferences they were assigned to two groups (X group and Y group). Then, they were given money which they had to allocate to the students of their in-group and the out-group (but not to themselves). The participants showed two tendencies: 1) Money between two students of the in-group or the out-group was allocated in a fair way, i.e., each received the same amount. However, 2) in-group favouritism could be observed as more points were given to the students of the in-group than to the out-group. In other words, gains of students of their own group were maximised in comparison to the out-group. That also meant that students were willing to give their own group fewer points if only the out-group got even fewer ones.
Example: Students chose to assign 8 points to their own group and 3 to the other group although they could have chosen to give 13 points each group (Stangor, 2004). Categorisation into groups based on arbitrary criteria and there it is: group favouritism. Tajfel (1971) concludes that discrimination is not necessarily related to a history of social conflict or hostility.

"Perhaps those educators in our competitive societies who from the earliest schooling are so keen on 'teams' and 'team spirit' could give some thought to the operation of these side effects."
Tajfel (1971)

- - - - - - - --
- Stangor, C. (2004). Social Groups in Action and Interaction. New York & Hove: Psychology Press
- Tajfel, H. (1971). Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination, download
- Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P. & Flament, C. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1(2), 149-178.
- image of Wassily Kandinsky via


  1. I had to read that twice. Morning brain fog cleared :-) Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Kenneth, Macy, and Derek. Have a wonderful weekend!