What Are Ingroups and Outgroups?

What Are Ingroups and Outgroups?


“An ingroup is a social category or group with which you identify strongly. An outgroup, conversely, is a social category or group with which you do not identify” – Jane Giles.


We all identify with something outside of ourselves in some way or another. Some of us identify with characters on television, and others amongst us identify with certain cultural groups. As a result, we develop ingroups and outgroups based on what we identify with. 

For those of us who identify with sports, we will perceive ourselves as belonging to sports groups; sports groups will become our ingroups: sport lovers. Conversely, for those of us who dislike sports, sports lovers will be perceived as an outgroup: a group which identifies with and belongs to a culture entirely different than our own. 

For example, those who attend operas and musicals view themselves differently than those who attend sporting events; both groups identify with different values and beliefs, and both groups admire different icons and skills. Even the language used will be different.

The reason why that is so relates to how social categories are constituted. 

Firstly, at the core of a social category is a set of values or beliefs. 

Those who attend operas believe they are engaged in a civilized affair, that the outing is a demonstration of a higher-pleasure, or a thorough enjoyment of the fine arts. The art form of opera, for them, is much unlike the art form of rock music or hip-hop music. If they had no such belief, then their preference for rock music or hip-hop ought to be as equal to their preference for opera. Yet, as any astute marketer or opera goer shall inevitably find, a difference of preference emerges. A set of fundamental beliefs become shaped around that difference of preferences.

And so one element of ingroups and outgroups, one element of how groups are constituted, regards preferences and values. 

From there, we can begin to see those established values and preferences form into symbolic phenomena such as language and behaviour, as well as beliefs. 

Once one becomes an opera goer, words and phrases become part of one’s vocabulary that were not there before. We learn the proper labels and descriptions for matters of opera. And we even learn the informal language used therein. 

I have not the slightest clue as to what those may be, but I am sure, much like all other cultures and groups, they exist.

After having sufficiently studied and adopted the new words and phrases, we can use them to create boundaries of identity; not only to communicate to others our values and preferences, and thus our group membership, but to also communicate to ourselves our own identity. 

For example, when we speak about realism and solipsism, we are taken as philosophy enthusiasts or graduates; when we speak about capital markets or present value, we are taken as finance enthusiasts or graduates. 

So another element to social category constitution is language, what determines and differentiates one social category from another is the words and phrases used.

Another component, however, to social categories is beliefs. Beliefs play an important role in faction formation within groups, such as elitists, purists, and extremists; but beliefs also play an important role in differentiating groups from one another as well. 

Take as example, first, two people who enjoy playing video games. These two people might belong to the ingroup of “gamers,” yet one of them can be an elitist who believes PC gaming is supreme, while the other can be a console gamer who has no interest in the device with which you use to game. So we have on the one hand, a gaming elitist, and on the other hand, a console centrist. The beliefs can help us identify the factions within the group known as “gamers”. 

In addition to that, there are cases where similarities in behavior and language are not themselves sufficient enough to demarcate social groups; for example, people who engage in discussions about sports are often distinguished by appeals to beliefs about teams rather than the action of watching sports or rooting for one team rather than another: i.e., Lebron fans versus Jordan fans. 

Thus, those who attend opera events have different preferences and values, and as a result, develop different language, behaviour, and beliefs to express their preferences and values. And in doing so, they develop ingroups and outgroups. 

Features of Ingroups and Outgroups

Ingroups and outgroups have a few features which are, in most cases, if not all, non-essential for identifying the ingroup or outgroup. And those features are the relativity of boundaries and relativity of hierarchy. 

As said before, groups can have ingroups within the group; much how gamers and sport fans are groups composed of smaller groups, so too can groups have boundaries inside themselves, of which compose other groups. The boundaries of a group are not limited to the more macro distinctions like “gamer” or “sport fan”. 

In addition to that, the hierarchies of groups are likewise relative. Within each group, there is a hierarchy; but that group itself likewise falls within a hierarchy in society. For example, Stephen King sits near the top of the hierarchy for fiction writers, but writers in general are nowhere near the top of the hierarchy of society. Writers are beneath politicians, entrepreneurs, and celebrities, generally speaking. 

So, the hierarchies of groups are as relative as the boundaries of groups. There is a hierarchy for the group dynamics, but there is likewise a hierarchy for society, of which our ingroups fall within. 


Most often we never consciously think about which group we belong to or choose, our ingroup and outgroup selection process is mostly automatic and unconscious. We evaluate the utterances and actions of others all the time, assessing them to see if they are ingroups or outgroup members, and we likewise evaluate our own behaviours and utterances to determine whether they conform or not to some ingroup. All of that, we do so unconsciously and automatically.

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