Cognitive Theories Applied to Intergroup Conflict

  • Peter R. Grant
Part of the Springer Series in Social Psychology book series (SSSOC)


In 1963, Tajfel and Wilkes described two experiments in which subjects judged the lengths of eight lines repeatedly presented in random order over a series of six trials. In the experimental condition, the four longer lines were labeled as A and the shorter lines as B. That is, there was a relationship between each line’s length and its category membership. In the control conditions, either the lines were classified at random, or the lines were not classified at all. The results showed that, in the experimental condition, intercategory differences were accentuated by the superimposition of this classification scheme but that intraclass similarities were not. Although these experiments were clearly concerned with documenting a bias in the subjective judgments of physical stimuli, the ultimate goal of the authors was to show that “shifts and biases in stereotyped judgments can be subsumed under similar shifts existing in absolute judgments of a series of physical quantities” (p. 101). That is, like Bruner (1957; Bruner & Perlmutter, 1957), they wished to explore the cognitive bases for social judgments under the working assumption that we use the same cognitive processes as those we employ to make physical judgments. Today, this assumption guides a great deal of theory and research in the area that has come to be known as social cognition. This chapter will examine the work relevant to intergroup conflict that is derived from this tradition. The first part will briefly describe the effects of categorizing individuals into an in-group and an out-group by summarizing the findings of a great deal of experimental research. The second part of the chapter will review in some detail the theories that are used to explain these findings. Finally, the third part of the chapter will discuss some practical implications of these cognitive perspectives for resolving intergroup conflict.


Categorization Theory Social Identity Theory Balance Theory Intergroup Relation Stimulus Person 
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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1990

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  • Peter R. Grant

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