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Introduction to Intergroup Theories




Intergroup theories of motivation often explore human behaviors as they relate to social interactions between groups. This can also include how being part of one group can impact a person’s attitudes toward it and members of other groups. The focus of this Wiki will include three such theories in which these beliefs and actions play out: Integrated Threat, Social Identity, and Social Dominance. 


Integrated Threat Theory 

Introduced by Walter G. Stephan in 2000, Integrated Threat Theory focuses on group behavior in reaction to real or perceived danger and/or scarcity of resources.  These notions can be responsible for commonly known phenomena such as fear, stereotyping and xenophobia.  For example, the anxieties felt between the U.S. and the USSR motivated massive propaganda campaigns, the “space race,” and the stockpiling of arms during the Cold War.   


Social Identity Theory 

The second theory of focus is Social Identity Theory.  Developed by Tajfel and Turner, (1979) this theory seeks to explain motivations for human behavior in regard to groups to which one belongs and how one is expected to behave as being part, or not a part of that group.  The recent Charleston Church shooting can be one example of how being part of or identifying with a particular social group can have dire impact on a community. In the opposite way, being part of a charitable organization, like the United Way can inspire more altruistic acts.  


Social Dominance Theory 

Finally, Social Dominance Theory attempts to explain how group constructs translate into one group’s establishing and maintaining social dominance over others. Sidanius and Pratto, (1999) give examples of how age and gender lie at the base of many of these constructs and how members of certain favored groups go on to establish group norms and rules of conduct. Much of their research focuses on racism and its social constructs, though there are ways in which SDT can branch out to other areas of human social interaction where emphasis is placed on social power and legitimacy. 






Integrated Threat Theory

"The main idea of Integrated Threat Theory is that people perceive changes in the environment, particularly how other people are using resources (material and psychological), which then either motivates them to behave or not. These changes are often perceived as threatening as it often appears that other people are using resources that one would like to use," (Commentary 8, 3).

When a person does not see a threat to themselves, they are able to focus on their own efficiency and improve their status. For this example, the member of the team that represents the no threat portion of Integrated Threat Theory is Thomas Alonzo and he has the leading batting average in the league. A common hobby of his is meditation in combination with yoga to keep himself of sound body and mind representing a healthy well-being. Keeping a cool and collected demeanor has given him the ability to focus on his career goals and attributes to his advantageous standing within the league.

Another aspect of Integrated Threat Theory is Personal Threat. This aspect encompasses the idea that one's state of being and standing is at risk by outside forces and they feel they are forced to protect themselves by any means necessary. For this example, the member of the team that represents Personal Threat is the Pitcher, Edward Fornate. Edward is the best pitcher in the league currently. While he is the primary and starting pitcher, there is also a secondary pitcher, Johnny Telechy. Johnny is younger, throws faster and with a little more experience and training, will exceed Edward's accuracy. As a way to protect his position on the team, Edward begins taking performance enhancing drugs to help increase his muscle mass and help his objective of pitching faster to compete with Johnny.

Finally, Integrated Threat Theory would not be complete without the Intergroup Threat. This threat involves the entire group's feeling in which they base their actions and characteristics on, for the accomplishment of reaching their ultimate goal. In this example, we offer the Chicago Cougars, as a whole as they work together to obtain the World Series Championship title. While our team has the best pitcher and the best batter in the league, they become anxious that their opponent, the Washington Wildcats, will beat them.  To ease their own anxiety, they begin to tell each other the Wildcats' players are not as good, and even go as far as expecting the other team to not score a single run the entire game.  The Cougars begin to perceive the Washington Wildcats as inferior due to the Wildcats' key players being unable to organize and cooperate as a team, which in turn furthers the Cougars' perception of Prejudice.  The threat of the other team motivated the Cougars to practice harder and longer.


Social Identity Theory

“Social Identity Theory explains that people are motivated at different times by different portions of who they are,” (PSU Commentary 8, p.4).

Identity is the way in which a person defines oneself. Aspects of this definition are experienced inwardly through personal components of the self and outwardly through identification with groups. The part of one’s identity that motivates behavior at any given time is situational. In this way members of the Chicago Cougars, from the manager right down to the mascot, may be motivated either by their personal or social identity, or some mix thereof, dependent upon the contextual situation in which they find themselves in the moment.

Personal Identity involves biological attributes of individuals such as age, race and sex, as well as the combined history and past interactions of that person. Each player on the Chicago Cougars has personal identity components that are unique and define who they are as individuals.  The Cougars include players from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Their coach, Rubén Morales, grew up in an underserved village in Puerto Rico. In the off season he spends much of his time working with at-risk teenagers. In addition, their second baseman, Jeffrey Talbot, runs cattle back at his family’s ranch, their left-fielder, Rodney Stevenson, is found in the tabloids in between modeling shoots, and their catcher, Philip Renner, spends as much time as he’s able RVing with his wife and kids.

Social Identity involves the ordering and aligning of the self through use of common personal aspects into membership in a group. While players for the Cougars have diverse personal identity components, once they show up for spring training (categorize themselves as part of the team), wave to the cheering fans (gain esteem from their membership) and commit to being a part of it (put on the uniform and taken the field) - they have made the team their in-group. The other teams/rivals, such as the Washington Wildcats, with which they find themselves in competition, are out-groups.

Group self-esteem and group status has to do with the positive identity that comes along with membership in a group. Self-esteem and status are the primary vehicles of motivation in Social Identity Theory. The Chicago Cougars have distinguished themselves as a team to be reckoned with within the league, routinely making the playoffs and vying for the title. What’s more they have a strong local following with fierce fans showing up in record numbers to cheer on their team. Each player enjoys their personal status within the group to promote their self-esteem, as well as their elevated social status attached to their membership – those World Series rings don’t hurt – which fulfills their need for a positive social identity. The players work and practice hard knowing the more they win the more status the team gains, providing more self-esteem and social identity for its players.


Social Dominance Theory

“The general idea of Social Dominance Theory is that all people belong to groups and each group provides for the individuals that belong to the group. As such, people are motivated to protect the group, so that in turn it can protect them…that people are always motivated to protect the group.” (PSU Commentary 8, p. 5)

Within the construct of any pro sports team or league Social Dominance Theory is strongly confirmed and in the case of our Chicago Cougars that would be no different. Social Dominance manifests itself on a multi-level platform with all parts flowing together to influence the greater whole.

In Social Dominance Theory it is put forth that all people within a group work to strengthen and protect the group and that the motivation for doing so is that the group will then work to protect them in return. This theory resonates in baseball, a team sport in which every man is accountable to both themselves and each of their teammates; with no one man having the ability to gain ultimate success – a championship – without the unilateral work and support of his teammates.

The layers of Social Dominance go beyond this basic premise, however. Social Dominance Theory tells us that individuals within groups are motivated by positive or negative social value. Each of these can play out both intra-and-extra group, with large groups likely breaking into smaller groups that will play out the roles of Positive and Negative Social Values.

Positive Social Value teaches us the glory of being in the dominant group, the benefits that are reaped from sitting atop the hierarchy as well as the motivation to sit low in a dominant group; the opportunity to eventually ascend to the top. Conversely Negative Social Value motivates low-status groups to join higher status groups (at a low level) and work their way into favorability. The process is cyclical and can be obstructed or altered by any number of factors. Among those factors are age, sex, race, sexuality, etc .

In sports there are many levels the factors play in both within our intra-group baseball team and the extra-group setting, the league as a whole. For instance, on a very high level, a player on another team may see that the Cougars have been successful in recent years and choose to leave their team for the Cougars in free agency, thereby affirming that they felt Negative Social Value on their previous team. On a more focused level we see the obstructing factors come into play. This is a male-only baseball team, so sex can be tossed out. The same is true for race, (theoretically) in sports color truly does not matter, the best player plays. That in its own right is worth a lengthier conversation. Unfortunately in professional sports sexuality can lead to the exclusion to group activities and in some cases expulsion from any social interaction with the group.  Age is our most interesting factor; in one hand if a player is older he is likely better than his counterparts, he has outlasted the competition along the way. The older the player the greater their social status is likely to be on the team, and the he will hold a Positive Social Value in that regard with the younger players feeling the weight of Negative Social Value because of their inexperience. Conversely, older players feel the weight of their age and often harness jealousy toward the younger players simply for their youth and the benefits that come with it.

There are multiple levels of Social Dominance, negative and positive that manifest on any professional sports team, and the constant ebb and flow of the hierarchy will be everlasting with each new generation of players moving into the roles of those they have supplanted. 


In conclusion, each theory has it owns affect to an individual. Whether it is socially or personally, it is shown that being in certain groups or certain crowds can cause different attitudes within an individual. With the example of the Chicago Cougars or even how they acted towards the Wildcats. Each theory is focused on how a person's attitude can change and how it can impact their way of thinking about people, environment or even themselves. 

For further information, our course wiki offers great insight into Intergroup Theory, it can be located through the following link: 8. Intergroup Theories (Integrated Threat, Social Identity, and Social Dominance)





Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2016). PSYCH484, Lesson 8: Intergroup Theories: Social Identity, Social Dominance, and Integrated Threat: How do the people around me influence me? Retrieved from:


Redmond, B., last modified by Brooks, A.M.  (2010-2016). PSYCH 484: Work Attitudes and Job Motivation Wiki. Child page 8. Intergroup Theories (Integrated Threat, Social Identity, and Social Dominance). Retrieved from:



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