The Legacy of European Social Psychology

An online compendium of ideas, schools and people in the field of Social Psychology

Ingroup Projection Model

In 1999, Amélie Mummendey and Michael Wenzel developed the ingroup projection model to explain social discrimination as well as tolerance and plurality between groups. The model centers on the question how members of different groups deal with differences in the prototypes and norms of the groups. When are outgroups with different norms perceived as inferior and become targets of prejudice, discrimination, and hostility and when are they tolerated and respected?

Central to the Ingroup Projection Model is the assumption that one a certain group membership is salient, group members will compare themselves and their group with (members of) other groups (e.g., French versus Italians). This comparison is contextualized by a frame of reference: a common superordinate group (e.g., Europeans). Subgroup members tend to ascribe the characteristics of their own group also to the superordinate category, which is what the model calls ingroup projection. Ingroup projection can be a spontaneous (rather than controlled) process.

As an outcome of ingroup projection, the own group (e.g., the French) is perceived to represent the superordinate category well, whereas other groups appear to be poorer representatives of the superordinate category. Based on the so-called relative ingroup prototypicality – the perception that the own group is more prototypical for the superordinate category than the outgroup it is compared with – the outgroup and its members are derogated or even discriminated; in essence because they appear to deviate from the prototype and thus from the norm of the superordinate category.

How can this process be stopped? One way to support outgroup tolerance is to increase the complexity of the prototype of the superordinate category so that it does not only provide room for the characteristics of the ingroup but also for those of other groups. The more diverse the superordinate category is seen, the more positive is the outgroup evaluated. Additional research suggests that it might also be possible to prevent ingroup projection in the first place. If group members perceive their group as less prototypical for the superordinate category, they are less likely to project the ingroup prototype on the superordinate category and they also evaluate relevant outgroups more positively.

Recommended readings:

  • Mummendey, A., & Wenzel, M. (1999). Social discrimination and tolerance in intergroup relations: Reactions to intergroup difference. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3, 158 -174.
  • Wenzel, M., Waldzus, S. & Steffens, M. C. (2016). Ingroup projection as a challenge of diversity: consensus about and complexity of superordinate categories. In Chris G. Sibley, Fiona Kate Barlow (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Psychology of Prejudice. (pp. 65-89). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.