2011. Vol.2, No.5, 426-432
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.35066
Social Identification Dimensions as Mediators of the Effect of
Prototypicality on Intergroup Behaviours
Patricia L. Obst1, Katherine M. White1, Kenneth I. Mavor2, Rosland M. Baker1
1School of Psychology and Counseling, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia;
2School of Health and Psychological Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
Received May 5th, 2011; revised June 6th, 2011; accepted July 18th, 2011.
Cameron (2004) proposed a three-dimensional model and measure of social identification consisting of cogni-
tive centrality, in-group affect, and in-group ties. This approach has received g rowing theoretical and empirical
support; however, little research has examined how these dimensions of social identification may relate diff eren-
tially to intergroup outcome behaviors. The current research sought to address this question by examining the
possible mediating role the dimensions of social identification on the relationship between prototypicality of
group members and the intergroup outcome behaviors of in-group favoritism, out-group derogation, and collec-
tive self-esteem. The current stud y examined un iversity students’ (N = 235) feelings towards students from their
own and another local university. Structural equation modeling was used to identify the most appropriate and
parsimonious models of these pathways. The results showed support for the utility of measuring social identifi-
cation using a multidimensional approach with unique meditational pathways emerging for the distinct inter-
group behaviors .
Keywords: Social Identification, Prototypicality, Intergroup Outcomes
The construct of social identity has become one of increasing
importance in the social psychology literature since the devel-
opment of Social Identity Theory (SIT) (Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel &
Turner, 1979). An improved understanding of this construct is
due to the development of valid indicators, many of which are
derived from the scale developed by Brown et al. (1986). While
early work tended to view and measure social identity as a un-
idimensional concept, treating identification as a general at-
tachment to an in-group, there is growing evidence within the
field to suggest that this approach is inadequate (see Ashmore,
Deaux, & McLaughlin-Volpe, 2004). Indeed, Tajfel’s (1978)
original definition of the construct of social identity, referring
to an individual’s knowledge of belonging to a social group,
together with the emotional and value significance of that group
membership, reflects multidimensionality. Knowledge of be-
longing to a particular group points towards a cognitive aware-
ness, while the emotional significance indicates an affective
dimension, and the value significance points towards an evalua-
Deaux (1996) argues that cognitive processes, emotional as-
sociations, and interdependence between group members are all
important aspects of social identity. Karasawa (1991) distin-
guished between identity with the group and identity with
group members. Smith, Murphy, and Coats (1999) argue that
group attachment is distinct from other forms of group identify-
cation. Ashmore et al. (2004) proposed an organizational
framework of collective identity incorporating work from sev-
eral theoretical perspectives—Social Identity Theory (Tajfel &
1978, Self Categorization Theory (Turner et al., 1987), and
Identity Theory (Stryker, 1987.) This framework suggests that
collective identity is multifaceted and includes seven broad
dimensions: self-categorization, evaluation, importance, at-
tachment and interdependence, social embeddedness, behave-
ioral involvement, and content and meaning. Each dimension
then has several elements that, in turn, underlie the dimension.
This framework suggests further that t he varied aspects of iden-
tification may be related differentially to a number of inter-
Within social identity literature, a number of researchers
have found empirical evidence for a multidimensional concept-
tualization of social identity (e.g., Cameron & Lalonde, 2001;
Ellemers, Kortekaas & Ouwerkerk, 1999; Hinkle et al., 1989;
Jackson, 2002). Hinkle et al. (1989) found evidence for a mul-
tidimensional view of social identity composed of an affective
aspect, a cognitive aspect, and a group dynamics aspect. Elle-
mers et al. (1999) reported findings supportive of three factors
of social identity: group self-esteem, self-categorization, and
commitment to the group. Jackson (2002) also presented evi-
dence that supported three factors underlying the construct of
social i dentity: self-categorization, evaluation of the group, and
perceptions of solidarity. While the factor structure of social
identity does vary across these studies, the concept of the mul-
tidimensionality of social identity has received strong empirical
Recently, Leach et al. (2008) have presented a hierarchical
model of in-group identity which conceptualise subcomponents
that fit within two broad dimensions. Leach et al. distinguish
between group-level se lf-definition (i.e., individual self-stereo-
typing, in-group self-stereotyping) and self-investme nt (solidar-
ity, positive evaluation, and centrality). These authors suggest
that individuals may identify in different ways with distinct
groups. For example, the authors distinguish between the way
artificially created groups and real world groups identify with
their in-group. They suggest that, as artificially created groups
P. L. OBST ET AL.
have little prior history or interaction or shared members,
in-group identification is likely to be based in group-level self-
definition. Real world groups, on the other hand, with longer
histories and interaction, would be more likely to identify in
terms of self investment such as positive evaluation, solidarity,
Cameron (2004) developed a model and valid measure of so-
cial identity based on studies of in-group identification of real
world groups that capture the elements of Leach et al.’s (2008)
self investment category of social identification. Cameron’s
model describes social identity as having the three dimensions:
cognitive centrality, in-group affect, and in-group ties. Cogni-
tive Centrality is the amount of time spent thinking about being
a group member or the cognitive salience of a given group
membership, which is similar to the self categorization dimen-
sions which emerged in Ellemers et al.’s (1999) and Jackson’s
(2002) findings and the centrality dimension of Leach and col-
leagues. In-group Affect, the positivity of feelings associated
with membership in the group, encapsulates the affective di-
mension that has emerged in many studies (e.g., Ellemers et al.,
1999; Hinkle et al., 1989; Jackson, 2002) and is similar to the
positive evaluation component proposed by Leach and col-
leagues. In-group Ties is the perception of similarity and bonds
with other group members and is also in line with much previ-
ous research (e.g., Ellemers et al., 1999; Hinkle et al., 1989;
Jackson, 2002; Karasawa, 1991) and comparable to the solidar-
ity component proposed by Leach and colleagues.
Over the course of several studies, Cameron (2004) devel-
oped a 12-item scale measuring these three factors. Evidence
for Cameron’s conceptualization of social identity has been
found across several studies examining social identity with
geographical and internet communities (Obst, Smith, & Zin-
kiewicz, 2002; Obst, Zinkiewicz & Smith, 2002), and gen- der
and race (Boatswain & Lalonde, 2000; Cameron & Lalonde,
2001). Cameron (2004) tested a unidimensional model of social
identity, a two dimensional model (cognitive and emotional
aspects), and a three-factor model (cognitive centrality,
in-group ties, and in-group affect) and found that the data were
best explained by the three-factor model.
In an additional test of a three-dimensional model of social
identity, Obst and White (2005) assessed participants’ social
identity across three distinct group memberships. Confirmatory
factor analysis of these data supported the three-factor model of
social identity in comparison to fit indices for one- and
two-factor models. In addition, this study found that different
patterns of means and correlations emerged across groups on
the three dimensions, supporting the utility of this multidimen-
sional model of social identity.
More recent investigations of the Cameron (2004) model have
found support for the model in various contexts, including
community (Bilewicz & Wójcik, 2010; Harr is, Cameron & Lang ,
2011), organization (Harris & Cameron, 2005), and collective
action (Giguére & Lalonde, 2010). However, while these studies
have focused on identification within intragroup contexts, the
present investigation focused on examining the influence of the
distinct dimensions of social identification in an intergroup
context. The Leach et al. (2008) studies presented some strong
evidence for the discriminant validity of the dimensions of
social identification. The present study will provide a useful
addition to such research, as well as providing an insight into
potential underlying processes by focusing on distinct in-
-tergroup processes (e.g., collective self-esteem, in-group fa-
vouritism, and out-group derogation).
Consistent with several theoretical perspectives on the
self-concept (e.g., Maslow, 1968), SIT posits that individuals
are motivated to achieve and maintain a high level of self-es-
teem. However, whereas other perspectives focus on maintain-
ing a positive personal identity (i.e., personal self-esteem), SIT
is primarily concerned with the motivation to maintain a posi-
tive social identity (i.e., collective self-esteem; Crocker & Lu-
htanen, 1990). While personal self-esteem is characterized by
self-perceptions of attractiveness and likeability, collective
self-esteem is characterized by the positive or negative beliefs
that group members hold in relation to their social identity
(Hogg & Williams, 2000; Tajfel, 1978) and, hence, is likely to
be associated closely with in-group affect. Cameron’s (1999,
2004) studies indicated that collective self-esteem was posi-
tively and moderately correlated with in-group affect and
in-group ties, but not with cognitive centrality.
In order to achieve and maintain positive collective self-es-
teem, SIT predicts that group members will engage in inter-
group bias behaviors as a means of positively differentiating the
in-group from the out-group (Schmitt & Branscombe, 2001).
These behaviors often take the forms of in-group favoritism and
out-group derogation (Brown, 2000; Lindeman, 1997). The effect
of intergroup bias has been demonstrated consistently in em-
pirical research even in circumstances where there are few or
no obvious extrinsic causes. For example, some evidence
comes from studies using the minimal group paradigm in which
individuals are divided into groups on the basis of trivial or
arbitrary distinctions (Tajfel, Billig, Bundy & Flament, 1971),
explicitly excluded from evaluations, and do not benefit from
the rewards. In these studies, participants still allocate more
rewards to members of the in-group than to the out-group (e.g.,
Brewer, 1979; Diehl, 1990; Corenblum & Stephen, 2001; Jetten,
Spears & Manstead, 1997), evaluate out-group members less
favourably than in-group members (e.g., Schmitt & Brans-
combe), and regard products of the in-group to be superior to
those of the out-group (As hforth & Mael, 1989; Wann & Grie ve,
2005). Leach et al. (2008) argue that, as centrality encapsu-
lates notions of salience and importance, the relationship be-
tween centrality and inter-group-outcomes is likely to be
stronger. Several studies have also shown that higher cognitive
centrality is associated with stronger intergroup discrimination
(Cameron, 1999, 2004; Cameron & Lalonde, 2001).
Further to these findings in minimal group paradigms, stud-
ies have shown that intergroup bias behaviors are strongest
among prototypical group members (e.g., Branscombe & Wann,
1994; Vivian, Brown & Hewstone, 1995; Verkuyten & Nekuee,
1999). Comparisons between the in-group and out-group lead
to the representation of groups in terms of prototypes (Jetten et
al., 1997). These prototypes refer to a contextually-appropriate
set of descriptive and prescriptive cognitive representations of
group-specific ways to think, feel, and behave which, in turn,
P. L. OBST ET AL.
allows for group members to evaluate themselves according to
the same sta ndards u sed to evalua te other gr oup member s (Hogg,
Abrams, Otten, & Hinkle, 2004). Prototypical group members
are defined as being similar to the in-group prototype and dis-
similar from the out-group prototype (Hogg et al., 2004). Re-
searchers have shown consistently that prototypical group mem-
bers are typically evaluated more positively by themselves and
other in-group members (Castano, Paladino, Coull, & Yz- erbyt,
2002); are higher in collective self-esteem (Jetten et al., 1997);
and are more likely to engage in out group derogation as a way
of increasing collective self-esteem (Brans combe & Wann, 1994).
The Current Study
Several studies support the notion of different relationships
between dimensions of social identification and intergroup
outcomes (e.g. Ellemers et al., 1999, Leach et al., 2008), how-
ever, there is still a limited understanding of which specific
aspects of identification predict which specific collective per-
ceptions and behaviors. The current study aims to expand on
previous research by examining in greater detail the influence
of the proposed dimensions of social identity or what Leach and
colleagues (2008) would classify as self investment identity
dimensions on intergroup outcomes behaviors of in-group fa-
voritism, out-group derogation, and collective self-esteem. Data
were collected via a cross-sectional study of psychology stu-
dents from a large Australian university; the study assessed
students’ attitudes towards both students from their own and
another local university. Based on previous research (e.g., Jet-
ten et al., 1997), it was hypothesized that students’ perceived
prototypicality as a student of their specific university would be
related positively to their social identification and levels of
in-group favoritism, out group derogation, and collective self-
esteem. It was hypothesized further that the effect of prototypi-
cality on in-group favoritism, out-group derogation, and collec-
tive self-esteem would be differentially mediated by the dimen-
sions of social identification (centrality, in-group affect and in-
group ties). Cameron (2004) and Cameron and Lalonde (2001)
indicated that the cognitive dimension of social identifycation is
linked with stronger intergroup discrimination and in-group af-
fect with collective self-esteem. It was hypothesized that in-
group affect would be the strongest mediator of the prototypi-
cality and collective self-esteem relatio nshi p, and ce ntrality woul d
be the strongest mediator of the relationship between proto-
typicality and bot h in-group favoritism and out -group derogation.
Parti c ipants
Two hundred and thirty-five undergraduate Queensland Uni-
versity of Technology students (48 males and 187 females) par-
ticipated in the study for course credit. The mean age of partici-
pants was 23. 48 years (SD = 7.65), w ith a range of 17 to 52 years.
Procedures and Measures
The design and several measures were based on Jetten and
colleagues (put in reference here to be correct re APA1997).
Students were approached in class and invited to participate in a
study about how their beliefs in supernatural phenomena com-
pared with those of students from another local university (of
approximately comparable status). Piloting of the survey indi-
cated that the topic of supernatural phenomenon was not linked
to the status of the groups or seen as of central importance to
students. The survey contained a small questionnaire of beliefs
in supernatural phenomenon and the following measures.
In-group favouritism. Participants were told that the experi-
menters were interested to know how they, as students, felt
about the allocation of resources for universities. Participants
were asked to distribute—as they saw fit—a number of grants,
scholarships, and delegations to a university student conference
between (their in-group) QUT students and (an out-group)
Griffith University students. The combined percentages of these
allocations to QUT students formed the indicator of in-group
favoritism out of a possible 100% allocation of all resources to
QUT students. This measure was internally reliable (α = .87).
Out-group derogation. Participants were then asked to com-
plete a 12-item questionnaire regarding their feelings towards
(out-group) Griffith University students, which consisted of
adapted items such as ‘I admire Griffith students’ and ‘I feel
superior to Griffith students’. This measure was designed by
Stephen and Stephen (1993), and has been used in previous
studies to reflect any negative affect relating to out-groups (e.g.,
Corenblum & Stephen, 2001). The scale includes the following
evaluative and emotional terms: hostility, admiration, disliking,
acceptance, superiority, affection, disdain, approval, hatred,
sympathy, rejection, and warmth. All items were responded to
on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7
(strongly agree) and the 12 item scores were added to give a
total score with higher scores indicating greater out-group de-
rogation. This measure was reliable (α = .81).
Collective self-esteem. Collective self-esteem in relation to
one’s in-group was measured using three items: ‘At the mo-
ment I am pleased to be a student at QUT’; ‘At the moment I
have a good feeling about being a student at QUT’; and ‘At the
moment I am satisfied about the fact that I am a student at
QUT’ (Doosje, Ellemers, & Spears, 1995; Jetten et al., 1997).
Responses were indicated on a Likert scale ranging from 1
(strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Scores on the three
items were summed to give an aggregate collective self-esteem
score. This measure was reliable (α = .95).
Social identification. Participants were asked to complete the
12 items from Cameron’s (2004) “Three Dimensional Strength
of Group Identification Scale”. Four items assessed each aspect
of the three-dimensional model of social identification in rela-
tion to one’s in-group: cognitive centrality (e.g., ‘I often think
about being a QUT student’; α = .80); in-group affect (e.g., ‘In
general I’m glad to be a QUT student’; α = .80); and in-group
ties (e.g., ‘I feel strong ties to other QUT students’; α = .83).
Responses were indicated on a Likert scale ranging from 1
(strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).
Prototypicality. Based on the item used by Jetten et al. (1997)
to assess self-perceptions of in-group prototypicality, partici-
pants were asked to respond to the statement: ‘Overall, I per-
ceive myself as being a typical QUT student’ on a Likert scale
ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree).
Preliminary analyses revealed no significant missing data or
P. L. OBST ET AL.
breaches of normality. Total scales were calculated based on
responses for a minimum of 75% of completed items per scale.
The correlations between prototypicality, the dimensions of
social identification, and the intergroup outcome behaviors are
shown in Table 1.
The meditational models were tested via AMOS. For each
outcome variable of in-group favoritism, out-group derogation,
and collective self-esteem, the initial model included proto-
typicality and the potential mediators: cognitive centrality,
in-group affect, and in-group ties. The model included corre-
lated error-terms for the social identity scales to capture the
common variance not associated with prototypicality. High
correlations between the three social identity subscales could
potent ially cause some i nstability in models containing all three
mediators; however, in this case, the zero-order correlations
among the social identity scales are small to moderate (see
Table 1) and, thus, potentially can act as somewhat independent
mediators. The final models presented are those that produced
the most parsimonious and best fitting models after removing
non-significant pathways. The pathways weightings presented
in the models are standardized for comparability. Figures 1(a)
2(a), and 3(a) show the initial pathways for each outcome vari-
able, and Figures 1(b), 2(b), and 3(b) show the final best fit ting
model for each outcome variable. Table 2 presents model fit for
the initial and final models for each outcome variable.
The aim of the current study was to investigate whether the
dimensions underlying social identification would differentially
mediate the relationship between prototypicality and the inter-
group outcome behaviours of in-group favoritism, out-group
derogation, and collective self-esteem. As demonstrated in
previous studies, the results of the current study supported the
hypothesis that prototypicality was positively related to the
dimensions of social identification and to the outcome behave-
iours of in-group favoritism, out-group derogation, and collec-
tive self-esteem. Furthermore, the results supported the hy-
pothesis that the dimensions underlying social identification
differentially mediate the relationship between prototypicality
and these intergroup outcome behaviours.
Specifically, highly prototypical students who reported high
levels of centrality engaged in more in-group favoritism and
out-group derogations. This finding is consistent with previous
research in this area in which a cognitive dimension has been
shown to repeatedly appear in measures of social identification
(e.g., Cameron, 2004; Cameron & Lal onde, 2001; Jackson, 200 2)
and has been linked with stronger intergroup discrimination
(Cameron, 1999, 2004; Cameron & Lalonde, 2001).
Further, an interesting finding emerged in terms of out-group
derogation. Consistent with previous research, the regression
pathways revealed tha t the cognitive dimension of centrality was
positively re la t ed to out -group de rogation indicating, as expected,
Correlations (r) between prototypicality, the dimensions of social identification, and the intergroup outcome behaviours.
α M (SD) 1 2 3 4 5 6
Prototypicality 3.91 (1.25) 1
Centrality .80 4.12 (1.32) .15* 1
In-group Affect .80 3.27 (.98) .25** .40** 1
In-group Ties .83 3.52 (1.21) .39** .18** .37** 1
In-group Favouritism .87 58.42 (16.39) .14* .19** .05 .07 1
Out-group Derogation .81 3.03 (.832) .02 .17** -.19** .06 .24** 1
Collective Self Esteem .95 5.09 (1.03) .28** .36** .76*** .41** .05 .10
Note. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .01; scales are 1-7, IF is a percentage.
Model Fit statistics for the initia l and final model for collective self-esteem, in-group favouritism and out-group derogation.
Model χ2 CFI RMSEA AIC
Initial Model χ2 (1) = 2.2 .995 .080 30.24
Final Model χ2 (1) = 2.4 .996 .073 20.47
Initial Model Χ2 (1) = 02 .999 .098 40.00
Final Model Χ2 (1) = .23 .999 .010 16.23
Initial Model Χ2 (1) = 47 .997 .091 38.47
Final Model Χ2 (1) = 2.80 .997 .001 28.80
P. L. OBST ET AL.
In-group favoritism. (a) Initial model; (b) Final model.
Out-group derogation. (a) Initial model; (b) Final model.
that the greater a person’s awareness of their group membership,
the greater the likelihood of their displaying out-group hostility.
However, the pathway from the affective dimension (in-group
affect) was negatively related to out-group derogation. This
finding suggests different processes are operating on this di-
mension. Those people who do not feel good about their own
group membership are more motivated to engage in out-group
hostility than those who evaluate their in-group identity posi-
tively or perhaps feeling good and positive about the in-group
membership means that group members do not need to engage in
Interestingly, while in-group affect was shown to be nega-
tively correlated with out-group derogation, it was positively
Collective self-esteem. (a) Initial model; (b) Final model.
related to collective self-esteem, indicating, as would be ex-
pected, that the better you feel about your group membership
the higher your collective self-esteem. It should be noted, how-
ever, that Cameron (2004) defined in-group affect in terms
highly similar to Luhtanen and Crocker’s (1991) private collec-
tive self-esteem subscale; hence the high intercorrrelation be-
tween these scales is to be expected. Particularly in light of the
fact that the present operationalization of collective self-esteem
included state-specific items and, hence, represents a subjective
evaluation of group membership.
Centrality was not significantly related to collective self-es-
teem suggesting that, while a stronger awareness of group mem-
bership may promote intergroup processes such as out-group
derogation and in-group favoritism, it does not necessarily
promote higher collective self-esteem. Rather, it is the affective
aspects of social identity that positively impact on group mem-
bers’ collective self-esteem.
The cognitive centrality dimension was a significant predict-
tor of both in-group favoritism and out-group derogation, indi-
cating that awareness and recognition of the importance of a
particular social identity is an important aspect of identification
in predicting inter-group outcomes. Of the many multi dimen-
sional approaches to social identification, Cameron’s (2004)
measure is one of the few to assess centrality through measures
of salience and importance. Most other measures include cen-
trality as part of a more general “cognitive” or “self-categori-
zation” component that does not distinguish it from simple
inclusion. Leach et al. (2008) argue that by viewing centrality
in this way, the relationship between centrality and inter-group-
outcomes is likely to be stronger. For example, they suggest
that the centrality component of in-group identification will
lead individuals to perceive greater threat to their in-group and,
thus, encourage more active coping to defend this identity
against threat. The results of the current study indicate a lack of
P. L. OBST ET AL.
association between centrality and the more internal process of
collective self-esteem; a strong association between centrality
and intergroup outcomes such as in-group favoritism and out-
group derogation add credence to this argument. Given that the
results of the current study show the emergence of differential
relationships between the dimensions of social identification
and the intergroup outcome behaviors of in-group favoritism,
out-group derogation, and collective self-esteem, this study pro-
vides support for the utility of examining social identification
using a multidimensional model and measure.
The current study contributes significantly to the literature
regarding the influence of social identification on intergroup
behavior through t he systematic investigation of the meditational
role of the key dimensions of social identity on the relationship
between prototypicality and a number of important intergroup
outcome measures. Results showed clear support for the exis-
tence of a differential relationship between the dimensions of
social identity and different intergroup outcomes. The salience
and importance of the group identity as measured by the cen-
trality dimension of Cameron’s (2004) scale was related to both
in-group favoritism and out-grou p derogation. Hence, awareness
of group membership appears to be enough to instigate these
types of intergroup processes. However, centrality did not im-
pact incr e menta lly on le vel s of coll ec ti ve se lf -este e m; it wa s the
more affective dimensions of in-group affect and in-group ties
that were related to this more internal process. The finding that
in-group affect was related negatively to in-group derogation
suggests that more complex processes may be occurring. Feeling
good and positive about in-group membership meant that
in-group members did not feel the need to engage in out-group
derogation. It should be noted that the groups in the current stu dy
were chosen to be as similar to each other as possible so as to
minimize an y status diff erentials. It would b e interesting to see if
this finding would also emerge with out-group derogation of a
higher status group.
Given that this study is the first of its kind to investigate sys-
tematically the differential effects of the dimensions of social
identification on intergroup outcome behaviours, future re-
search should examine the influence of other variables known
to be important to intergroup relations – status and group size –
at the dimensional level of social identification. This informa-
tion would assist in providing evidence to build the theoretical
understanding of how the dimensions of social identification
impact on specific intergroup process and help social research-
ers to better understand and reduce stereotyping and other
negative group-related behaviours. Further, as the current study
is correlational in nature, future research is needed to provide
more evidence for the reliability of the current results. Overall,
the results of the current study, focusing on relations between
naturally occurring groups, have shown evidence for the utility
of examining social identification using a multidimensional
approach. Future research will benefit from adopting a multi-
dimensional approach to gain a richer a nd deeper understanding
of the complexities of intergroup relations and the important
role that social identification plays in these intergroup proc-
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