Research Shows How Leaders Can Promote Positive Intergroup Relations Through Intergroup Relational Identity | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

January 27, 2021by Natalie Davis0

Summary of:

Kershaw, C., Rast III, D. E., Hogg, M. A., & van Knippenberg, D. (2021). Battling ingroup bias with effective intergroup leadership. British Journal of Social Psychology, 1-21.

Background & Theory

This article explores how an intergroup leader might influence subgroups to have an intergroup relational identity opposed to a single collective identity. Specifically evaluated is the bias that might exist within the subgroups, and how much impact is placed on the subgroup the intergroup leader originates from.

Research Question

Kershaw, Rast III, Hogg, and van Knippenberg, in “Battling ingroup bias with effective intergroup leadership” (2021), seeks to address the following question:

  1. How might an intergroup leader create more positive relationships and decrease bias between subgroups?


The authors conducted two studies to address the questions above, and then provided a meta-analytic summary of these studies. 

Study 1: Study 1 included 178 participants, all of which were undergraduate students at a university. All students were Psychology students, and in either an Arts or Science subgroup. Ages ranged from 17-34 years old, with the majority falling into the following nationalities: Canadian (51.6%), Indian (29.7%), or Chinese (14%). The students completed a study via Qualtrics, and included information about their demographics and answered questions pertaining to their identity (focused on their field of study). All participants were told that their subgroup faculty would be moved into the out-subgroup, and then asked questions that gauged their bias. The results were evaluated statistically using the manipulated predictor variables, measured predictor variable, and dependent measure. 

Study 2: Study 2 included 243 participants, all of which were undergraduate students studying psychology. Their ages ranged from 18-30 years old, falling into the following nationalities or regions: Canadian (51.4%), Indian (12.7%), Chinese (10.6%), Southeast Asian (12.7%), Middle Eastern (3.2%), or African (2.8%). Similar to the first study, students again completed a study via Qualtrics, this time focused on their identity as a resident in their city. They were then to read a hypothetical news article, which included a political leader that was either from their in-subgroup or the out-subgroup, and followed up by answering questions to determine their bias. They also all provided their demographics. The results were evaluated statistically using the manipulated predictor variables, measured predictor variable, and dependent measure.


Study 1: Study 1 showed that an intergroup leader can effectively help intergroup relations, despite being an out-subgroup leader, when they work to promote an intergroup relational identity over a collective identity. When an intergroup leader is from the in-subgroup, there was no change regardless of which identity theory they promoted.

Study 2: Study 2 showed similar results to Study 1. Study 2 showed that low identifiers may have a higher ingroup bias when an out-subgroup leader is promoting intergroup relational identity, but that it did lower ingroup bias for high identifiers. It was again shown that in-subgroup leaders don’t have much impact one way or the other.

Overall, both studies supported the theory that an out-subgroup intergroup leader can promote more positive intergroup relations when they seek to advocate for an intergroup relational identity, opposed to promoting an overarching superordinate identity. Even for in-subgroup members who highly identity with their group, there is less bias shown when this is the case. The value in an intergroup relational identity is that it clarifies the distinct values and identities of the subgroups, but with finding common ground between them, whereas a collective identity may make the subgroups feel threatened and defensive.

What This Means

  • Finding common ground and learning to connect with those we don’t identify with is critical in resolving conflict and promoting peace and unity. Many problems can be prevented or resolved more easily when there is care and concern between the parties involved.
  • Any leader needs to be aware of those they lead, and when there are multiple groups (be it within an organization or even within our government), they need to find ways to recognize and appreciate their teams’ unique contributions, while also finding the common ground between them. This will lead to the most productive and positive relationships, and is part of the strength of diversity and inclusion.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: As consultants, we can coach and train those in leadership to understand how to effectively create an intergroup relational identity. When assisting with intergroup relations, even outside of the leadership perspective, we can seek ways to help find their common ground.

For everyone: A helpful tool to have on hand is to keep in mind what your own strengths and identities are, and see where in your relationships/groups you can find the common ground, while also recognizing your diverse strengths.

Natalie Davis

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