In-Group Favoritism

In-group favoritism is the inclination of people to favor one group over others. This lesson looks at the way in-group favoritism can hurt, rather than heal, conflicts that people may have with one another. According to Social Identity Theory, individuals strive to maintain or enhance a positive social identity by being a member of a group. The desire for positive self-esteem is thought to lead to the tendency to evaluate one's group more favorably than others. At its best, in-group favoritism offers a positive sense of belonging and affiliation, (debaters enjoy debating with others who enjoy debating, football players encourage each other's athletic best). At its most insecure, however, in-group favoritism can lead to highly destructive and hurtful behaviors: gossiping against others, scapegoating and bullying and pressuring group members to do what they individually do not respect or feel comfortable doing.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:  

  • recognize and define in-group favoritism. 
  • identify ways in which they participate in in-group favoritism. 
  • identify ways they can cross social boundaries and guard against in-group favoritism.
Essential Questions
  • What is in-group favoritism? 
  • How can people help stop or guard against in-group favoritism? 

Enduring Understandings:

  • In-group favoritism is the tendency for people to believe that their own group is better than others in an effort to seek higher self-esteem.  
  • Students can prevent in-group favoritism by recognizing that it exists; by seeking to relate to many different groups; and by making an effort to stop hurtful behaviors of in-group favoritism.  
  • Newspapers, magazines, web site news reports for students to research examples of in-group favoritism


confront [ kuh n-fruhnt ] (verb) to face in hostility or defiance; oppose 

favoritism [ fey-ver-i-tiz-uh-m ] (noun) the favoring of one person or group over others 

inferiority [ in-feer-ee-er-i-tee ] (noun) the quality or state of being lower in status, rank, degree, or grade  

ostracism [ os-truh-siz-uh m ] (noun) exclusion, by general consent, from social acceptance, privileges, friendship  

superiority [ soo-peer-ee-awr-i-tee ] (noun) the quality or state of being better, stronger or higher in quality than others  

transcend [ tran-send ] (verb) to rise above or go beyond; to exceed, or surpass, in excellence


Suggested Procedure

1. Guide students to identify in-group favoritism (with the end goal being finding ways to cross these social boundaries). Help students understand the concept by describing global, state, city and local favoritism using the following examples. When possible, cite specific local examples based on your area. (For example, if you live in West Virginia, are you a West Virginia University Mountaineers fan or a Marshall University Thundering Herd fan?) 

  • GLOBAL in-group nationalism is a kind of favoritism that plays out across the world. We see this when professional athletes compete against each other at such events at the Olympic Games, World Cup, the Tour de France or Wimbledon. We also see it at the Oscars when an actor from a country outside the U.S. wins and people from that country cheer. 
  • STATE in-group favoritism might be shown during national events when people from a given state root for the representative of their state—for example, a state university football team.   
  • CITY in-group favoritism often manifests in people's sense of place or where someone lives within the city. One neighborhood may be more affluent and known as the "right" side of town, while another may be considered "the wrong side." Sometimes family members want their children to play only with children from a certain area.  
  • SCHOOL in-group favoritism is present in many schools. Examples might be the following: a place in school where only the seniors are allowed; a lunch table where only athletes sit together; advanced placement students hanging out only with other AP students.  

2. Explain: “Now that you have reviewed different examples of in-group favoritism, let’s brainstorm a list of in-groups and out-groups in our school and community.”  Ask students to work in small groups and discuss these questions regarding the positive and negative impacts of in-group favoritism: 

  • What favors or special privileges do people in the same groups tend to give to each other? 
  • How do you think it makes in-group members feel to support their own members over others? 
  • How do you think it affects the feelings of others who are outside that group? 
  • What negative peer pressure (ostracism), superiority/inferiority "storytelling" and hurtful behaviors might be linked with in-group favoritism? How would you explain these behaviors? 
  • Do you know people who are popular and have found a way to avoid, even transcend, in-group favoritism and relate to many groups without problems? How have they done so? 
  • If you saw in-group favoritism playing out, how might you try to change, confront, or stop it? 

3. To address in-group favoritism in your school, mention Mix It Up. Mix It Up focuses on getting students to see the importance of crossing social boundaries by connecting with different students during lunch. Invite students to form groups and to work on plans for your school to participate.

Common Core State Standards: ELA-Literacy. CCRA. W.2; SL.1; SL.3; SL.4; L.4


Extension Activity

Have students bring in news stories, magazine articles, and advertisements that demonstrate in-group favoritism. Guide them in finding ways to confront it or stop it.

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