“Psychological” Majority & Minority in Intergroup Relations

Concepts “psychological” majority and minority help our understanding of intergroup relations. It will start by introducing the studies carried out by psychologists regarding the influence of majority in the society and the inferior position taken by the minority groups. The paper will then analyse various psychosocial issues connected with the majority-minority concept. The paper will then apply psychological theories put forward by researchers before making a conclusive argument.


Social psychologists have for a long time studied the processes that influence the society to conform to certain social norms and the studies have led to the exploration of the psychological majority versus the psychological minority concept. These psychologists have special interests in the role of the majority in influencing people to conform to norms and values (Moscovici 90).

The relationship between majority and minority groups in many social settings has indicated that the two groups are affected by deeper issues of conflict within themselves. The concepts of psychological majority and minority therefore help in understanding the conflicts and the problems that afflict ethno-cultural groups in diverse settings.

Problems and conflicts

Inter group relationships have become complex because of the way these different groups identify and perceive themselves and the concept of psychological majority and minority can help in understanding groups such as the Jews who happen to be the most marginalised minority group around the world. The Jews are a minority group and they tend to keep to themselves.Their laws, norms and values tend to operate within their ethno-cultural set up. From a socio-psychological perspective, it is important to note that this self isolation is meant to enable the Jews to feel like a majority group and this feeling arises because of their history of persecution and their perennial threats to their existence.

This behaviour is also common among African Americans, a minority group that has undergone suffering and marginalisation in America for a long time. Though African Americans keep to themselves to gain a superior feeling, theirs is not a rule that they are supposed to adhere to like the Jews who are not even allowed to marry from outside. In most instances, minority groups tend to remain united and members avoid doing things that could possibly jeopardise the group.

A psychologist named Sheriff studied the psychology of intergroup relations in 1988 and he formulated a theory called realistic group conflict theory which suggested that real or imagined goals in conflict with each other create competition which often breeds hostility between different groups. Generally, a group that fares well in social and economic activities is usually perceived negatively by other groups that feel threatened by the dominant group and this leads to their negative portrayal through stereotypes.

This research also showed that the psychological majority group tends to view the minority group negatively and this negative attitude has for a long time compromised cohesiveness in the society. The research also found out that some individuals within the minority groups seek to be part of the majority group but members of majority group do not take this lightly and they in most cases reject stray individuals from minority groups. This example is evident in all spheres of life ranging from high schools to the workplace.

For example, First year students find it hard to participate in competitive groups like school teams or clubs in college because the rest of the college members view them as naive and inexperienced and they tend to reject their contributions. That is why first Year College students tend to keep to themselves because of the negative perception the rest of the college has towards them. Whereas psychological majority group tends to perceive the minority groups negatively, minority groups tend to envy the majority group and this envy leads some members of the minority group to behave like members of the majority group though they tend to lack the qualities that can guarantee membership into in the group. When they fail to gain entry into the majority group, they remain in their own groups and this intensifies their feelings of resentment towards the majority group. Rejection of the members of the minority groups by the members of majority groups affects the minorities psychologically and this leads to loss of self worth and confidence and this results in self hate.

Another psychologist namely John Clark experimented with black and white children in order to illustrate how the concepts of psychological majority and psychological minority help in understanding of behaviour. Clarke gave African American kids white and black dolls and told them to choose the dolls they would prefer to play with and also to choose the dolls they thought were nice or bad. Clarke documented his findings that African American children preferred white dolls and few of them preferred to play with a white doll. This brings into perspective the issue of membership group and reference group where the former is the group that individuals belong to willingly or unwillingly while the latter is the group that individuals aspire to relate with psychologically (Seyranian 340). This is one of the situations that lead to majority-minority conflicts because most members of minority groups have the majority group as their reference group while members of majority groups do not accommodate members of minority groups that relate psychologically with them.

The situation also causes complications within the minority groups because people in these groups dislike their counterparts who consider the majority group as their reference group because the latter tend to shift their loyalty to their reference groups which they relate to psychologically. This creates distrust and suspicion within the minority group and its ties are weakened by the psychological factors outside reference and loyalty.

However, Tajfel (1981) brought another dimension regarding the concept of psychological minority and majority when he claimed that individual identities of the members is not as strong as group identities and people always struggle for strong and positive social identity which stems from group membership regardless of whether the group is a psychological majority or a minority group.

According to Tajfel, people tend to associate with majority groups psychologically when the minority groups they belong to fail to enhance their self esteem, fails to reinforce their social identity or when they fail to win favour from the groups they belong to (Sherriff 45). He also claims that people leave their minority groups when they are not able to change the social structure of the group, when they are not able to reinforce their social identity or when they have a burning desire to join a better group. However, it is important to note that members of minority groups rarely achieve a firm social identity when they join a majority group because inferiority complex lowers their self worth which in turn leads to self hate and self degradation.

However, they confront this problem using various tactics. One of the tactics is accepting their inferior positions within their reference groups especially if the majority group has a legitimate and stable system whose status quo cannot be upstaged (Vandello 920). The second tactic is rejection of the inferior psychological status if the minority finds that the majority group has illegitimate systems which are not stable.

This leads to change of group characteristics where they tend to change their social identity by redefining the social and the psychological status of the majority group. This enables members of psychological minority groups to break the barriers imposed by members of psychological majority and this breakthrough may encounter resistance from members of psychological majority who feel that their superior position in the society has been threatened by the rise of the psychological minorities (Reitan 49).

The big question that begs is whether the minority can have any influence on the majority.

Can the minority change the opinion of majority? Minority influence is determined by various factors. One of these factors is the size of the majority group because the as the size of the majority grow, minority influence goes down which means that minorities can influence the majority up to a certain level (Sheriff 50). Minority influence is usually consistent but can lose its credibility if some members of the minority relate psychologically with the majority through formation of reference groups. This damages the unity of the minority group which makes the members of the majority group to refuse to identify with the positions of the minority. One person’s position within the minority group can also affect the influence that the minority groups exert over the majority group. For example, the position taken by P.W Botha in South Africa in support of African liberation weakened the influence of the minority whites over the black majority.


In conclusion, the concept of psychological majority and minority is very important in the understanding of the psychological processes that govern inter- group interactions. This paper has noted that the minority groups tend to keep to themselves which is a psychological tactic that helps them to have a feeling of importance despite the inferior position they occupy (Seyranian 340). The paper has also found that there are some conflicts that exist between members of majority and minority groups because of inferiority and superiority complex.

Finally, the paper found that when psychological minorities to break the barriers imposed by the psychological majority they encounter resistance from the psychological majority who feel that their superior position in the society has been threatened by the rise of the psychological minorities. When members of minority groups break these barriers, they gain a psychological upper hand that can enable them to have an influence.

Works Cited

Moscovici, Nemeth. Minority influence: Classic and contemporary integrations Chicago: Rand McNally, 1974.

Reitan, Shawn. Group membership, sex-composition of the group, and conformity behaviour. The Journal of Social Psychology, 1964 (64), 45-51.

Seyranian, Crano. The context/comparison-leniency contract model. Journal of Social Issues, 2009 (65), 335-363.

Sheriff, Mamet. The psychology of social norms. New York: Harper Collins. 1936.

Vandello, Bruins. The forgotten variable in conformity research: Impact of task importance on social influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1996. (71), 915-927.

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