What Are Minimal Groups in Social Psychology?


Jane Flores

What Are Minimal Groups in Social Psychology?

In the field of social psychology, researchers often study how individuals perceive and interact with members of different social groups. One concept that has received considerable attention is minimal groups. Minimal groups refer to the categorization of individuals into groups based on arbitrary and trivial criteria.

Origins of Minimal Groups

The concept of minimal groups was first introduced by Henri Tajfel and his colleagues in the 1970s. Tajfel conducted a series of experiments to understand how people form group identities and engage in intergroup behavior.

Key Findings

Tajfel’s experiments revealed that even when people were assigned to a group based on seemingly meaningless criteria, such as their preference for certain paintings or the flip of a coin, they still exhibited favoritism towards their own group members over members of other groups.

  • Social Identity Theory: Tajfel’s findings supported his social identity theory, which suggests that individuals strive to maintain a positive self-concept by identifying with social groups that enhance their self-esteem.
  • Ingroup Favoritism: The experiments demonstrated ingroup favoritism, where individuals show preferential treatment or positive attitudes towards members of their own group.
  • Outgroup Discrimination: Tajfel also observed outgroup discrimination, where individuals display negative attitudes or behaviors towards members of other groups.

Significance and Implications

The discovery of minimal groups has significant implications for understanding intergroup relations and discrimination. It highlights how even minimal distinctions between groups can lead to biased behaviors and attitudes.

Real-World Applications

The concept of minimal groups helps explain various phenomena observed in real-world settings:

  • Stereotyping and Prejudice: Minimal groups provide insight into how stereotypes and prejudices can arise even without substantial differences between groups.
  • Group Formation: Understanding minimal groups aids in understanding how individuals form group identities, which is essential for team building and organizational behavior.
  • Ingroup-Outgroup Dynamics: The study of minimal groups sheds light on the dynamics between ingroups and outgroups, helping us understand conflicts and intergroup relations.


Minimal groups are a fascinating concept in social psychology that highlights the powerful impact of group categorization on human behavior. Tajfel’s experiments provide valuable insights into how individuals form group identities and engage in biased behaviors towards members of other groups.

By studying minimal groups, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of intergroup dynamics, prejudice, discrimination, and group formation. These findings have practical applications in various fields, including organizational behavior, conflict resolution, and social justice initiatives.