An Intergroup Approach to Studying Intergroup Relations

At its core, intergroup relations involve dynamic face-to-face interactions between members within the same group and between members of different groups. Paradoxically however, intergroup processes are often studied using an individualistic survey approach that isolates group members from their fellow ingroup members and physically removes them from the actual intergroup context impacting their group.

I take an intergroup approach to studying intergroup relations by simulating face-to-face and group-on-group interactions in the laboratory using intensive role-playing studies. These studies involve recruiting multiple participants into the laboratory at one time and then dividing them into several sub-groups. Participants then form meaningful identities as a group, and negotiate complex intergroup scenarios that they imagine are taking place within a fictional world created for the purpose of the study.

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Using this approach I have simulated intergroup contexts involving groups losing the freedom to express their cultural practices (Kachanoff, Taylor, Caouette, Khullar, & Wohl, 2019, JPSP; Kachanoff, Kteily, Khullar, Park, & Taylor, in press, JPSP), and a mass-migration situation between two groups in which one group actually physically relocates into the territory of the other group (Kachanoff, Kteily, Cohen, & Taylor, invitation to resubmit manuscript). In my ongoing research I am simulating an inversion of social hierarchy in which formerly oppressed group members gain control over their social system and can influence the outcomes of their former oppressor as well as other low power groups in society.

Forming Meaningful Identities in the Lab

Central to my intergroup approach is having newly formed groups of participants form meaningful sociocultural identities in the laboratory and potentially experience having their culture forcefully restricted by another group.

I have developed the coat of arms paradigm to facilitate groups forming a meaningful group identity in the laboratory (Kachanoff et al., 2018, JPSP). Group members determine the core traits and values they share as a group and symbolize them with different colours and symbols adorned on a shield (download the coat of arms program HERE).


These identities are meaningful to participants. Groups take on average 15-20 minutes to create their coat of arms. When groups have their coat of arms forcefully changed by another group they will fight to restore it. For example, below is an image of a coat of arms that a group tried to restore to its original version once it was forcefully changed by another group.


Complimenting the coat of arms paradigm, I have developed a multi-player video game using the War Craft 3 map editor (Blizzard Inc.) in which up to five participants can simultaneously play as ingame Avatars which are a direct reflection of the attributes they selected in their coat of arms (file of video game available upon request). For example, people who chose the spider charge for their coat of arms would control a spider avatar in the game. In this way group members can actually practice their newly formed culture in the laboratory.


I have also developed other tasks in which group members form a meaningful group identity by having group members select and eat a customary food in the laboratory (Kachanoff et al., in press, JPSP).