Cross-cutting category membership with role assignment: A means of reducing intergroup bias

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Journal Article

Two experiments evaluated the effect of role assignment on intergroup bias. A social categorization model (Brewer & Miller, 1984) predicts a reduction in bias when the basis for assignment to task roles or subgroup composition in a contact situation is category independent (cross-cut) rather than category related (convergent). Conversely, a model based on social identity theory (Brown & Wade, 1987; Deschamps & Brown, 1983) suggests that when distinct task role assignments converge with category membership, threat to group identity and consequent intergroup bias will be reduced. To clarify these conflicting predictions, we created a cooperative contact setting in which members of two experimentally created groups worked together as a team. During the team membership phase, work roles either converged with or cross-cut initial group membership. Experiment 1 supported the predictions of the social categorization model; subjects in the cross-cut condition perceived greater similarity among team members and, in turn, showed less intergroup bias in reward allocation, than did those in the convergent condition. Two variables hypothesized to account for this outcome were the absence of negative task attitudes and the opportunity for personalization. In Expt 2, procedures likely to increase negative task attitudes and reduce personalization were inserted into the procedure of both conditions in an experimental design that paralleled that of Expt 1. Under these conditions, the differential effects of role assignment were eliminated. Taken together, these studies suggest that cross-cutting role assignment will reduce intergroup bias when it is implemented in a manner that does not arouse negative task attitudes but does provide opportunity for personalization of team mates.

British Journal of Social Psychology
Type of Article
Journal Article
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Subjects were 189 female undergraduates from the University of California at Los Angeles who participated in partial fulfillment of a research requirement for their introductory psychology course.

Overview of design and procedure

The design of the experiment was a 2 (convergent-cross-cutting role assignment) X 2 (in-group-out-group category identity) factorial. A four-person team was the unit of analysis, with category identity as a within-team factor [..] 

A group of five to eight females participated in each session of the experiment. In the first phase of the experiment, subjects were arbitrarily categorized into two mutually exclusive categories – overestimators and underestimators. Four subjects from the session were then randomly assigned to a team consisting of two underestimators and two overestimators. When more than four (and less than eight) subjects were present in the experimental session, the remaining subjects were used in the control condition. (When eight subjects were  present, two experimental  teams were formed.) Teams were randomly assigned to either the cross-cutting or convergent role assignment conditions of task performance [..]


Subjects individually completed six measures: group induction checks, attitudes towards task performance, similarity measures, evaluative bias measures, memory measures and generalization measures [..]



Within the context of convergent versus cross-cutting role assignment, we designed a second study to parallel that of Expt 1 in its basic features but (a) to create a negative task attitude and a perception of lack of control over team outcome and (b) to reduce the opportunity for personalizing interaction [..]


Subjects were 64 female and 64 male undergraduates from the University of Iowa who participated in the study for introductory psychology course credit [..]


A session, composed of two heterogeneous four-person teams, was randomly assigned to either the convergent or the cross-cutting role assignment condition. [..]

Group Formation. 

As in Expt 1, subjects were allegedly assigned to their group identity (Os and Us) on the basis of their performance on a dot estimation task but were in fact randomly assigned [..]

Team formation and experimental manipulation. 

As in Experiment 1, subjects were randomly assigned to heterogeneous teams of two Os and two Us which were separated into different rooms with an experimenter accompanying each. Each team member’s task was to list individually five attributes, either personality traits or demographic background characteristics, that would be important criteria for the selection of astronauts by NASA and to provide one sentence justifications for their traits. [..]

Subjects were instructed that after they generated their traits, as a team, they would have 10 minutes to discuss the relative importance of each individual contribution and the ideal balance between the number of personality and background factors necessary for astronaut selection [..]

Then they would individually, and in confidentiality, rank the team’s 20 generated items in terms of their importance, with the five items that received the highest average rankings across all the team members constituting their final team product. [..]

After completion of the task, discussion and subsequent rankings, subjects individually responded to a set of team measures, a set of generalization measures, and then were debriefed [..]

Dependent measures: 

Subjects completed five sets of measures, similar to those in Experiment 1, although only the similarity and memory measures were identical [...]