Understanding Ingroup Bias: From Sports to Society

"Brain scans showing the effect of Ingroup Bias during an inspirational message

Human beings naturally gravitate towards their own groups, often displaying a predisposition against outsiders. This inherent tendency is labeled as ‘Ingroup Bias’. By examining unexpected outcomes in sports and delving deep into psychological studies, we can better understand this behavior and its implications on society at larg

Read more: Understanding Ingroup Bias: From Sports to Society

The Shocking Upset in Sports:

Several years ago, Vitesse, a professional football team, clinched the coveted KNVB Cup. However, in a twist of fate the following year, they were shockingly ousted in the initial round by the amateur team, AVV Swift. Such upsets are rare. Yet, what led to this? While Vitesse might have underestimated their opponent, AVV Swift was fueled by a drive to prove themselves. Their attitude of ‘us versus the professionals’ clearly epitomizes Ingroup Bias.

Ingroup and Outgroup in Psychology:

In psychology, the concepts of ‘ingroup’ and ‘outgroup’ play crucial roles. The former refers to groups with which individuals identify, while the latter represents groups they distance themselves from. These categories span a range of factors from culture, gender, religion, locality, to even a sports team or company. For a detailed understanding, check out this explanatory video:

Surprising Research on Bias:

Contrary to popular belief that biases are learned, there’s compelling evidence suggesting a deeper, innate origin. A striking video indicates that a staggering 87% of very young children exhibit negative tendencies towards the ‘other’. This raises daunting questions like, “Is hate innate?” and “Is racism an intrinsic part of humanity?”

Ingroup Bias & The Brain:

Research by Pascal Molenberghs and Winnifred R. Louis from the University of Melbourne delves into how the brain processes information related to Ingroup Bias. Their study employed fMRI scans to observe brain activities when participants were exposed to inspiring messages. When the message came from an ‘ingroup’ leader, parts of the brain associated with inspiration were activated. Contrarily, messages from ‘outgroup’ leaders led to a lack of activity in these regions. An apt illustration of this would be political speeches, which might be inspiring for a specific group but not for others.

Brain scans showing the effect of Ingroup Bias

The Bigger Picture:

Ingroup Bias manifests on a grand scale. Fervent supporters of football clubs often display intense animosity towards rival teams, even resorting to violence. Studies show empathetic reactions when their own group faces harm, but the tables turn when adversaries are at the receiving end, often evoking pleasure.

In Group Graph

Foundations of Ingroup Biases:

Oscar Vilarroya’s 2018 research highlights the core principles underpinning Ingroup Biases. For instance, the recent ‘Joker’ movie offers an intriguing depiction of these concepts. The film portrays the journey of Arthur, marginalized by society, who finds solace and identity within a group that eventually becomes a force to be reckoned with. Catch a glimpse of the movie here:

Harnessing Ingroup Bias in Sports Coaching:

For sports trainers, fostering Ingroup Bias within a team can be strategic. Cultivating a sense of unity or a shared identity can bolster team spirit. Tools like body language and shared celebrations can reinforce this ‘Us’ feeling, laying the groundwork for stronger team dynamics.


Ingroup Bias, whether manifested in sports upsets or societal behaviors, is deeply ingrained in human nature. Recognizing it can not only help in understanding unexpected outcomes in various arenas but also in framing strategies, especially in team sports. For a deeper dive, refer to the research by Molenberghs and Louis Link.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top