Intergroup Emotions

Intergroup Emotions Definition

Intergroup EmotionsIntergroup emotions refer to the specific emotional reactions that people feel toward a social group and its members. Intergroup emotions are closely related to the concept of prejudice. Both intergroup emotions and prejudice involve individuals’ feelings about social groups to which they do not belong; however, these two terms differ in the level of detail used to characterize people’s feelings toward groups. Prejudice generally refers to one’s overall general feeling (e.g., favorable vs. unfavorable) toward a social group, whereas inter-group emotions generally refer to one’s specific feelings (e.g., respect, anger, guilt) toward a social group. Compared to general prejudice, then, a focus on inter-group emotions often reveals a more complex and differentiated picture of how individuals feel about social groups.

Variations in Intergroup Emotions

Intergroup emotions take many forms, varying in both the nature of the specific emotional reaction and the kind of social group that evokes the emotional reaction. First, people can experience qualitatively different types of specific feelings toward a social group. For example, when contemplating a particular group, an individual may feel specific emotions that are mainly positive, such as respect, gratitude, or joy. Alternatively, when thinking about the same group, this individual may feel specific emotions that are mainly negative, such as fear, anger, or guilt. And very often, an individual experiences both positive and negative specific emotions toward the members of a particular group.

In addition, people can experience these specific feelings toward the members of qualitatively different types of social groups. That is, people may feel inter-group emotions toward individuals belonging to social groups defined by a wide range of characteristics, such as ethnicity (e.g., Asian Americans), nationality (e.g., Germans), age (e.g., elderly people), religion (e.g., Muslims), sexual orientation (e.g., gay men), personal values and beliefs (e.g., members of the National Rifle Association), and profession (e.g., lawyers).

Antecedents and Consequences of Intergroup Emotions

Fundamentally, intergroup emotions emerge from the psychological distinctions people tend to make between their own groups and other groups. That is, to feel specific emotions toward a group, an individual must see oneself as a member of a particular social group (e.g., Americans) and see others as members of a different social group (e.g., Japanese). Once these lines are drawn, intergroup emotions can then arise from subjective assessments of the relationship between one’s own group and this other group. For example, if a man believes he and his fellow group members are competing for jobs with the members of another group, then he may experience anger or envy toward the members of this other social group.

These assessments and the resultant intergroup emotions often play important roles in the social interactions between individuals belonging to different groups. More precisely, different specific emotional reactions should prompt different behavioral reactions. For example, anger toward members of a social group may stimulate an individual to behave aggressively toward members of this group, whereas respect toward members of a social group may stimulate an individual to pursue mutually beneficial interactions with members of this group.


  • Mackie, D. M., & Smith, E. R. (Eds.). (2002). From prejudice to intergroup emotions: Differentiated reactions to social groups. New York: Psychology Press.