University of Limerick
Loughnane_2023_Cognitive.pdf (1.78 MB)

A cognitive consistency approach to understanding multiple group identification and intergroup attitudes

Download (1.78 MB)
posted on 2024-01-17, 14:03 authored by Jack LoughnaneJack Loughnane

There are many reasons in contemporary life why people will relate or refrain from relating to multiple social groups (e.g., migration, historical intergroup conflict, living in a multicultural society, transitioning from one identity to another, or political upheaval). Since social identification and intergroup bias are considered drivers of intergroup conflict, it is increasingly important to understand when people can identify with multiple groups simultaneously and when intergroup bias is likely to occur. The current thesis aims to address these contemporary issues and explain them from a cognitive consistency perspective. The cognitive consistency approach has been applied in many fields in psychology and is based on the principle that people are inherently motivated to avoid making judgements that are inconsistent with one another. In line with a cognitive consistency approach and specifically the Recategorization Model of Roth and colleagues (2018), we suggest that people will identify with multiple groups to a more similar extent the more they perceive these groups to be compatible. Similarly, intergroup bias will be smaller the more the social groups are perceived to be compatible. These hypotheses are tested in three studies.

The first study (N = 269) investigated the identity transition from being a student to becoming an employee. We manipulated the compatibility of students and employees in a sample of current employees who were formerly students. In line with predictions, those in the high compatibility condition identified to a more similar extent and showed more similar attitudes towards both groups compared to the low compatibility condition.

The second study (N = 403) moved to a largescale, real-life example of potential identity loss i.e., Brexit, and investigated the relationship between perceived group compatibility of UK and EU citizens, social identification, and intergroup attitudes in the wake of the referendum outcome. In line with predictions, the cross-sectional analysis showed that perceived compatibility was associated with reduced ingroup bias of UK citizens relevant to EU citizens and that this relationship was mediated by identification with EU citizens. Longitudinal analyses, however, showed that identification with EU citizens predicted perceived group compatibility at subsequent time points while there was no indication of the reverse relationship over time. These findings suggest that in certain contexts motivational and social factors may be stronger predictors of intergroup attitudes than striving for cognitive consistency.

The third study (N = 635) then applied the same cognitive consistency approach to social groups with a history of intergroup conflict and investigated whether intergroup bias would be lower when residents of Northern Ireland perceived British and Irish people as higher in compatibility. As hypothesised, attitudes towards British people were positively associated with attitudes towards Irish people when perceived compatibility was higher and the opposite relationship was found at the lowest levels of perceived compatibility.

The results of these studies largely support our cognitive consistency approach in explaining multiple group identification and intergroup attitudes across a variety of applied contexts. Each of the studies found that higher perceived compatibility of two distinct social groups was associated with more similar levels of identification with both as well as more similar attitudes towards both. Apart from the theoretical contributions, we also derive applications on how to improve intergroup relations.



  • Faculty of Education and Health Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Jenny Roth

Second supervisor

Ronni Greenwood

Department or School

  • Psychology

Usage metrics

    University of Limerick Theses



    Ref. manager