Identity and in-group/out-group differentiation in work and giving behaviors: Experimental evidence

Avner Ben-Ner, Brian P. McCall, Massoud Stephane, Hua Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

128 Scopus citations


We investigate the existence and relative strength of favoritism for in-group versus out-group along multiple identity categories (body type, political views, nationality, religion, and more) in four alternative contexts: (1) giving money in a dictator game, (2) sharing an office, (3) commuting, and (4) work. We carried out two studies. The first study entailed hypothetical situations and imaginary people; the second study was similar to the first, but the dictator game component was incentivized (actual money) and involved actual receivers. Our subjects' behavior towards others is significantly affected by their respective identities. (1) Those that belong to the in-group are treated more favorably than those who belong to the out-group in nearly all identity categories and in all contexts. (2) Family and kinship are the most powerful source of differentiation, followed by political views, religion, sports-team loyalty, and music preferences, with gender being basically insignificant. (3) The hierarchy of identity categories is fairly stable across the four contexts. (4) Subjects give similar amounts and discriminate between in-group and out-group to similar degrees in the hypothetical and incentivized dictator games.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-170
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota for financial support. We are grateful for the helpful comments of the co-editor, referees, many readers, discussants and audiences at seminars at the University of Minnesota (2003), Monash University (2003), and the Hebrew University (2008), and at the Conference on “Embodied Cognition” (2003), Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (2003), “Behavioral Economics and Economic Psychology” IAREP-SABE Congress (2006), Economic Science Association European Meeting (2006), “Identity, Equity and Opportunity” conference at Oxford University (2006), and the “Identity and Organization” OB Camp at Yale School of Management (2007).


  • Cooperation
  • Experiments
  • Identity
  • In-group and out-group
  • Self-other differentiation


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