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Northern Ireland: 'in-group' pride and 'out-group' prejudice

Economic & Social Research Council

New research explores attitudes of 'pride and prejudice' among the Protestant and Catholic communities of Northern Ireland. Writing in ESRC's new report Seven Deadly Sins, Professors Ed Cairns and Miles Hewstone find that pride in one's 'in-group' can be thought of as benign, acceptable and indeed positive in many ways. It is not inevitably linked to sectarian views.

Indeed, warmth towards the in-group tends to be positively correlated with warmth towards the out-group. And bias can actually disappear when the level of sectarian conflict is relatively low - a true 'peace dividend'. Thus, a peaceful future does not have to be built by attempting to cleave individuals from their valued community identities.

The researchers measure pride using the 2003 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, which asked respondents how they feel about the Union flag and the Irish tricolor on a five-point scale from 'very proud' to 'very hostile'. 71% of Catholics reported not feeling either proud of or hostile to the Irish flag and 83% answered the same way when asked about the Union flag. In contrast, 52% of Protestants didn't feel either proud of or hostile to the Irish flag and only 45% felt indifferent about the Union flag.

Cairns and Hewstone analysed these data by reverse-scoring the answers to the Union flag question and combining them with the answers to the Irish flag question into one scale. This produced a better measure of the range of attitudes - from pro-Irish/anti-Union to pro-Union/anti-Irish - and a more detailed, if indirect, measure of pride.

Examining the two extreme points at either end of this scale revealed that no Catholics were extremely pro-Union and no Protestants were extremely pro-Irish. But while only 6.5% of Catholics could be thought of as extremely pro-Irish, over a quarter of Protestants (27%) fell into the extremely pro-Union category.

The measure of pride related to voting patterns. As expected, among Catholics, only 7% of potential SDLP voters fell into the extremely pro-Irish 'ultra' category compared with 55% of Sinn Fein voters. Among Protestants, however, the difference was much less striking, with 50% of those likely to vote UUP at the next election falling into the pro-Union 'ultra' category, compared with 63% who were DUP voters.

Ultras in both communities are also more likely to hold unfavourable attitudes towards the integration of the two communities. Protestant ultras in particular show a stronger preference than all Protestants for mixing with members of their own community in the neighbourhood and workplace. They also express a strong preference for members of their own religion in schools, but Catholic ultras are actually more disposed to mixing in schools than are Catholics in general.

The researchers have also conducted surveys of representative samples of the Northern Irish population in 2000 and 2001, including explicit measures to investigate the relationship between in-group pride and out-group prejudice. These two years were especially interesting, because they captured different levels of sectarian tension.

In 2000, the peace process appeared to be making some progress, with the IRA undertaking to decommission weapons, a planned reduction in British Army numbers and the UUP re-entering the power-sharing government. In 2001, by contrast, political events were more negative, bombs were planted in London and Northern Ireland, attributed to a dissident IRA faction, and decommissioning of IRA arms stalled.

The researchers measured pride with a scale of 'social identification', including such items as 'I identify strongly with my community' and 'my community is an important part of who I am'. They measured prejudice by assessing the degree of 'warmth' felt towards respondents' own and other communities, using a 'feeling thermometer'. They then computed a measure of 'in-group bias' -in-group thermometer minus out-group thermometer - as the preference for respondents' own group over the other.

As expected, the research found a general in-group bias effect: respondents were more positive towards the in-group than the out-group. But the effect was much stronger for those who identified highly with their religious group than for those who identified at only a low level. Thus, in-group pride was related to out-group prejudice. There was also more bias shown by Protestants than Catholics, a well-established effect.

They also found different effects for the two years of the survey. People with higher levels of 'group pride' showed in-group bias in both the relatively peaceful year and the more volatile year. But people with lower levels of group pride showed less bias in the more peaceful year. Indeed, that year, both Catholics and Protestants with lower group pride showed no bias. But when things became bad again, in 2001, respondents with lower levels of pride were biased in favour of their own community.

Finally, the researchers found a modest positive correlation between in-group and out-group feelings. This is consistent with the view that in-group favouritism is not inevitably related to 'out-group derogation'.



Ed Cairns on 028 7032 4661 or Email: or Miles Hewstone on 01865 271317 or Email:

Romesh Vaitilingam on 07768 661095

Or Lance Cole, Lesley Lilley or Becky Gammon at ESRC on 01793 413032/413119/413122

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