Minimal group paradigm and students covering for each other

On the surface, the Parasite expects the doctor to heal them for free, the farmer to feed them out of charity. How little they differ from the pervert who prowls the streets, looking for a victim he can ravish for his grotesque amusement.
Andrew Ryan in «Bioshock»

A while ago, I asked my students whether they would cover for another student in their project group if that student did not contribute. I don’t remember the exact percentages, but a surprising amount of students said they would (> 40% IIRC).

Really? Covering for others doing nothing? Yep.

I could have asked these students some follow up questions — after all, Big Blue Button did show the names next to the answers — but, hey, ethics.

And I have no reason to mistrust these students, as I have seen it as well. And lived it, during my time as a student.

But why? Why would students cover for freeloaders?

Perhaps the minimal group paradigm is an explanation — as least for group work in the university context.

According to Baron, Byrne, and Branscombe (2008), minimal groups are:

“When people are categorized into different groups based on some ‘minimal’ criteria, they tend to favor others who are categorized in the same group as themselves, compared with those categorized as members of a different group.”

Using this idea, students come to see themselves as group immediately, even if the assignment to that group was not that important (as it is, with some project work). In studies, a simple are preference for, e.g., Kandinsky over another artist, is enough.

Students then favor their own in-group over the out-group.

Which begs the question, how can you get students to point out if someone isn’t doing any work. I think this is a more difficult question, perhaps, if they see membership to their in-group not simple by choice, but by contribution. That might be an alien concept to some students, but it might actually work.

In contrast to the freeloaders.


Literature: Baron, R. A., Byrne, D., & Branscombe, N. R. (2006). Social Psychology (11th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.