Optimal Distinctiveness Signals Membership Trust

Geoffrey J. Leonardelli, Denise Lewin Loyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to optimal distinctiveness theory, sufficiently small minority groups are associated with greater membership trust, even among members otherwise unknown, because the groups are seen as optimally distinctive. This article elaborates on the prediction’s motivational and cognitive processes and tests whether sufficiently small minorities (defined by relative size; for example, 20%) are associated with greater membership trust relative to mere minorities (45%), and whether such trust is a function of optimal distinctiveness. Two experiments, examining observers’ perceptions of minority and majority groups and using minimal groups and (in Experiment 2) a trust game, revealed greater membership trust in minorities than majorities. In Experiment 2, participants also preferred joining minorities over more powerful majorities. Both effects occurred only when minorities were 20% rather than 45%. In both studies, perceptions of optimal distinctiveness mediated effects. Discussion focuses on the value of relative size and optimal distinctiveness, and when membership trust manifests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-854
Number of pages12
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • cooperation
  • optimal distinctiveness
  • relative group size
  • social comparison
  • trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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