Amigos del Behavioral Economics Blog, esta semana presentamos el artículo “Are strangers just enemies you have not yet met? Group homogeneity, not intergroup relations, shapes ingroup bias in three natural groups”, by Dogan, G.; Glowacki, L. and Rusch, H. (2022), in which authors carry out a study with different non-Western ethnic groups to better understand how the ingroup bias works in intergroup relationships. 

In this week’s article we are going to focus on a bias that affects us in many different contexts: the ingroup bias.

In many societies and environments, people tend to favor members of their group over others. However, especially in non-competitive environments, or without salient group identities, most people are able to care positively and genuinely about the well-being of others. 

Cooperation between in- and out-groups is primarily driven by expectations of future reciprocity, which supports the view that cooperation between in-group individuals shapes their group identity. 

Out-group threat, in turn, increases in-group cooperation, positively affecting, as we have already noted, group identity. 

Despite these data, little is known about the ingroup bias in members of natural groups experiencing conflict with each other and with others. In particular, there is a lack of literature comparing the behavior of groups, different ones, with or without enmity toward each other, with unidentified outsiders. 

In this article, authors address these ideas using empirical evidence obtained from an experiment with natural groups, from Ethiopia, whose group identities are their defining feature of daily life, and affect their intergroup relations. 

How the relationship between two or more groups is constructed and how it is constructed can also shape how the ingroup bias manifests itself: if we are talking about two or more groups that have a neutral relationship, concern for members outside the group may exist, being interested in their welfare; whereas, if the groups are rivals, this is unlikely. 

For example, there is strong affinity-based rivalry with political groups or sports clubs, increasing favoritism for one’s chosen party or club. 

In addition, ingroup bias may be greater in groups that are ethnically and culturally heterogeneous from each other. 

An important characteristic of most research on social groups is that it focuses on Western, industrialized, wealthy and democratic societies, where group identities and rivalries are not a defining feature of everyday life. 

For this reason, authors decided to carry out their study with people belonging to the most important natural groups inhabiting the South Omo Valley in Ethiopia. Two of these groups, Daasanach and Nyangatom, have been enemies for many years. Their conflicts are often motivated by the desire for revenge, they are very distinct groups that even have their own institutions, a strong group identity, rigid boundaries, and the right to self-government at the local level. The third chosen group, Highlanders, has a neutral relationship with the other two, but this one is very different from them: the members of this group are ethnically heterogeneous without a cohesive cultural identity. 

In the task assigned to people from these three groups, two players had to decide whether to expropriate the possession of a third passive player, “the victim.” The idea was to observe how the Daasanach and Nyangatom groups behaved with the third group, Highlanders; but also to make different combinations for richer findings. 

Initially, each player had 10 tokens, and the two active players had to decide whether to distribute equally between them the third player’s endowment, or to distribute among the three, or to leave his endowment intact, among many other possibilities. 

The results support theories that conceive the ingroup bias as a concern for the welfare of one’s own group members, with little or no concern for other groups, even when we are talking about groups with a neutral relationship without conflict. 

It appears that group homogeneity increases the effect of the ingroup bias, exhibiting greater concern for those with whom you live and are part of your closest circle

When evaluating the results, authors find that they differ somewhat from studies conducted in Western contexts. In the latter, it seems that the participants had greater consideration for people belonging to other groups than in the present study. 

Authors believe that this occurs because the group identities of the ethnic groups in this study are stronger, stronger, and have more rigid boundaries, as well as marking their daily lives. 

If you want to know more about Behavioral Economics and how to apply it to human behavior, take a look to our Master of Science in Behavioral Economics, a 100% online program that you can take in Spanish or English, with special grants for readers of the Behavioral Economics Blog.


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