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Saturday, March 26, 2022

Anticipation of future cooperation eliminates minimal ingroup bias in children and adults

Misch, A., Paulus, M., & Dunham, Y. (2021). 
Journal of Experimental Psychology: 
General, 150(10), 2036–2056.


From early in development, humans show a strong preference for members of their own groups, even in so-called minimal (i.e., arbitrary and unfamiliar) groups, leading to tremendous negative consequences such as outgroup discrimination and derogation. A better understanding of the underlying processes driving humans’ group mindedness is an important first step toward fighting discrimination and inequality on a bigger level. Based on the assumption that minimal group allocation elicits the anticipation of future within-group cooperation, which in turn elicits ingroup preference, we investigate whether changing participants’ anticipation from within-group cooperation to between-group cooperation reduces their ingroup bias. In the present set of five studies (overall N = 465) we test this claim in two different populations (children and adults), in two different countries (United States and Germany), and in two kinds of groups (minimal and social group based on gender). Results confirm that changing participants’ anticipation of who they will cooperate with from ingroup to outgroup members significantly reduces their ingroup bias in minimal groups, though not for gender, a non-coalitional group. In summary, these experiments provide robust evidence for the hypothesis that children and adults encode minimal group membership as a marker for future collaboration. They show that experimentally manipulating this expectation can eliminate their minimal ingroup bias. This study sheds light on the underlying cognitive processes in intergroup behavior throughout development and opens up new avenues for research on reducing ingroup bias and discrimination.

From the General Discussion

The present set of studies advances the field in several important ways. First, it summarizes and tests a plausible theoretical framework for the formation of ingroup bias in the minimal group paradigm, thereby building on accounts that explain the origins of categorization based on allegiances and coalitions (e.g., Kurzban et al., 2001). Drawing on both evolutionary assumptions (Smith, 2003; West, Griffin, & Gardner, 2007; West, El Mouden, & Gardner, 2011) and social learning accounts (e.g., Bigler & Liben, 2006; 2007), our explanation focuses on interdependence and cooperation(Balliet et al., 2014; Pietraszewski, 2013; 2020; Yamagishi & Kiyonari, 2000).It extends these onto the formation of intergroup bias in attitudes: Results of our studies support the hypotheses that the allocation in a minimal group paradigm elicits the anticipation of cooperation, and that the anticipation of cooperation is one of the key factors in the formation of ingroup bias, as evident in the robust results across 4 experiments and several different measures. We therefore concur with the claim that the minimal group paradigm is not so minimal at all (Karp et al.,1993), as it (at least) elicits the expectation to collaborate.

Furthermore, our results show that the anticipation of cooperation alone is already sufficient to induce (and reduce) ingroup bias (Experiment 2). This extends previous research emphasizing the importance of the cooperative activity (e.g., Gaertner et al., 1990; Sherif et al., 1961),and highlights the role of the cognitive processes involved in cooperative behavior.  In our experiment, the cooperative activity in itself had no additional effect on the formation of ingroup bias. However, it is important to note the cooperation was operationalized here in a minimal way, and it is possible that a more direct operationalization and a more interactive experience of cooperation with the other children might have a stronger effect on children's attitudes, a subject for further research.