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Subliminal 8: In-Groups and Out-Groups


The dynamics of us and them. . . the science behind Lord of the Flies

This chapter covers the many, many biases related to in-groups and out-groups, biases that can be triggered by as little as a label or distinction chosen randomly. We are more generous to in-groups, judge in-groups as having better characteristics, try to maximize the benefit to our group compared to the out-group, even if it is to our groups overall detriment, we see our groups as more varied than those homogenous out-groups, and highlighting our group adherence changes our behavior to be more in line with our perceived stereotype.

Luckily these biases can be overcome when groups are forced to cooperate towards a shared goal. I found it kind of humorous that Mlodinow uses 9/11 as an example of different groups uniting towards a common goal. I suspect that this was helped along by demonizing Muslims, creating an out group that was even more evil than your annoying neighbor. That’s why the US was almost totally united in supporting the following wars. Many American in-groups and out-groups merged against a single, super-demonized out-group: the Muslims.

I can see a lot of this in the atheist community. The hyper-uncharitable interpretation of pretty much any religious sentiment (people who think raped women should have kids probably raped someone during their lifetimes), and more charitable interpretations of our group (we’re more moral, we give to charity because we care, not to please some God), seems way too common among the group that is supposed to be the rational one (I do think on average we are better. Uh-oh, is this my in-group bias?).  Of course, atheists have sort of fractured over stuff and chosen some new labels to create in-group, out-group biases in (A+). Even in disagreements between A+ members and their critics, I often see some pretty blanket statements about the out-groups, and some serious uncharitability (Ophelia Benson’s grasping at straws regarding some of Shermer’s writings).

Kindle Notes:

we find people more likable merely because we are associated with them in some way—has a natural corollary: we also tend to favor in-group members in our social and business dealings, and we evaluate their work and products more favorably than we might otherwise, even if we think we are treating everyone equally (2914).

Another way the in- and out-group distinction affects us is that we tend to think of our in-group members as more variegated and complex than those in the out-group (2925).

Your in-group identity influences the way you judge people, but it also influences the way you feel about yourself, the way you behave, and sometimes even your performance (2955).

even when group divisions are anonymous and meaningless, and even at their group’s own personal cost, people unambiguously choose to discriminate in favor of their in-group, rather than acting for the greatest good (3035).

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