Monday, April 06, 2015

preferences and beliefs in ingroup favoritism


frontiersin |  Ingroup favoritism—the tendency to favor members of one’s own group over those in other groups—is well documented, but the mechanisms driving this behavior are not well understood. In particular, it is unclear to what extent ingroup favoritism is driven by preferences concerning the welfare of ingroup over outgroup members, vs. beliefs about the behavior of ingroup and outgroup members. In this review we analyze research on ingroup favoritism in economic games, identifying key gaps in the literature and providing suggestions on how future work can incorporate these insights to shed further light on when, why, and how ingroup favoritism occurs. In doing so, we demonstrate how social psychological theory and research can be integrated with findings from behavioral economics, providing new theoretical and methodological directions for future research.
Across many different contexts, people act more prosocially towards members of their own group relative to those outside their group. Consequently, a number of scientific disciplines concerned with human cognition and behavior have sought to explain such ingroup favoritism (also known as parochial altruism). Here we explore to what extent ingroup favoritism is driven by preferences concerning the welfare of ingroup over outgroup members, vs. beliefs about the (future) behavior of ingroup and outgroup members.
In this theoretical review we combine insights from a behavioral economic approach with knowledge from social psychological research on social identity processes in intergroup behavior to explain the proximate psychological causes of ingroup favoritism. We expand upon previous discussions about ingroup favoritism by using a conceptual framework of preferences and beliefs to review present findings demonstrating ingroup favoritism in economic games. Although we focus on economic games here, we also selectively draw upon other related research to highlight how social-psychological theory and research can be incorporated with findings from behavioral economics to provide exciting new directions for research. We therefore provide an integrative review of ingroup favoritism in economic games, identifying key gaps in the literature, as well as providing suggestions on how future work can incorporate these insights to shed further light on when, why, and how ingroup favoritism occurs.
Social Identity and Group Behavior From the dawn of our species to the present day, humans have lived, eaten, worked, and reproduced—that is, survived—in groups. These groups have expanded from small, primarily kin-based ties to groups based on language, nationality, religion, current geographical location, and even seemingly arbitrary characteristics such as the ownership of a particular brand of electronic device. As a species, we appear to have a remarkable tendency to seek out and identify with groups, and it has been suggested that cooperation with the ingroup and competition with the outgroup may have co-evolved (c.f. Rusch, 2014). Indeed, it is in our group-based character that the angels and demons of human nature can be seen: on the one hand, the success of intragroup cooperation that has given us democracy and civil rights; and on the other hand, the darkness of intergroup conflict that has given us the collective stains on human history of genocide and war. 

The concept of social identity (Tajfel, 1970, 1974, 1982) is key to this review—and more broadly most contemporary social psychological work on intergroup processes. Social identity is “that part of an individual’s self concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership” (Tajfel, 1974, p. 69). We use here the definition of a group from work on intergroup relations in social psychology: a social group is a collection of individuals who perceive themselves to be members of the same social category, and therefore share a social identity (Tajfel and Turner, 1979; Turner et al., 1987; Ellemers et al., 2002; Ellemers and Haslam, 2011; Turner and Reynolds, 2011). Social groups can be based on a range of objective and subjective criteria—from ethnic background to gender to nationality to occupation to religion. An intergroup context emerges when social identities are salient and individuals interact with one another in terms of these social group identities (Turner et al., 1987). Indeed, even assignment to random groups can be sufficient to engender a relevant intergroup context in which intergroup behavior is observed (Tajfel, 1974). Once groups have been formed, how does this influence behavior?