Intergroup bias sounds like some complicated concept that is difficult to understand and next to impossible to use.
It’s not. You use it every day, even though you’re not aware of it.
You, and everyone you’ve ever known, and everyone you have never met.
Literally every single person on this planet practices intergroup bias. They just aren’t aware of it.
Today I was in a store, and a sales rep was pitching the manager of the business. The manager looked to be in their early seventies (common for people to work past retirement age here) and the rep was maybe 45.
I was close enough to overhear their conversation. “…these are really popular with the millenial consumer. No additives, no nitrates…”
That got a chuckle out of me. I knew exactly what just happened, but the manager was clueless.
See, what the rep said was, “…really popular with the millenial consumer.”
What he was really saying was, “You and I don’t care about this, but millenials do and that makes sales.”
What he really meant was, “You and I are a lot alike. Practically the same.”
The rep leveraged intergroup bias and walked away with a new contract.
Just like every other concept I’ve discussed on Business and Bullets, I’m going to make you aware of intergroup bias. Then you can leverage your understanding of the concept to improve your life.
What is Intergroup Bias?
Intergroup bias is a type of cognitive bias. Instead of re-writing something you could Google yourself, here’s a screen capture of the definition.
Easy enough to understand.
We are biased in favor of our in-group (because we’re a part of it) and biased against the out-group.
Before we start to draw conclusions from the definition of intergroup bias, I feel like we should discuss where this bias (and many others) came from.
How Did We Get Here?
Whether you prescribe to Creationism or the Theory of Evolution, you understand that life hasn’t always been like it is now.
At some point in the past, and for a great amount of time, humans lived in tribal societies. This has had a large impact on how we think and how we behave.
Some examples of tribal behaviors that made sense in tribal society but have much less use in modern society:
- Fear of Shame
- Sense of Duty
- Need to Procreate
Shame was the method by which the tribe kept individuals in line with the goals and ideals of the rest of the tribe. This persists today, even though there are really no repercussions as serious as they were in tribal life.
Sense of Duty was important to tribal life, because if multiple tribals shirked their duties, the survival of the tribe was much less likely. No such consequences today.
The need to procreate was not only a biological imperative but also a social one in tribal life. The future of the tribe depended upon every healthy individual bearing children who would then be raised by the entire tribe.
All of these consequences have definitely changed, but the way we feel about them hasn’t.
Tribal Ancestry and Intergroup Bias
Sure, we got these feelings from our tribal ancestors. Where does the bias come in?
You were automatically inclined to like members of your tribe, because they were your entire world. You were likely to dislike members of rival tribes for obvious reasons (war, competition for resources, etc).
People who grew up in small communities can relate to this. You could always spot an outsider, and you probably didn’t like them very much.
That is, of course, assuming you considered yourself a part of the in-group in your small community. More on this later.
Before we talk about leveraging our understanding, we must draw some conclusions that (by definition) must be true. You can’t leverage your understanding if your “understanding” is limited to memorizing a definition.
Intergroup Bias Conclusion #1 – People are Inherently Illogical
This is actually a by-definition conclusion of all cognitive biases.
For purposes of this discussion, the illogical nature of people only matters in two very specific ways:
- People are naturally inclined to agree with people that are like them, even when it makes no sense to agree.
- People are naturally inclined to disagree with people that are different, even when it makes no sense to disagree.
I just explained almost all of the disagreements you have ever had, whether you realize it yet or not. We’ll come back to this later.
Intergroup Bias Conclusion #2 – People are Inherently Xenophobic
This calls back to our tribal ancestry.
You’re not inclined to like the men from the other tribe.
Are they here to bring war? To rape the women and abduct the children? To enslave you and steal your resources?
They don’t look like you, they don’t talk like you, so why would you expect them to think like you? It would be easy to doubt they’re even as human as you.
People can talk about the inherent peaceful, utopian attitude of humanity all they want. It doesn’t change the fact that unity of an in-group and out-group (without changing the metric) is impossible.
We are inherently predisposed to like the similar and dislike the different. It’s hard wired into us.
You can cry about it, or you can understand it and leverage it.
How to Leverage Intergroup Bias
The basic form of leverage is simply in spotting intergroup bias in your daily life. When you spot it, you can do something to work around it.
You can identify when someone is biased against you because they’re somehow different than you.
Maybe it’s your age, or your race, or your religion. Hell, it could be as simple as the color of the shirt you have on.
People have in-groups formed in their mind about anything and everything. Remember, they’re illogical and so are you.
The trick is in how you create unity.
Unity – Fact and Fiction
Unity is bullshit.
There’s no way to bring an in-group and out-group together without changing the metric.
If you’re black, and I’m white, then we’re in each others out-group. We’re not changing race anytime soon.
If one of us wanted unity, we’d drop the metric of race and pick something else. We have to have something in common, no matter how small of a thing it might be.
Maybe we’re around the same age. We might like the same music. Or maybe we both like pineapple.
It doesn’t matter what the new metric is, it just has to be strong enough or surprising enough to shift the focus away from the old metric.
Is it really that simple?
Yeah, it is.
How many times have you met someone and hated them at first, only to find some common ground later?
It happens all the time.
You find that common ground, redefine the in-group, and now that guy isn’t such an asshole after all. You’ve got something in common. You’re in the same in-group.
Where Science Becomes Art
All this social science is all well and good, but how do you use it? You can’t just look at a French guy and say, “Hey, I like crepes too.”
Doesn’t work that way.
Think back to the example from the sales rep. He did it right.
By drawing attention to millenials (something he and the manager aren’t) he indirectly pointed out they had something in common.
Your common ground doesn’t just have to be something you both have, it can also be something neither of you have. You have that lack in common.
What’s more, the sales rep pointed it out indirectly. He didn’t say, “Hey, we’re both over 40, you should sign this contract so I make money.”
This is where the artful part comes in.
How you do it is on you, I’ve given you everything I can. Just by reading this, you’re going to be more aware of intergroup bias and more likely to find ways to work around it.
Have you ever used a shift in focus to create unity? How did it work out for you?
Leave a comment below telling me about it.