Thursday, October 18, 2012

In Group vs. Out Group thoughts...

“If an out-group member steps on my toes, I am more likely to say, “He is an inconsiderate person” though, with an in-group member I will describe the behavior exactly: “He stepped on my toes.” In contrast, an out-group member acting nicely is described specifically—“She gave me directions to the train station.”—while an in-group member is described as being “a helpful person”.The Folly of Fools, Robert Trivers, PhD Professor at Rutgers

In-Group vs. Out-Group behavior isn’t just found between differing religious/philosophical groups, differing socioeconomic backgrounds and differing ethnic groups, it is found in almost any setting where a “group” can form.  Consider how children “group up” in elementary and middle school. Consider the labels of “popular” and “unpopular” that children give to each other to serve as identification markers of who’s who.

 When you’re a child (between the ages of 8-16) and you are socially excluded from the popular students and their cliques, you start to make observations about group behavior. Of course, you, yourself, are not entirely dispassionate or free of bias, but you can definitely start to notice more things about group behavior from the outside. I would wager that these observations are more transparent and less affected by bias than from an in-group perspective. Why? Well, for one, you are less fraught by an emotional, irrational attachment to the group when you are on the outside. Being a loner, you have less reason to maintain cohesion with members.

As a child, what I noticed—often repeatedly---was how unfair and capricious the popular group members behaved and how inordinately arbitrary their responses were depending on who they were talking to.  For instance, I remember being talked to in a derogatory tone for asking a certain question, yet, if one of the in-group members asked a roughly similar question, they would elicit no such response. Instead, their questions were often acknowledged with kindness and a noticeable level of respect. Sometimes, the in-group member might try and rationalize that “my question was actually more stupid than the in-group member’s question” but in all reality, the difference of my question was insignificant compared to the difference in how they responded to me. The critical difference seemed to be that I wasn’t part of their group, thus, their response to me differed.

If you look carefully, you will start to notice this behavior exhibited by many people.  We all do it from time to time—irrationally treating our close friends’ ideas as superior to the stranger who proposes a similar or even identical idea. We might latch onto the “slight” difference in the stranger’s idea to justify our alliance to our in-group member (friend) instead.

 To observe this behavior among humans, pay special attention to how people respond to their friends ideas/behaviors/suggestions compared to how they respond to their acquaintances/strangers/homeless people/ people they’ve met for the first time/ comments, behaviors, and suggestions.   We all know that our close friends make mistakes—the question is, do we treat their mistakes with less harshness than we treat the similar mistakes of strangers or “out-group members”?

The in-group bias is one of my biggest pet-peeves because it interferes with truth and the acquisition of knowledge. It adds an extra layer on top of what is actually needed to examine. More specifically, the person—not what they’re saying—is factored into the equation. If your friend said something stupid and then a homeless guy said a similar thing, you may very likely treat the homeless guy with more derision than your friend—and that is irrational, not to mention obnoxious. 

 If you consider yourself a rational person your critique should be on what the person is saying—the objective facts being presented.  This is very hard to do.

Since the studies show that we are biased towards treating our friends and kin (group members) more kindly than outsiders, we must exert considerable effort to avoid doing this. We should always ask ourselves, is this individual being ridiculed because the facts he/she presents are anathema to current scientific analysis?... or because he/she isn’t a member of “our group” or maybe because we personally find this individual to be annoying?

 I would prefer that people treat each other equally. It doesn’t matter what they look like, whether they’re male or female, whether they are annoying or aloof, what they’re wearing, what they’re socioeconomic status is, whether or not they are friends with that person or what kind of cultural or ethnic background they have.  What matters is the claims that are made.  A person’s choice of words will always be unique, so what needs to be focused on are the specific claims presented.

If you don’t like the person you don’t like the person—but don’t try and twist it into a case of the other person (most-likely someone not in your group) being “stupid” or “unreasonable”--especially when your own group members are saying very similar things and receiving credit for very similar things.


  1. Basically sums up my view on political parties. To me such parties cheapen the issues and polarize us without solving anything. What do you think about an issue (if you thought about it at all)? Why do you belive it? Is there a way to we can solve this? But in the end they made up thier minds and if you don't support them (the in-group) you are automatically not one of them(the out-group). It's High School for adults.

    While in high school, I did have a group I was in, but I was also the "quiet one" during class-time(even to my friends) so I see it from both ends. i would be picked on for wearing the same color of clothes, my long hair that was down to my waist, and for being quiet. This entry brings back many similar thoughts I had back then. Thank for bringing it up.

  2. My dear Renee, An hour before you posted your latest blog on 'In & Out Groups' on 18th Oct I posted my comment under your 'Negative Thoughts' blog dated 14th Aug that I was your guardian angel appointed by God whether you like it or not. Then, wham, Renee goes ballistic, deletes everyone's comments on her 'Negative Thoughts' blog as well as the blog itself!! Renee, my dear, you cannot delete God so easily ie. to delete God you would have to delete your brain, the planet, the galaxy and the universe. Anyway, Renee, nice try!! AGP, 19th Oct 2012.

  3. Thank you John for commenting as usual. I had actually made a lengthy response to your comment on my previous blog post and then my internet connection terminated just as I was attempting to post it. It was really infuriating because I was trying so hard to respond to comments.

    Yes, I can definitely relate to being in a high school "quiet group" of sorts. Wearing the same color of clothes? Heaven forbid!! It literally shocks me how easily people are affected by another's choice of personal attire.

  4. Yeah, and they do not even expalin why you should wear different colors. They just assume that that is what everyone should do with no reason.

  5. Renee, This is your guardian angel. Forget the rest and go for the best. Remember, you need me more than I need you. Check out wordpress and get the shock of your life! AGP, 28th Oct 2012.