Friday, March 25, 2011

Us vs. Them - what shapes the urge to harm rivals?

Cikara et al. make some interesting observations on intergroup competition, using avid fans of sports teams as their experimental subjects:
Intergroup competition makes social identity salient, which in turn affects how people respond to competitors’ hardships. The failures of an in-group member are painful, whereas those of a rival out-group member may give pleasure—a feeling that may motivate harming rivals. The present study examined whether valuation-related neural responses to rival groups’ failures correlate with likelihood of harming individuals associated with those rivals. Avid fans of the Red Sox and Yankees teams viewed baseball plays while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Subjectively negative outcomes (failure of the favored team or success of the rival team) activated anterior cingulate cortex and insula, whereas positive outcomes (success of the favored team or failure of the rival team, even against a third team) activated ventral striatum. The ventral striatum effect, associated with subjective pleasure, also correlated with self-reported likelihood of aggressing against a fan of the rival team (controlling for general aggression). Outcomes of social group competition can directly affect primary reward-processing neural systems, which has implications for intergroup harm.


  1. Anonymous9:15 AM

    You may also find Kleiner's THE CORE GROUP interesting as well - related to this topic. Your blog is the bgest thing on my home page. Thank you Ardent fan

  2. Fascinating post on the relationship between intergroup competition and social identity. The ventral striatum effect that you note has enormous social implications, surrounding the whole process of humans taking pleasure in the misfortunes and pains of others who are not like them. It underscores the importance, in a pluralistic society, of finding ways to emphasize a sense of shared group membership and shared humanity for others who individuals may have been initialliy socialized to perceive as "different" or "rivals". Thank you very much for your post.