Thursday, January 21, 2016

Several perspectives on the valuation of outgroups.

A recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science has two relevant articles:

Keelah et al. show that Americans’ stereotypes about racial groups may actually reflect their stereotypes about these groups’ presumed home ecologies. Harsh and unpredictable (“desperate”) ecologies induce fast strategy behaviors such as impulsivity, whereas resource-sufficient and predictable (“hopeful”) ecologies induce slow strategy behaviors such as future focus.
...when provided with information about a person’s race (but not ecology), individuals’ inferences about blacks track stereotypes of people from desperate ecologies, and individuals’ inferences about whites track stereotypes of people from hopeful ecologies. However, when provided with information about both the race and ecology of others, individuals’ inferences reflect the targets’ ecology rather than their race: black and white targets from desperate ecologies are stereotyped as equally fast life history strategists, whereas black and white targets from hopeful ecologies are stereotyped as equally slow life history strategists. These findings suggest that the content of several predominant race stereotypes may not reflect race, per se, but rather inferences about how one’s ecology influences behavior.
And, Ginges et al. show that thinking from God's perspective decreases biased valuation of the life of a nonbeliever.
Religious belief is often thought to motivate violence because it is said to promote norms that encourage tribalism and the devaluing of the lives of nonbelievers. If true, this should be visible in the multigenerational violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis which is marked by a religious divide. We conducted experiments with a representative sample of Muslim Palestinian youth (n = 555), examining whether thinking from the perspective of Allah (God), who is the ultimate arbitrator of religious belief, changes the relative value of Jewish Israelis’ lives (compared with Palestinian lives). Participants were presented with variants of the classic “trolley dilemma,” in the form of stories where a man can be killed to save the lives of five children who were either Jewish Israeli or Palestinian. They responded from their own perspective and from the perspective of Allah. We find that whereas a large proportion of participants were more likely to endorse saving Palestinian children than saving Jewish Israeli children, this proportion decreased when thinking from the perspective of Allah. This finding raises the possibility that beliefs about God can mitigate bias against other groups and reduce barriers to peace.
Also, in the journal Psychological Science, Roets et al. consider the case of Singapore, which contradicts:
...numerous empirical studies that have consistently demonstrated the seemingly inextricable link between authoritarianism and negative attitudes about out-groups. Indeed, in the authoritarian mind, minorities are readily perceived as “bad, disruptive, immoral, and deviant” people who do not fit into society... However, what if authoritarians live in a society in which a very strong and established authority most explicitly endorses diversity and multiculturalism, thereby enforcing a social norm that is in direct opposition to authoritarians’ “natural” negative attitudes toward minorities? Over the past 50 years, the Singaporean government (run by the People’s Action Party) has been highly committed to regulating its ethnically diverse society and promoting multiculturalism through a variety of ingenious yet most consequential measures. A prime example is the imposition of strict ethnic quotas in public residential estates
They analyzed data from a questionnaire measuring authoritarianism that was completed by 249 Singaporean students (the target sample; and 245 Belgian students (the comparison group)...the Belgian control group showed the usual negative relationships between authoritarianism and multiculturalism and between authoritarianism and positive attitudes about out-groups, as found in all previous research. In the Singaporean sample, however, there were significant, positive relationships between authoritarianism and multiculturalism and between authoritarianism and positive attitudes about out-groups... [The] results demonstrate that when a strong authority explicitly and relentlessly endorses diversity and multiculturalism, such a perspective can be adopted even (and especially) by people who are intuitively most opposed to diversity.
You might also note the comments of Aaron Wendland on the writings of Emmanuel Levinas, after World War II, on deep-seated and often irrational fear of the “other.”
Levinas’s antihistamine for our allergic reactions involves three things: an appeal to the “infinity” in human beings, a detailed description of face-to-face encounters and an account of a basic hospitality that constitutes humanity.

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