We examined whether one mechanism contributing to ingroup favoritism might be an abstract and early-emerging sociomoral expectation of ingroup support. In violation-of-expectation experiments, 17-mo-old infants first watched third-party interactions among unfamiliar adults identified (using novel labels) as belonging to the same group, to different groups, or to unspecified groups. Next, one adult needed help, and another adult either did or did not provide it. Infants expected help to be provided when the two adults belonged to the same group, but held no expectation when the adults belonged to different groups or to unspecified groups. Infants thus already possess an abstract expectation of ingroup support, and this finding sheds light on one of the mechanisms underlying ingroup favoritism in human interactions.Abstract
One pervasive facet of human interactions is the tendency to favor ingroups over outgroups. Remarkably, this tendency has been observed even when individuals are assigned to minimal groups based on arbitrary markers. Why is mere categorization into a minimal group sufficient to elicit some degree of ingroup favoritism? We consider several accounts that have been proposed in answer to this question and then test one particular account, which holds that ingroup favoritism reflects in part an abstract and early-emerging sociomoral expectation of ingroup support. In violation-of-expectation experiments with 17-mo-old infants, unfamiliar women were first identified (using novel labels) as belonging to the same group, to different groups, or to unspecified groups. Next, one woman needed instrumental assistance to achieve her goal, and another woman either provided the necessary assistance (help event) or chose not to do so (ignore event). When the two women belonged to the same group, infants looked significantly longer if shown the ignore as opposed to the help event; when the two women belonged to different groups or to unspecified groups, however, infants looked equally at the two events. Together, these results indicate that infants view helping as expected among individuals from the same group, but as optional otherwise. As such, the results demonstrate that from an early age, an abstract expectation of ingroup support contributes to ingroup favoritism in human interactions.