SAFE Working Paper No. 409

Group Identity and Belief Formation: A Decomposition of Political Polarization

How does group identity affect belief formation? To address this question, we conduct a series of online experiments with a representative sample of individuals in the US. Using the setting of the 2020 US presidential election, we find evidence of intergroup preference across three distinct components of the belief formation cycle: a biased prior belief, avoid-ance of outgroup information sources, and a belief-updating process that places greater (less) weight on prior (new) information. We further find that an intervention reducing the salience of information sources decreases outgroup information avoidance by 50%. In a social learn-ing context in wave 2, we find participants place 33% more weight on ingroup than outgroup guesses. Through two waves of interventions, we identify source utility as the mechanism driving group effects in belief formation. Our analyses indicate that our observed effects are driven by groupy participants who exhibit stable and consistent intergroup preferences in both allocation decisions and belief formation across all three waves. These results suggest that policymakers could reduce the salience of group and partisan identity associated with a policy to decrease outgroup information avoidance and increase policy uptake.