In or Out? In-Group Bias in Diverse Social Environments

Project Start:01/2018
Researchers:Kevin Bauer, Florian Hett
Area: Financial Intermediation, Experiment Center
Funded by:SAFE

Individuals naturally share a variety of partially overlapping group memberships with each other. Nevertheless, when studying their behavioral effects, the literature in large part assumes a dichotomous social structure, in which ingroups and outgroups are clearly and unambiguously defined. We use a novel experimental design to examine people's pro-social behavior in environments where ingroup-outgroup distinctions are ambiguous. First, we question the clear ingroup-outgroup-dichotomy and test whether individuals also perceive intermediate levels of common group membership and if so, how it affects subsequent behavior. Indeed, we find pro-social behavior towards others to vary gradually with the extent of overlap in group affiliations, which speaks against a clear-cut distinction into ingroups and outgroups. Second, we ask whether in such environments there is scope to increase pro-social behavior by emphasizing common group memberships among individuals. We find that pro-sociality does not increase in the number of groups individuals know to have in common but rather decreases in the number of groups they know to not share with others. This asymmetry implies that in complex social environments drawing individuals' attention away from differing group affiliations can foster pro-social behavior. We argue that our results are relevant for managing diversity within organizations and understanding the role organizational identities may play therein.