25 Million Years of Us vs. Them
Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 21, 2011
From World News:
Like people, some of our monkey cousins tend to take an “us versus them” view of the world, a study has found. This suggests that the tendency for human groups to clash may stem from a distant evolutionary past, scientists say.
Yale University researchers led by psychologist Laurie Santos found in a series of experiments that monkeys treat monkeys from outside their groups with the same suspicion and dislike as their human cousins tend to treat outsiders. The findings are reported in the March issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“One of the more troubling aspects of human nature is that we evaluate people differently depending on whether they’re a member of our ‘ingroup’ or ‘outgroup,’” Santos said. “Pretty much every conflict in human history has involved people making distinctions on the basis of who is a member of their own race, religion, social class, and so on. The question we were interested in is: Where do these types of group distinctions come from?”
The answer, she adds, is that such biases have apparently been shaped by 25 million years of evolution and not just by human culture.
“The bad news is that the tendency to dislike outgroup members appears to be evolutionarily quite old, and therefore may be less simple to eliminate than we’d like to think,” Santos said. “The good news, though, is that even monkeys seem to be flexible about who counts as a group member. If we humans can find ways to harness this evolved flexibility, it might allow us to become an even more tolerant species.”
Santos and members of her lab studied rhesus macaque monkeys living on an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Monkeys in this population naturally form different social groups based on family history.
The investigators exploited a well-known tendency of animals to stare longer at new or frightening things than at familiar or friendly things. They showed monkeys pictures of other monkeys who were either in their social group or members of a different group. They found that monkeys stared longer at pictures of other monkeys who were outside their group, suggesting the creatures spontaneously detect who is a stranger and who is a group member.
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The Yale team’s results suggest that the distinctions humans make between “us” and “them”— and therefore the roots of human prejudice—may date back at least 25 million years, when humans and rhesus macaques shared a common ancestor.
“Social psychologists introduced the world to the idea that the immediate situation is hugely powerful in determining behavior, even intergroup feelings,” said [Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University, a co-author of the paper. “Evolutionary theorists have made us aware of our ancestral past. In this work, we weave the two together to show the importance of both of these influences at work.”
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Related Situationist posts:
- “The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?”
- “Laurie Santos on the Evolutionary Situation of Cognitive Biases,”
- “Michael McCullough on the Situation of Revenge and Forgiveness,”
- “New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,”
- “The Endowment Effect in Chimpanzees – Abstract,”
- “The ‘Turban Effect’,”
- “The Situation of Racial Profiling,”
- “Jim Sidanius “Terror, Intergroup Violence, and the Law,”
- “Even monkeys know when they’re being treated unfairly,”
- “Monkey Fairness,”
- “The Situation of Being ‘(un)American’,” and
- “Perceptions of Racial Divide.”
This entry was posted on March 21, 2011 at 12:01 am and is filed under Conflict, Evolutionary Psychology, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology. Tagged: evolutionary psychology, Implicit Associations, Laurie Santos, Mahzarin Banaji. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.