Strong institutions reduce in-group favoritism

May 05, 2014

Ineffective social and political institutions make people more likely to favour their family and own local social group, while good institutions make them more likely to follow impersonal rules that are fair to everyone, suggests a forthcoming study in the journal Human Nature.

A series of experiments found that people in societies with supportive government services, and institutions that meet their basic needs were very likely to follow impartial rules about how to give out money. By contrast, those without effective, reliable institutions showed favouritism toward members of their .

"If you don't have well-functioning governments then you need these kinds of motivations, because then you're doing what's best for your group and for your local community," says CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) Senior Fellow Joseph Henrich (University of British Columbia), the co-principal investigator on the study.

"You're just trying to survive in a world where there's no a higher-level governmental institutions you can depend on," says Henrich, a member of the Institutions, Organizations & Growth (IOG) program.

The study, done in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Fiji, China, Iceland and the United States, tested motivations using a game. Researchers gave subjects half a day's wages in cash and placed them before two cups.

They told the subjects that the money placed in one cup would go to an unspecified member of their community or group at the end of the game, while the money in the other cup would go to an outsider.

Played fairly, the game would result in both cups having the same amount of money at the end. Researchers made sure individual players knew that no one could see them cheating while the game was being played. But statistical analysis after the game was over detected whether allocation biases or "cheating" had taken place.

The study found that people from countries with effective institutions followed the rules, while people from countries with poor institutions were biased in in favour of community members.

From the government deemed least effective, Bangladesh, to the one deemed most effective, the United States, participants showed a significant decline in favouritism toward their own group. In a Bangladeshi village, the subjects allotted 55.7 per cent of the to their fellow villagers. At a U.S. church, the congregation ended up with 50.1 per cent of the share.

"In a world with well-functioning institutions, this gets inside of people and actually affects their basic motivations, even when they're in a situation when no one is watching," Henrich says.

Henrich says the research ties into the themes of the IOG program, as it demonstrates the complex social and psychological effects of institutions on societies.

Explore further: Democracy pays: Majority wants both punishment for tax evaders and things to go fine for themselves

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Trust through food

Oct 23, 2013

People's trust in others increases after eating food that contains the amino acid tryptophan, found in fish, soya, eggs and spinach. Leiden psychologist Lorenza Colzato and her colleagues at the Universities of Leiden and ...

Living through war leads to in-group solidarity

Nov 07, 2013

War experiences have a long-term effect on human psychology, shifting people's motivations toward greater equality for members of their own group, according to research forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the ...

Study shows social gaming site effective weight loss tool

Feb 18, 2014

Researchers from The Miriam Hospital have found that DietBet, a web-based commercial weight loss program that pairs financial incentives with social influence, delivers significant weight losses. The study and its findings ...

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

1 hour ago

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

2 hours ago

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

5 hours ago

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

Data indicate there is no immigration crisis

23 hours ago

Is there an "immigration crisis" on the U.S.-Mexico border? Not according to an examination of historical immigration data, according to a new paper from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

User comments : 0