Threat and parochialism in intergroup relations: lab-in-the-field evidence from rural Georgia

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Authors Max Schaub
Journal/Conference Name Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Competition between groups is widely considered to foster cooperation within groups. Evidence from laboratory experiments hints at the existence of a proximate mechanism by which humans increase their level of cooperation with their ingroup when faced with an external threat. Further work suggests that ingroup cooperation should go along with aggressive behaviour towards the outgroup, although these theories are at odds with others that see high investments in outgroup relations as important means of stabilizing intergroup relations. Surprisingly, few of these arguments have been tested in the field, and existing studies are also limited by the lack of a direct measure of threat perception and aggressive behaviour. This study presents lab-in-the-field results from a rural context where exposure to an ethnic outgroup varies between villages. This context makes it possible to capture levels of threat perception, aggressive behaviour and cooperation without inducing intergroup competition artificially in the laboratory. All concepts are measured behaviourally. In- and outgroup cooperation was measured with a standard public goods game, and a novel experimental protocol was developed that measures perceived threat and aggressive behaviour: the threat game. The results show that levels of perceived threat, ingroup cooperation and aggressive behaviour are higher in regions more strongly exposed to ethnic outsiders. However, exposed regions also show high levels of outgroup cooperation and a concomitant lack of elevated ingroup bias. This pattern is explained by theorizing that communities show parochial altruism when faced with an ethnic outgroup, but balance aggressive behaviour with cooperative offers to diffuse tensions and to keep open channels of mutually beneficial exchange.
Date of publication 2017
Code Programming Language R
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