Outgroup

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In social psychology, the outgroup is any group that a person does not feel they belong to. It is the opposite of the ingroup.

Ingroup and outgroup membership can be context-dependent. For example, while watching a sports game, two people could be in each other's outgroups since they support opposing teams, while afterwards, they could be in each other's ingroups due to being colleagues, family members or friends.

Biases related to the outgroup[edit]

When feelings of dislike or hatred towards an outgroup are strong, this can influence pragmatic or moral reasoning through cognitive biases:

  • Outgroup homogeneity bias — in which individuals readily see members of their own group as being varied, but members of the outgroup as being "all the same" in some respects. For example, someone might observe 3 members of a political grouping being sexist, and incorrectly conclude that all members of that political group are sexist — while they would not have concluded that if the political group was a political group to which they belonged (an ingroup). Of course, sometimes all members of a political group really do have a common characteristic due to its definition or the way it was formed — all alt-righters are racist, for example — unless they are questioning the group and on their way to leaving it.
  • Double standards — Treating the outgroup differently with respect to moral or ethical decisions. For example, "because the person I am interacting with is a bad person, I will use an argument I know to be not entirely accurate to make him or her look stupid, because this will help me win this Reddit argument". Sometimes treating people differently based on outgroup membership is justifiable, and therefore is not really a double standard (prisoners do not have the same rights to freedom from imprisonment as innocent people, for example, for public protection and other reasons) but often it is not.

Basically, if the thought ends with "because he is one of Them, and They are Bad People", question it at the very least.

LessWrong-style rationalists often make reference to outgroup biases and trying to avoid them, although a danger of applying this stricture too rigidly is that it can lead to being so open-minded that your brain falls out, and joining a weird cult like NRx after being lured in by plausible-sounding(?) bullshit. Sometimes, the outgroup really does contain bad — or misguided — people, and sometimes people's intuitions are right about this. That said, intuition is rarely necessary, since both religious and political cults tend to be glaringly irrational and/or promulgating doctrines contrary to known facts. So the main thing is, while avoiding outgroup cognitive biases, try not to forget about all the other cognitive biases human wetware is prone to.

Racism as outgroup-hatred[edit]

Outgroup homogeneity bias would manifest as people saying things like all people of a certain race "look the same to me", or making racist generalisations about behaviour from individuals to entire races.

Since racism is basically always[note 1] a form of outgroup hatred, strategies for reducing racism can be divided into two types:

  • Strategies that try to reduce the hatred:
    • Combating false information and irrational feelings by spreading positive information about the similarities between humans of all races ("more speech") or debunking fake news about people of other races spread by racists ("fact-checking")
    • Combating false information and racist propaganda by making certain forms of it illegal ("less speech"). Americans tend not to like this approach, while the British are more sanguine about it (inciting racial hatred has been illegal for four decades in the UK, with little protest). Germany goes even further than the UK, for historical reasons, in that it criminalises Holocaust denial and the use of fascist symbols (including Islamofascist symbols like the ISIS flag) except for historical purposes.
    • Encouraging tolerance of differences, by increasing representation of non-white people in the media, and by requiring provision of affordable housing to be mixed together with ordinary housing so that people of different races and classes naturally mix together (the UK approach), or desegregating schools (the US approach, although it also employs affordable housing)
  • Strategies that try to replace one outgroup with another:
    • Instead of hating non-white people (and white Jews), racists could theoretically be persuaded to hate bigoted people, or stupid people, or idle landowners, or capitalists. Communists seem to like this approach of trying to replace one outgroup with another — the UK Socialist Workers Party has fronted many anti-racist groups over the years to try to redirect people's anger against immigration into anger against investors who create jobs — however, empirically that does not work very well in the West. This may be partly because communists are too cocooned in their theoretical bubble to speak in a relatable way to reactionary racists, but it is probably mainly because communism has been tried and found wanting. Though, this approach may still have created some social democrats, whose outgroup is something like "corrupt politicians who don't serve the common people and the rich/corporate donors who bought them for nefarious purposes".
    • Uniting all human races together by banding together to fight off an alien invasion. This is rather difficult to engineer artificially, for obvious reasons, although the scenario has been imagined in science fiction. The general consensus is it would work pretty well.

(Presumably strategies employed by racists for increasing racism would work along similar lines, but in the opposite direction.)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. with some exceptions (Category:Internalized discrimination)