Post No.: 0441
The less we know, the more we over-generalise, stereotype and possibly fear – the ‘outgroup homogeneity bias’ is the tendency to see outgroup members as more alike or as having less variance with each other compared to our own ingroup members. For example, even though one will understand that members of one’s own country come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, one will tend to perceive that people from another particular country are relatively less distinct from each other. It can be summed up with the line ‘they are alike but we are diverse’.
Outgroup members become homogenised based on their perceived stereotypes rather than treated as individuals individually. We may generalise some outgroups because we don’t interact with and understand those groups enough, such as thinking that all faces of an unfamiliar ethnicity look the same. A common disabled-person stereotype is that they’re ‘incapable, retarded and deaf’, which results in some people patronising them, becoming overly cautious of being offensive towards them, or speaking louder even to a blind but not deaf person(!) Outgroup members are consequently at risk of being seen as interchangeable or expendable.
Men may perceive that ‘all women are the same’ and women may perceive that ‘all men are the same’. This example arguably illustrates that regular, personal interactions and fluffy familiarity with outgroup members aren’t enough to combat this outgroup homogeneity bias because this bias can still exist between different genders even though men and women constantly interact with each other. So even regular contact with members of another group doesn’t always alone help us to shake off this homogeneity bias.
It’s not just assuming that outgroup members are more alike with other members of their own groups but assuming that they’re all fundamentally colluding as one homogenous team and know everything about each other. This bias makes people naïvely assume that everyone from a particular outgroup must know each other or know everything about their supposed group, such as that every Nigerian immigrant living in a particular city must know every other Nigerian (or ‘African-looking’) person that lives in that city, or that every Portuguese person must know everything about their own Portuguese history – even though the person expressing this bias hardly knows everyone from their own ethnicity, or everything about their own home country’s history(!) Shock might be expressed if they discover that an immigrant or even second-generation child cannot answer a question about their home or parents’ country, yet no shock is expressed towards a fellow local of theirs who cannot answer a question about their own home country even though they’re currently living in it(!) They’re too dim to understand that they’re the dim ones for thinking that other people are the dim ones!
So we can be surprised if a foreigner doesn’t know everything about his/her own country – as if we know everything about our own country. We can also be surprised if a foreigner knows something about our own country, such as a band or celebrity whom or that we thought was only known in our own country. People are mentally placed into overly-neat ‘them’ and ‘us’ boxes with little overlap.
If there’s a terrorist attack committed by a member of a certain ethnicity, some racists will start to confront any random member of that same ethnicity and accuse them of ‘not sorting out their own people’(!) Blames (and credits) are over-generalised towards individuals who don’t deserve it because of the boxes they’re mentally placed in. People might conjure up conspiracy theories (e.g. that ‘all Jews are in on something’). Some may also proclaim, “I’ve told you lot before” but have never told each individual as individuals at all!
Foreign citizens become conflated with their governments, even though we’re quite aware that many of our own country folk constantly criticise and distance ourselves away from the decisions of our own governments. Therefore if we wish to criticise particular foreign governments, we must not direct our criticisms onto their citizens, who might not even support or have voted for that government. Don’t group all Asian countries as being the same, just like all European countries aren’t the same, either.
If a local company causes a scandal then we’ll believe that it’s just the idiosyncratic case of this local company. But if a foreign company causes a scandal then we’re more likely to believe that all companies from that particular country are systemically untrustworthy.
A British person may understand that most British people frequently eat cuisines from all over Europe and the world, yet may assume that Chinese people only eat Chinese food and not also frequently Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean or indeed other cuisines from all around the world too. It’s incredibly bizarre because, on the one paw, Chinese and other ‘Oriental’ people can become homogenised as one when it comes to stereotypes, yet an English person might assume that a Chinese person had never tasted sweet chilli sauce before it became popular in England because ‘that’s Thai’ – which would be like if a Chinese person patronisingly introduced pizzas to an English person for assuming that they’d never had it before because ‘that’s Italian’(!) (Your neighbouring markets are usually your next markets to penetrate, like the EU for the UK, and we also need to learn about the connected histories as well as geographies of countries.)
So the less one knows, the more one might alternatively attribute stereotypical things to specific outgroups only, such as thinking that only Indian cuisine has curry dishes, you must be Japanese to speak Japanese, or the English don’t care about Halloween because it’s ‘an American thing’ (even though it really has Celtic origins).
When it’s pointed out to us like this, we can see the absurdity of believing that our own groups are one thing and other groups are a different thing – whether it’s thinking that our own tastes are diverse and cultured yet the tastes of outgroups are narrow, or not expecting us to know everything about our own groups yet expecting outgroup members to know everything about their own groups, for instance. But having a broad perspective isn’t intuitive because people live in their own small worlds. It’s not unique to call your land a ‘land of contrasts’!
Homogeneity can also be applied to one’s ingroup in special circumstances. The ‘ingroup homogeneity bias’ can arise if an ingroup is small and the trait that’s homogenised is a part of this group’s identity.
We tend to biasedly believe that our own ingroups are a bit better than other groups, or at least above average. Dispositional attributions are usually given to the negative behaviours and outcomes of outgroup members (e.g. ‘they’re lazy and unintelligent’); leading to attitudes like ‘they deserve what they get’. Yet positive behaviours and outcomes are more likely to be attributed to luck and chance (e.g. ‘they were lucky’). Meanwhile, the opposite view is taken for ingroup members (e.g. ‘we were tired, distracted and unlucky’ if one’s team loses, and ‘we are strong and smart’ if one’s team wins) – thus making such prejudices hard to break.
The tendency to categorise people and do things to try to boost self-esteem (e.g. put others down) and boost ingroup cohesion means that prejudice is not limited to just a few in society. Overt prejudice has decreased in society over time, although it’s more subtle, covert and indirect now rather than completely eradicated.
To preserve a sense of ingroup homogeneity – when something political goes in a way that wasn’t personally desired, people often shrink the size of their circle until they can identify the group they belong to that apparently supported the other way. For example, if one’s country overall disagrees with the decisions of a supranational union then one will believe that the supranational union isn’t truly democratic; even though people from their own country vote for members who in turn vote in that supranational union (e.g. MEPs in the European Parliament). Or if one’s constituency, county or devolved territory overall disagrees with the decisions of the country’s parliament then one will believe that the country’s parliament isn’t truly democratic; even though people from their own area vote for members who in turn vote in that parliament (e.g. MPs in the UK Parliament).
In other words, if a democratic vote doesn’t go the way one wants, one might try to identify the largest group one belongs to that voted the way one did so that one can say to the centre of that parliament (which is usually physically far away or perceptually detached), “You bureaucrats.” And then we might want to split from them to ‘take our country back’. It’s analogous to if there’s a democratic vote in a family with a father, mother, 2 sons and 2 daughters, and 4 people voted one way but the 2 sons voted another way – those 2 sons might start to believe that the family is actually a ‘bureaucracy with elites telling everyone what to do’, and those sons might decide to leave the family to go their own way. It is a democracy – but you simply didn’t get your own way. This is not to suggest that splitting apart is never a solution but do recognise a democracy when it is one.
Ingroup diversity logically reduces and ingroup homogeneity logically increases when subgroups with different views fractionate or split apart too. Diversity – like avoiding consuming too many calories – therefore needs to be deliberately worked at to be achieved because it’s not the most natural outcome (segregation is more natural) even though diversity is overall good for us in the long run.
Diversity is useful because it sometimes needs a different or outsider’s perspective to see the truth inside – like it metaphorically needs something outside of the fish tank to realise that fish live in water. There’s always potential value in listening to a different or outside view – never dismiss out-of-hand any opposing views, and don’t just listen to those who already agree with you. Some people think that they can recognise an informed person by how much they agree with what they say, but that’s related to the confirmation bias. And when two or more like-minded people get together and exclude or ignore those who aren’t like them or who don’t believe in the same things as them – gossip, rumours, lies, propaganda and false beliefs can more easily ensue, spread and reinforce within one’s little echo chamber. Diversity reduces the risks of outgroup and ingroup homogeneity biases, and casts the net wide for exploring the greatest range of ideas, opinions and solutions possible.
In summary, the outgroup homogeneity bias is when individuals tend to see members of their own group as being relatively more varied than members of other groups. And the ingroup homogeneity bias is when individuals perceive members of their own group as being quite homogenous if this group is small and the trait is a part of this group’s identity – usually to reinforce the belief that members of one’s ingroup are all broadly more superior than members of outgroups in some way.
You may believe that all white people look or sound the same, or all common bottlenose dolphins look or sound the same, if you’re not familiar enough with those groups. But these dolphins will be able to distinguish one dolphin from another, just like how white people can distinguish one white person from another. Besides, ‘looking or sounding like’ someone else doesn’t mean ‘being’ that someone else, whether this refers to their good or bad traits (e.g. a person who ‘looks like’ that celebrity in that movie or that terrorist suspect in the news, whether the resemblance is truly uncanny or due to the cross-race effect – see Post No.: 0280).
Woof. If you’ve any stories of how other people have presumptively homogenised the group that you (supposedly) belong to then please share them with us via the Twitter comment button below.