How do we think about people whom we either consider friends and non-friends? There have been many studies recently on the neurological basis of intergroup dynamics, shedding more and more light on what goes on in the black box that is the human mind. As it turns out our discrimination can manifest themselves in (or rather realized by) the structure and the activities of different brain areas. All other things being equal, areas such as the ACC & SMA & AI & the corticospinal pathways are more responsive to the pain of those we consider our in-group relative to out-group targets (Hein et al, 2010; Aveneti et al, 2010; Han, 2018). On the other hand our brains treat out-groups differently, such as having the amygdala fire more when viewing our antagonists (Rule et al, 2010), to have the NAcc (pleasure area) active when deciding not to help them (Hein et al, 2010), or to selectively exert no corticospinal reactivity when viewing out-groups being harmed (Aveneti et al, 2010). These tendencies can correlate to our genetics (Luo et al, 2015) or even to the contrasting sizes of certain brain areas (Kanai et al, 2011).
Although these findings infer that being divisive is innate for human cognition, closer looks also imply a different view. Intergroup cognition may simply be valence-dependent, essentially functional relations. We maybe are just self-serving when it comes to group boundaries and discrimination. This is showcased by how mere priming that the viewed racial outgroups are on your side can remarkably reduce “racist” brain activities (Han, 2018:12).
In fact, being divisive proves to be more shallower and shallower the deeper we examine it. Once our tendency to assume angry faces are more likely to belong to the those of the different race was considered to be a symptom of racism. However, we would still ascribe angry faces to belong to a group different from ours even if it was not racial (Dunham, 2001). In this line of study the configuration is called MGP: minimal group paradigm. In MGP, differences between groups are randomly and frivolously created and it would still making us act discriminatingly towards outgroups. In other words, even without a history of conflict or any real competition, MGP can still promote unfair treatment to the other group (Tajfel, 1970). The result of MGP can be called “mere membership” (Dunham, 2018). Mere membership affords us a new way to see what in-group vs out-group sensemaking is: an essentially artificial construct. This means justifying discrimination due to “god-given” differences is fundamentally silly.
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