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Department of Psychology Social Psychology

Talk by Johanna Woitzel on November 15

The Cognitive-Ecological Challenges of Diversity

Johanna Woitzel (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

As diversification of a society progresses, more and more novel and smaller groups are formed (e.g., migrant groups, religious groups, or LGBTQI+ groups). These novel groups are more likely to be outgroups and minority groups. Thus, they are particularly affected by evaluative disadvantages. Influential social psychological theories explain negative attitudes towards outgroups and minority groups by humans’ selfish motivational forces. A recently proposed cognitive-ecological model suggests an additional explanation for intergroup bias above and beyond humans’ motivations. This model argues that novel and infrequently encountered groups suffer an evaluative disadvantage because people evaluate these groups based on their distinct attributes that differentiate them from familiar groups and that distinct attributes tend to be negative. Previous research demonstrated this cognitive principle of differentiation for the preference of one group over another. In the present research, we extend the model to central affective, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes: Formation of attitudes, memory, and communication. In a set of seven experiments, we show that the differentiation principle manifests itself in these domains, going beyond mere choice formation. First, distinct attributes of social groups were indeed more negative than their shared attributes. Second, distinct attributes more strongly impacted the perceived likeability of novel compared to familiar groups. Third, participants’ memory overrepresented distinct attributes of novel groups. Fourth, differentiation transferred to communication such that novel (versus familiar) groups were more likely to be described with distinct attributes. And fifth, this differentiation principle held if we introduced an ingroup-outgroup status of the groups that participants encountered. The present work thereby shows that some of the disadvantages that outgroups and minorities often face may not only result from perceivers’ self-serving motives but also from the “innocent” cognitive principle of differentiation.

Domenico Amendola