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  • Keywords: linguistic abstraction x
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Silvia Moscatelli and Monica Rubini

In everyday life, we are faced with disparate examples of intergroup bias, ranging from a mild tendency to ingroup favoritism to harsh episodes of discrimination, aggression, and even conflicts between groups. Where do they stem from? The origins of intergroup bias can be traced back to two main motivations, that is, attachment to one’s own group (“ingroup love”) and negative feelings toward outgroups (“outgroup hate”). Although lay people, but also some researchers, see the two motivations as intertwined, growing evidence from different fields (e.g., social psychology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience) has indicated that intergroup bias is more often driven by needs of ingroup protection and affiliation, which do not imply outgroup hostility or competitive attitudes. Outgroup hate is instead likely to arise in intergroup contexts characterized by a high degree of enmity. It is important that members of the groups involved, but also external observers, recognize ingroup love as the primary motor of intergroup conflict: the attribution of hate to the outgroup’s behavior renders negotiation and conflict resolution harder while at the same time justifying severe aggression or even annihilation of the opposing outgroup. In the domain of intergroup communication, an intriguing way through which group members express their ingroup love and outgroup hate is represented by variations of linguistic abstraction and valence in depicting behaviors performed by ingroup or outgroup members. This unintended use of language reveals that group members are more prone to express ingroup love also at a linguistic level. However, specific changes in intergroup relations along variables such as group size, group status, or relative deprivation can give rise to linguistic patterns of outgroup hate.


Michela Menegatti and Monica Rubini

Language is one of the most powerful means through which sexism and gender discrimination are perpetrated and reproduced. The content of gender stereotypes, according to which women should display communal/warmth traits and men should display agentic/competence traits, is reflected in the lexical choices of everyday communication. As a consequence, language subtly reproduces the societal asymmetries of status and power in favor of men, which are attached to the corresponding social roles. Moreover, the hidden yet consensual norm according to which the prototypical human being is male is embedded in the structure of many languages. Grammatical and syntactical rules are built in a way that feminine terms usually derive from the corresponding masculine form. Similarly, masculine nouns and pronouns are often used with a generic function to refer to both men and women. However, such linguistic forms have the negative effects of making women disappear in mental representations. Although the use of gender-fair linguistic expressions can effectively prevent these negative consequences and promote gender equality, there are even more implicit forms of gender bias in language that are difficult to suppress. By choosing terms at different levels of abstraction, people can affect the attributions of the receiver in a way that is consistent with their stereotypical beliefs. Linguistic abstraction, thus, is a very subtle resource used to represent women in a less favorable way and thus to enact gender discrimination without meaning to discriminate or even be aware that this linguistic behavior has discriminatory results. In order to reduce gender bias, it is necessary to change people’s linguistic habits by making them aware of the beneficial effects of gender-fair expressions.