What is the role of emotional mimicry in intergroup relations? There are different theoretical accounts of the function and underlying processes of emotional mimicry. A review of research on emotional mimicry suggests that, in general, emotional mimicry reinforces existing group boundaries, rather than breaking or dissolving them. Specifically, there is consistent evidence that people tend to mimic similar others more than dissimilar others. Given that ingroup members are by definition more similar to each other than to outgroup members, this implies that the former are more likely to be mimicked than the latter. In turn, mimicry improves social bonds with others, which then facilitates ingroup relations. The most primitive and implicit pathway for mimicry is via embodiment, and it can only take place when there is an actual interaction between group members. To the degree that such processes are presumed to be automatic, it is likely that they tend to reinforce social exclusion of outgroup members. By contrast, the most explicit pathway to mimicry is via perspective taking, in which one deliberately tries to take the other’s perspective. This process does not require the actual presence of members of other groups, but some form of empathy when judging or expecting to meet other group members. This process is more amenable to top-down influences. The research on mimicry also converges on the notion that when mimicry (or in fact other forms of behavior matching) is present, interactions can be expected to be more affiliative. Thus, with effort, mimicry can also be a tool for improving intergroup relations. As always, however, it requires more effort to cross group boundaries than to stay within them.
Ursula Hess and Agneta Fischer
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.
Norms are regularized patterns of attitudes and behavior that characterize a group of individuals, separate the group from other groups of individuals, and prescribe and describe attitudes and behaviors for group members. Relying on social identity theory and self-categorization theory, the role played by group norms within groups and the processes by which such norms are promulgated within groups are discussed. Norm talk or the communication of normative information within groups is explored, as a major proportion of communication within groups is dedicated to clarifying ingroup identities and group attributes such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group. Group members can glean normative information by attending to norm talk for instance, by listening to the content of fellow group members’ communications, from their behavior, and from influential or prototypical sources within the group. According to self-categorization theory, once individuals categorize themselves as members of a salient group or category, they represent normative information cognitively as ingroup prototypes. Prototypes are a fuzzy set of group attributes (such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group) and simultaneously minimize differences within groups while maximizing differences between groups. Thus, clear group prototypes help create distinct identities that are clearly demarcated from other groups. Group members should be especially attentive to information that flows from prototypical sources within groups—such as leaders and ingroup media sources—while efforts should be made to differentiate from marginal or deviant members who deviate from the prototype and reduce clarity of ingroup prototypes. The processes through which attending to information communicated by different sources within groups—both prototypical and non-prototypical—help group members seek normative information and clarification of ingroup prototypes are discussed.
Yair Amichai-Hamburger and Shir Etgar
People tend to divide the world into categories. One of them is the group of people I belong to (the ingroup) and the group I do not belong to (the outgroup). People have a tendency to stereotype the outgroup and behave toward it with prejudice and discrimination. In many cases these forms of behavior lead to intergroup conflict. One of the major proposals for resolving this situation was suggested by Gordon W. Allport and is called the Contact Hypothesis. According to this model, when a contact between the groups is held under certain conditions—equal status, institutional support, and cooperation between the rival groups toward the achievement of superordinate goals—people are likely to change their negative perception of the outgroup and improve their relationship with its members. Despite the success of the model, it has been shown to suffer from three major obstacles. First, it is logistically complicated to achieve the requisite conditions; secondly, the physical proximity to the rival group’s members is likely to cause high anxiety among participants, which may well prevent any positive change; thirdly, the contact, even if successful, is unlikely to be generalized to the groups as a whole. Online intergroup contact appears to overcome these challenges.