Thomas R. Shultz, Max Hartshorn, Artem Kaznatcheev

Ethnocentrism, the tendency to favor one’s own group, is implicated in a wide variety of important phenomena from voting patterns to ethnic discrimination and armed conflict. Many social scientists believe that ethnocentrism derives from cultural learning and depends on considerable social and cognitive abilities. However, this view is inconsistent with evidence that ethnocentrism is common throughout a diverse range of animal, plant, and single-celled species. Such evidence suggests that ethnocentrism may have a basis in biological evolution and that it requires fairly minimal cognition. The ability to distinguish in- vs. out-group members and select different behaviors based on that distinction may suffice.
A recent computer simulation with simple abstract agents demonstrates that ethnocentrism can indeed originate through evolutionary processes. Agents could either defect against, or cooperate with, other in-group or out-group agents, creating four possible strategies: (1) a selfish strategy of universal defection, (2) a traitorous strategy of cooperation with out-group, but not ingroup, agents, (3) an ethnocentric strategy of in-group cooperation and defection against agents from different groups, and (4) a humanitarian strategy of universal cooperation.
From a neutral starting point, ethnocentrism evolved to become the dominant strategy, eventually characterizing about 75% of the population. Ethnically-fueled human conflicts stretch far back into history, are still quite common, and with the waning of the ideologically motivated cold war, are predicted to be the major source of armed inter-group aggression through the foreseeable future.

Why Is Ethnocentrism More Common Than Humanitarianism? (PDF)

4 thoughts on “Thomas R. Shultz, Max Hartshorn, Artem Kaznatcheev

  1. shinichi Post author

    Why Is Ethnocentrism More Common Than Humanitarianism?

    by Thomas R. Shultz, Max Hartshorn and Artem Kaznatcheev

    A compelling agent-based computer simulation suggests that ethnocentrism, often thought to rely on complex social cognition and learning, may have arisen through biological evolution (Hammond & Axelrod, 2006). From a neutral start, ethnocentric strategies evolve to dominate other possible strategies (selfish, traitorous, and humanitarian) that differentiate patterns of cooperation with in-group and outgroup agents. We present new analyses and simulations to clarify and explain this outcome by formulating and testing two hypotheses for explaining how ethnocentrism eventually dominates its closest competitor, humanitarianism. Results indicate support for the direct hypothesis that ethnocentrics exploit humanitarian cooperation along the frontiers between ethnocentric and humanitarian groups as world population saturates. We find very little support for the contrasting free-rider-suppression hypothesis that ethnocentrics are better than humanitarians at suppressing non-cooperating free riders, although both hypotheses correctly predict a close temporal relation between population saturation and ethnocentric dominance.

  2. shinichi Post author

    Robustness of ethnocentrism to changes in inter-personal interactions

    by A. Kaznatcheev

    (2010, March)

    We use the methods of evolutionary game theory and computational modelling to examine the evolution of ethnocentrism. We show that ethnocentrism evolves in a spatially structured population not only under prisoner’s dilemma interactions, but also hawk-dove, assurance, harmony, and leader games. In the case of harmony, ethnocentrism evolves even when defection is irrational. This suggests that the pressure of competing for a common resource (in our model: free space) can produce irrational hostility between groups. The minimal cognitive assumptions in our model also suggest that the ethnocentrism observed in humans and elsewhere in nature has an evolutionary basis that is robust over changes in interaction types.

  3. shinichi Post author

    When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals may not Recognize

    by Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham

    Social Justice Research, Vol. 20 Issue 1, p.98

    (March 2007)

  4. shinichi Post author

    Some observers hold that individuals apply distinct sets of moral rules to people depending on their membership of

    an “in-group” (the individual and those they believe to be of the same culture or race)
    an “out-group” (people not entitled to be treated according to the same rules).

    Some biologists, anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists believe this in-group/out-group discrimination has evolved because it enhances group survival.

    This belief has been confirmed by simple computational models of evolution.

    In simulations this discrimination can result in both unexpected cooperation towards the in-group and irrational hostility towards the out-group.

    Gary R. Johnson and V.S. Falger have argued that nationalism and patriotism are forms of this in-group/out-group boundary.

    Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham have noted that experimental observation indicating an in-group criterion provides one moral foundation substantially used by conservatives, but far less so by liberals.


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