Intergroup conflict is a common occurrence in any environment and it requires a thorough approach that would allow illuminating bias and coming up with a coherent solution. However, in many cases, an attribution bias obstructs individuals from seeing the actual information and making fair judgements. This issue is illustrated by contemporary Middle East conflicts or anti-immigration movements in Europe. This paper aims to examine the topic of intergroup attribution bias based on relevant theories and concepts.
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Defining the Concept of Group, Conflict and an Attribution Bias
Firstly, it is necessary to determine the fundamental notions that relate to an attribution bias within intergroup conflicts. Definition of ‘group’ (n.d., para. 1) defines a group as “several people or things which are together in one place at one time” or individuals who share similar interests and goals. Unarguably, groups are an integral part of the society, and thus, conflicts that occur between them are frequent. Prejudice or bias is another feature that characterises these relationships and can often lead to violence, which is why many social scientists focus their research on this topic (Lickel & Gupta 2017). The common belief is that bias is inevitable in intergroup relationships.
The notion of conflict can be defined as incompatibility between different individuals and their opinions or views on a particular subject. While this issue can lead to an argument, on a larger scale, conflicts between significant groups can result in war, which is the case in the Middle East (Farmer 2015). Next, an attribution bias is a psychological concept that refers to errors that a person makes when judging personal behaviour or that of others. Hewstone, Stroebe and Jonas (2015) argue that this feature is very prevalent and challenging to distinguish. This concept helps explain the social perception and cognition of individuals. In general, an attribution bias occurs when no specific efforts to process information are made (Hewstone, Stroebe & Jonas 2015). Therefore, people tend to make initial judgements without a sufficient reflection about facts and actual events. Hewstone, Stroebe and Jonas (2015) provide an example of an attribution bias, which is a study where people were given a text about an actor’s traits and then were asked to describe his behaviour. The results indicate that people need more time to make inferences when compared to trait judgements, which explains the prevalence of attribution bias.
The first aspect of intergroup attribution bias is the impact it has on the perception of in-group members and those not belonging to it. Cherry (2016) explains intergroup bias as a tendency to evaluate a group that a person is a part of higher than those of other people. This is among the main characteristics that contribute to the development of bias against others. Sun, Wan and Bai (2019) argue that group relationships are inseparably connected to a specific type of prejudice. This can be explained by the mutual interests that group members have and which differentiate them from others. According to Fiske and North (2015), examples of intergroup bias include sexism, ageism and racism. The authors state that the measures defining the bias can be connected to unexamined information or particular social beliefs. This indicates that the issue of intergroup attribution bias is complex and has many elements to it.
One of the essential cognitive biases that help understand the attribution issue in the context of intergroup relations is the perception of other groups. Farmer (2015) offers a different perspective on the issue examining the “us versus them” approach to understanding intergroup attribution bias. According to the author, the primary characteristic of this concept is a tendency to divide people into categories, usually differentiating between in-group and out-group individuals. This aspect of attribution bias is dangerous because it leads to favouritism and treating people outside the group differently.
Stereotype content model (SCM) developed by Susan Fiske describes two dimensions of in-group stereotypes. Both elements are derived from the idea that people evolutionary aim to determine the intent of a stranger, which can be either good or bad (Fiske 2018). The first one is warmth, which refers to the perceived ability of an individual to harm or help a person or a group. The second is competency, which describes the capability of fulfilling these initial expectations. Based on Fiske’s model, a group of scientists developed the BIAS model in 2007 (Bye & Herrebroden 2018). It provides an explanation of how attribution biases develop over time.
Next, the realistic bias theory refers to the competition between groups, which is one of the features prevalent in intergroup relationships. This differs from BIAS and SCM models significantly because the approach offers another outlook on the problem. Cherry (2016) states that the idea is connected to scarce resources and competition for them. In this regard, sharing with group members is more sensible than giving these resources to strangers. Cherry (2016) notes that another issue contributing to attribution bias in groups is the need to protect self-esteem. Viewing a group that a person belongs to as superior helps this matter.
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One can argue that attribution biases are an integral part of social interactions. Krumhuber et al. (2015) assert that another reason for the emergence of biases in group relationships can be the need to form meaningful social connections. The concept of schadenfreude, or pleasure derived from misfortune experienced by another group, can be another contributor to this issue. It was first introduced by Cikara, who conducted empirical research and argued that this aspect may explain hostile attitudes towards other groups (as cited in Farmer 2015). Although this contradicts the notion of humans being peaceful, over time through observation and association groups can develop schadenfreude. This model differs significantly from SCM and BIAS approaches; however, it shares similarities with the “us versus them” concept.
The majority of the examined evidence advocates that an attribution bias is corrupt. However, Cherry (2016) argues that this aspect leads to an in-group harmony due to a better perception of its members. Thus, these biases help individuals within a group communicate better. Paetzel and Sausgruber (2018) reveal that intergroup attribution bias may contribute to performance, since their experiment groups that showcased better results had a tendency to display more prejudice. This study also supports the claim that in some cases, attribution biases can have a beneficial impact on human behaviour, although it is vital to be aware of their negative implications as well.
Overall, the question of intergroup attribution bias is significant because it contributes to many contemporary societal problems, such as racism or sexism. In general, theories examined above suggest that people tend to have a better view of the members of their group when compared to outsiders. SCM describes attitudes towards strangers and their perceived capabilities, while the BIAS model refers to the development of prejudice. Other theories explain the evolutionary implications of bias and its connection to the misfortune of other groups. The comparison of different models and empirical research presented in this paper contribute to the understanding of attribution bias’ complexity.
Bye, HH & Herrebrøden, H2018, ‘Emotions as mediators of the stereotype–discrimination relationship: a BIAS map replication’, Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, vol. 21, no. 7, pp. 1078–1091.
Cherry, K 2016, What is intergroup bias?, Web.
Definition of ‘group’ n.d., Web.
Farmer, H 2015, “Us” and “them”: the nature of intergroup bias, Web.
Fiske, ST 2018, ‘Stereotype content: warmth and competence endure’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 67–73.
Fiske, ST & North, M 2015, ‘Measures of stereotyping and prejudice’, in GJ Boyle, DH Saklofske & G Matthews (eds), Measures of personality and social psychological constructs, Academic Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 684-718.
Hewstone, M, Stroebe, W & Jonas K 2015, An introduction to social psychology, 6th edn, John Wiley & Sons, West Sussex.
Krumhuber EG, Swiderska A, Tsankova E, Kamble SV & Kappas A 2015, ‘Real or artificial? Intergroup biases in mind perception in a cross-cultural perspective’, PLoS One, vol. 10, no. 9, p. e0137840.
Lickel, B & Gupta, M 2017, Intergroup conflict, Web.
Paetzel, F & Sausgruber, R 2018, ‘Cognitive ability and in-group bias: an experimental study’, Journal of Public Economics, vol. 167, pp. 280-292.
Sun, LR, Wang, P, & Bai, YH 2019, ‘Effect of implicit prejudice on intergroup conflict: the cognitive processing bias perspective’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, pp. 1-28.