Minding the gap: bridging the gap in intergroup empathy in arbitrary and real groups

Abstract

Parochial empathy – feeling a greater empathic response to ingroup than outgroup members – helps drive intergroup conflict. For example, people who commit and condone political violence are often communally motivated, and have simultaneously high ingroup and low outgroup empathy. In order to better understand the genesis and extinction of parochial empathy, we measured the intergroup empathy gap by placing people in competitions across group boundaries that were either arbitrary (the Eagles versus the Rattlers) or real (Americans versus Arabs). æIn the arbitrary group setting, we found an average intergroup empathy gap that was mitigated by providing narrative information about each target — particularly when those narratives endowed the targets with a mind. Narratives reduced participants’ recollection of each target’s team membership in a memory task, but improved memory for what happened to each target, suggesting that arbitrary group boundaries draw attention away from group membership and towards individuating information. Across participants, the intergroup empathy gap correlated with a measure of group identity (ID), but did not correlate with either trait empathy or social dominance orientation. æWith real groups, no average intergroup empathy gap was reported. However, individual empathy gaps correlated strongly with both ID and SDO, which together explained 50% of the variance in parochialism. This suggests that ingroup and outgroup biases have different bases in arbitrary and real group settings. These studies identify some of the factors that drive parochial empathy, and suggest methods of reducing intergroup violence.