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National Institutions Linked to In-Group Favoritism, New Study Finds

National Institutions Linked to In-Group Favoritism, New Study Finds

Positive perceptions of national institutions are associated with greater favoritism toward fellow citizens over foreigners, a new study finds.

A new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that positive perceptions of national institutions are associated with greater favoritism toward fellow citizens over foreigners.

People who have more confidence in their country’s institutions exhibit stronger in-group favoritism, preferring to place trust in fellow citizens over foreigners or strangers, according to research published this week.

The study, conducted across 17 countries by scientists at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and elsewhere, contradicts the idea that sturdy societal institutions promote general trust.

Instead, the findings suggest that institutional confidence poses barriers to establishing trust globally.

Strong National Pride Linked to Favoritism

Led by social psychologist Dr. Giuliana Spadaro, the researchers asked over 3,200 participants to play trust games with partners identified as fellow citizens, foreigners or strangers.

They found that those who expressed higher levels of national identification showed greater bias, offering more trust and generosity to supposed fellow nationals.

This aligns with decades of research on social identity theory.

Surprise Role of Institutional Trust

More surprisingly, Dr. Spadaro’s team discovered that confidence in national institutions also predicted stronger in-group favoritism.

Participants who saw domestic institutions as effective, fair and secure exhibited greater bias in the game, contradicting the material security hypothesis that institutions cultivate general trust.

“Our findings can inform citizens about the potential factors that might be associated to discrimination, such as national identification or being embedded in well-functioning institutions,” said Dr. Spadaro.

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Further research is needed to clarify the causes of biased trust and explore whether local institutions play a different role.

Making Sense of the Findings

The results reveal new insights about the complex factors driving favoritism, though many open questions remain.

Dr. Spadaro’s team was not surprised to find that strong national identity correlated with trust bias across all 17 societies studied.

This aligns with decades of research on social identity theory.

However, the role of confidence in institutions was more puzzling.

The findings contradict the material security hypothesis that effective societal institutions should cultivate general trust.

Unlike past research, the study measured individual perceptions of institutions rather than objective metrics of institutional performance.

The authors suggest further study on whether this subjective measure matches reality.

The groups involved may also help explain the results.

Participants interacted with partners from other countries, outside the reach of shared institutions.

This differs from previous research where ingroups and outgroups lived under the same national institutions.

Additional analyses provided some evidence against the idea that the lack of shared institutions fully explains the findings.

But more research is needed on how local institutions shape biases.

“The extent to which these two dimensions contribute to two different processes that result in ingroup favoritism remains a topic for future investigation,” said Dr. Spadaro.

While preliminary, these initial findings highlight potential hurdles institutional confidence may pose for establishing global trust.

Further research is critical to unpack the nuanced social dynamics at play.

International Author Team

Dr. Spadaro, of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s psychology department, led the study, which was published on June 26, 2023.

Co-authors include James H. Liu, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand; Robert Jiqi Zhang.

Massey University, Albany, New Zealand; Homero Gil De Zúñiga.

University of Salamanca, Spain; and Daniel Balliet, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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