New research published in Nature shows how biases towards members of our social group, and against those outside it, shape how generous we are to people and how we punish others for transgressing social norms.
Humans are socially sticky: we bond into cohesive groups that commonly share a common identity and, often, similar values. This applies to social circles and local communities as much as to nationality and global religious and political affiliation. Such unity can encourage people within the group to pull together, to help one another when in need – in short, to get along.
But there’s a downside to human ‘groupishness’: a mental division between members of the ingroup, to whom social and even moral obligations apply, and various outgroups, to whom they do not. People who live in different groups — geographical, social or ethnic — often treat outgroup members as ‘others’ (something viewers of Lost will be familiar with), frequently arousing enmity and stoking conflict. Note how groups really come into their own and pull together when pitted against other groups in the human speciality of war.
Students of the work of Clare W. Graves know that this can be further examined by looking at "why" any given group draws these divisions between themselves and the "others".
Dan Jones goes on to write:
One of the most crucial findings of this research is the extent to which people will incur a cost to punish non-cooperators, and how powerful a force this is in eliciting cooperation from those tempted to defect. Studies with economic games across the world have revealed that the degree to which people will take a monetary hit to punish the unequal division of a sum of money (provided by the experimenter) increases as the split becomes more unequal.
But this isn’t the whole story. Behind the general trend lurks much variation. Perhaps the most important way in which punishing behaviour varies is in the threshold of selfishness that elicits punishment from others. Players living in certain societies won’t punish until the outcomes of dividing money in economic games is grossly unequal, whereas other are much quicker to lay down the law. Some societies even have norms that lead to the punishment of unequal but hyper-fair splits of the money stash (so that the person controlling how much is given to another a player gives away more than 50%), which is something of a puzzle.
I would say that this puzzle might be solved by looking at Graves's "Levels of Existence Theory". Graves created a framework for understanding why some societies might be motivated to punish non-cooperation in different ways. Dan continues:
The new study addresses a different question, one about altruism, altruistic punishment and groupishness. Do we respond to transgressions of social norms by our ingroup differently than violation of those same norms by members of an outgroup? Are we more forgiving of the former and harsher on the latter by virtue of their group allegiance? The answer looks like a qualified ‘yes’.
Students of Graves's theories and Spiraldynamics will probably recognize the thinking observed by the study. The polarization can be found in different forms throughout the first six levels of thinking. But, in general, we can see that the research discussed above tends to display that fourth level thinking is still widespread in group interaction. Is it possible that when people with many different levels of thinking form or participate in a group, that they might collectively under some conditions tend to default to the level that allows everyone to work together?