There are in-groups and out-groups. Each of us belong to the in-group, though not necessarily the same in-group. Our in-group is important to our self image. We identify so strongly with it that we believe the fate of our in-group is our fate as well. And, as with individuals, we stereotype our in-group in positive ways while fearing imaginary negative traits in the out-groups.

We view in-group members as more varied and complex, out-group members as simpler and less intelligent, even though our knowledge of our in-group is as superficial as our knowledge of the out-group. Ironically we often identify with with in-groups with whom we share nothing in common. Yet our group identity influences how we judge others and how we think about ourselves.

This is most easily seen in sports. Here in Chicago you are either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan, seriously. A few years ago I met some friends I hadn’t seen for quite a while. We talked about old times and got around to sports. My friend Bud asked me, “So Paul do you root for the Sox or for the Cubs?” I replied I didn’t have a preference. Bud wouldn’t accept that answer and asked again so I told him I rooted for the Sox and the Cubs.

Bud studied me with a critical eye for a moment before replying, “Telling me you root for the Sox and for the Cubs is like telling me you are bisexual!” Our friends roared with laughter. I just smiled and shook my head. This story is a good example of how strongly we identify with our in-group, even on a casual basis.

Neurologists believe this in-group/out-group behavior is another inherently natural force that promotes our survival as a species. It’s counterpart in the plant kingdom is that plants help nourish nearby members of their plant family. In contrast, they may emit toxic chemicals from their roots when they detect non-related, competing plants encroaching on their territory.

The connection between stereotyping and in-group identification has to do with our survival as individuals, as groups, and as a species. Nature’s forces are at work deep within us.

Next blog: Our Emotions.