Why Is Ethnocentrism More Common Than Humanitarianism?


A compelling agent-based computer simulation suggests that ethnocentrism, often thought to rely on complex social cognition and learning, may have arisen through biological evolution (Hammond & Axelrod, 2006). From a neutral start, ethnocentric strategies evolve to dominate other possible strategies (selfish, traitorous, and humanitarian) that differentiate patterns of cooperation with in-group and out-group agents. We present new analyses and simulations to clarify and explain this outcome by formulating and testing two hypotheses for explaining how ethnocentrism eventually dominates its closest competitor, humanitarianism. Results indicate support for the direct hypothesis that ethnocentrics exploit humanitarian cooperation along the frontiers between ethnocentric and humanitarian groups as world population saturates. We find very little support for the contrasting free-rider-suppression hypothesis that ethnocentrics are better than humanitarians at suppressing non-cooperating free riders, although both hypotheses correctly predict a close temporal relation between population saturation and ethnocentric dominance.

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