“Us” vs “Them”

We see this a lot. Us versus Them.

It’s “your” team versus whomever they are playing. It’s the Rebellion versus the Empire. Democrats versus republicans. Geeks versus jocks.

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This was so my “in” group. C’mon DPS.

Pick your “in” group, and you’ll automatically have an “out” group. It’s everywhere, and once you side with a team, you will automatically favor them even if the evidence doesn’t agree with you.

This is called Social Identity Theory, and humans do it all the time. Once we identify with a group, once it becomes ours, a part of ourselves becomes intertwined with the success of that group.

Think how many times you’ve seen a sports fan became angry over how “their” team played. Now, if you actually owned the sports team, you’d have a lot riding on their success. But most of the people I know who are invested in “their” team don’t even have a bet riding on the outcome.

I’ve even heard fans make disparaging comments about fans of other teams. What would make an otherwise rational person hate someone else just for the team they support?

Social Identity Theory says this is actually pretty common. Once you identify with a group making it the “in” group, humans will discriminate against and disparage the “out” group as a means of making themselves feel better about the group to which they are associated.

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This is some pretty powerful stuff. Wikipedia links to a series of studies, one that shows people aren’t even willing to bet against their “in” group even though it could mean that they make money doing so.

There is some thought that this was an evolutionary response. Those that favored their own tribes to the exclusion of all others were more successful, had more children, etc. Hard to prove, but a reasonable theory.

Interestingly, though, humans are actually more successful the larger we make the “in” group. The research corroborates what Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations that human prosperity is dependent on the voluntary exchange between and co-operation of different nationalities and races.

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It’s an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, research shows us that Social Identity Theory tells makes us want to favor “our” group, yet other research shows us that this is not necessarily what makes us the most prosperous.

Sadly, this isn’t fiction. If it were, I’d get a note from my beta reader telling me about the inconsistency of my character, and how his actions didn’t align with his goal. I’d fix it, and all would be well.

Not that easy in the real world, even if does explain a lot things we see happening around us.

But, perhaps it gives us some insight into making a character that our audience will identify with. Give them someone that’s in their “in” group so that they’ll want to see them succeed even if he is a whiny farm kid more interested in racing speeders with his friends than tending to the droids on his aunt and uncle’s farm.

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How about you? Ever read about a character you could identify with and wanted to see them succeed no matter what? Or maybe you have a sports team you love no matter what? Or maybe you found yourself in one “tribe” when you wanted to be in another?

 

 

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