Prejudice springs from ancient evolutionary roots

March 18th, 2011 - 2:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 18 (IANS) The tendency to perceive others as “us versus them” isn’t exclusively human but appears to be shared by our primate cousins, says a new study.

Yale researchers led by psychologist Laurie Santos showed that monkeys treat individuals from outside their groups with the same suspicion and dislike as their human cousins tend to treat outsiders.

It is suggestive that the roots of human intergroup conflict may be evolutionarily quite ancient, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports.

“Pretty much every conflict in human history has involved people making distinctions on the basis of who is a member of their own race, religion, social class, and so on,” Santos said, according to a Yale statement.

“The question we were interested in is - Where do these types of group distinctions come from?” The answer, Santos adds, is that such biases have apparently been shaped by 25 million years of evolution.

Santos and her lab studied the rhesus macaques living on an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Like humans, monkeys in this population naturally form different social groups on the basis of family history.

They presented subject monkeys with pictures of monkeys who were either in their social group or members of a different group.

They found that monkeys stared longer at pictures of other monkeys who were outside their group, suggesting that monkeys spontaneously detect who is a stranger and who is a group member.

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