Tribalism in our society

Tribalism is the possession of an identity (cultural, ethnic, national, etc.) that divides a member of one group from members of another group. The identity can be based on residence, membership in political parties, skin color, ethnic background, religion, occupation, income level, mental health status, gender, age, health status … all the way to support of different sports teams.

There are in-groups and out-groups. We seek the approval, comfort, and sense of safety within our “in-group.” We feel threatened by members of out-groups. They may look different from us, talk differently, believe different things … they threaten our safety–mainly, psychological.

Tribalism may confer benefits in terms of evolution; maybe, our tribe can help us to survive. But, tribalism can definitely be bad for a society–disunity, separation, rancor, political paralysis, us vs. them, breeding extremism, inequality, even impacting life and death … No one benefits in the end.

Social media feeds tribalism. Partisan politics encourages and uses tribalism for narrow, often corrupt and authoritarian purposes. America during the Trump era is a classic case.

Tribalism is driven by fear; an example —

Humans generally fear those different to them (i.e. an out-group) in the same way they fear natural predators. But fear pushes us to derogate [disparage, belittle] others, whether they constitute a threat or not. Research has examined how fear associated with specific intergroup relations interferes with how individuals relate to in-group and out-group members. However, we know relatively little about how intergroup relations might be affected by incidental emotions. We tested how incidental fear affects empathy towards in-group and out-group members. We found that exposing participants to fearful imagery was sufficient to reduce empathy, but only in response to out-group suffering. We discuss how these findings provide insight into how fear is often leveraged to encourage social tribalism.”

Go to the source —

Richins, M. T., Barreto, M., Karl, A., & Lawrence, N. (2019). Incidental fear reduces empathy for an out-group’s pain. Emotion, 21(3), 536–544. [Cited by]

See also —

Fear — impacts on decision-making and behavior

Politics and Fear

Questions? Please let me know (

**updated November 5, 2021**

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.