Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Inaccurate group meta-perceptions drive negative out-group attributions in competitive contexts

Abstract

Across seven experiments and one survey (n = 4,282), people consistently overestimated out-group negativity towards the collective behaviour of their in-group. This negativity bias in group meta-perception was present across multiple competitive (but not cooperative) intergroup contexts and appears to be yoked to group psychology more generally; we observed negativity bias for estimation of out-group, anonymized-group and even fellow in-group members’ perceptions. Importantly, in the context of US politics, greater inaccuracy was associated with increased belief that the out-group is motivated by purposeful obstructionism. However, an intervention that informed participants of the inaccuracy of their beliefs reduced negative out-group attributions, and was more effective for those whose group meta-perceptions were more inaccurate. In sum, we highlight a pernicious bias in social judgements of how we believe ‘they’ see ‘our’ behaviour, demonstrate how such inaccurate beliefs can exacerbate intergroup conflict and provide an avenue for reducing the negative effects of inaccuracy.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Raw data from Experiment 1 by condition and dependent variable.
Fig. 2: Raw data from Experiment 4 by condition and dependent variable.
Fig. 3: Distributions, Pearson correlations and scatterplots for the three GMP ratings and beliefs about out-group obstructionism in Study 5.
Fig. 4: Effect of condition on obstructionism, by accuracy, in Experiment 6.

Data availability

All data that supported the findings of this study are publicly available in CSV format on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/zhysa/.

Code availability

All analyses reported in this study used the statistical software R (v.3.6.1). All R files are publicly available on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/zhysa/.

References

  1. 1.

    Carlson, E. N. Meta-accuracy and relationship quality: weighing the costs and benefits of knowing what people really think about you. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 111, 250–264 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Carlson, E. N., Vazire, S. & Furr, R. M. Meta-insight: do people really know how others see them? J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 101, 831–846 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Vazire, S. & Carlson, E. N. Others sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 20, 104–108 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Vorauer, J. D., Main, K. J. & O’Connell, G. B. How do individuals expect to be viewed by members of lower status groups? Content and implications of meta-stereotypes. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 75, 21 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Vorauer, J. D., Hunter, A. J., Main, K. J. & Roy, S. A. Meta-stereotype activation: evidence from indirect measures for specific evaluative concerns experienced by members of dominant groups in intergroup interaction. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 78, 690–707 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Frey, F. E. & Tropp, L. R. Being seen as individuals versus as group members: extending research on metaperception to intergroup contexts. Personal. Soc. Psychol. Rev. 10, 265–280 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Kteily, N., Hodson, G. & Bruneau, E. They see us as less than human: metadehumanization predicts intergroup conflict via reciprocal dehumanization. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 110, 343–370 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Sigelman, L. & Tuch, S. A. Metastereotypes: blacks’ perceptions of whites’ stereotypes of blacks. Public Opin. Q. 61, 87 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Finchilescu, G. Intergroup anxiety in interracial interaction: the role of prejudice and metastereotypes. J. Soc. Issues 66, 334–351 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Klein, O. & Azzi, A. E. The strategic confirmation of meta-stereotypes: how group members attempt to tailor an out-group’s representation of themselves. Br. J. Soc. Psychol. 40, 279–293 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Waytz, A., Young, L. L. & Ginges, J. Motive attribution asymmetry for love vs. hate drives intractable conflict. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 15687–15692 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Lau, T., Morewedge, C. K. & Cikara, M. Overcorrection for social-categorization information moderates impact bias in affective forecasting. Psychol. Sci. 27, 1340–1351 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Goldstein, N. J., Vezich, I. S. & Shapiro, J. R. Perceived perspective taking: when others walk in our shoes. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 106, 941–960 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Saguy, T. & Kteily, N. Inside the opponent’s head: perceived losses in group position predict accuracy in metaperceptions between groups. Psychol. Sci. 22, 951–958 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Robinson, R. J., Keltner, D., Ward, A. & Ross, L. Actual versus assumed differences in construal: ‘Naive realism’ in intergroup perception and conflict. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 68, 404–417 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Chambers, J. R. & Melnyk, D. Why do I hate thee? Conflict misperceptions and intergroup mistrust. Personal. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 32, 1295–1311 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Chambers, J. R., Baron, R. S. & Inman, M. L. Misperceptions in intergroup conflict. Psychol. Sci. 17, 38–45 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Westfall, J., Van Boven, L., Chambers, J. R. & Judd, C. M. Perceiving political polarization in the United States: party identity strength and attitude extremity exacerbate the perceived partisan divide. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 10, 145–158 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Bush, G. W. President Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress and the nation. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/bushaddress_092001.html (20 September 2001).

  20. 20.

    Sunstein, C. R. Why they hate us: The role of social dynamics. Harvard J. Law Public Policy 25, 429–440 (2002).

  21. 21.

    Zakaria, F. The politics of rage: why do they hate us? Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/politics-rage-why-do-they-hate-us-154345 (14 October 2001).

  22. 22.

    Merskin, D. The construction of Arabs as enemies: post-September 11 discourse of George W. Bush. Mass Commun. Soc. 7, 157–175 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Rogers, T. & Feller, A. Reducing student absences at scale by targeting parents’ misbeliefs. Nat. Hum. Behav. 2, 335–342 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Nyhan, B. & Reifler, J. The roles of information deficits and identity threat in the prevalence of misperceptions. J. Elect. Public Opin. Parties 29, 1–23 (2018).

  25. 25.

    Eisenkraft, N., Elfenbein, H. A. & Kopelman, S. We know who likes us, but not who competes against us:dyadic meta-accuracy among work colleagues. Psychol. Sci. 28, 233–241 (2017).

  26. 26.

    Reeder, G. D., Vonk, R., Ronk, M. J., Ham, J. & Lawrence, M. Dispositional attribution: multiple inferences about motive-related traits. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 86, 530–544 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Miller, D. T. & Nelson, L. D. Seeing approach motivation in the avoidance behavior of others: implications for an understanding of pluralistic ignorance. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 83, 1066–1075 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Insko, C. A., Schopler, J., Hoyle, R. H., Dardis, G. J. & Graetz, K. A. Individual-group discontinuity as a function of fear and greed. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 58, 68–79 (1990).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Wildschut, T., Pinter, B., Vevea, J. L., Insko, C. A. & Schopler, J. Beyond the group mind: a quantitative review of the interindividual-intergroup discontinuity effect. Psychol. Bull. 129, 698–722 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Pemberton, M. B., Insko, C. A. & Schopler, J. Memory for and experience of differential competitive behavior of individuals and groups. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 71, 14 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Enders, A. M. & Armaly, M. T. The differential effects of actual and perceived polarization. Polit. Behav. 41, 815–839 (2018).

  32. 32.

    Carlson, E. N., Furr, R. M. & Vazire, S. Do we know the first impressions we make? Evidence for idiographic meta-accuracy and calibration of first impressions. Soc. Psychol. Personal. Sci. 1, 94–98 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Stern, C. & Kleiman, T. Know thy outgroup: promoting accurate judgments of political attitude differences through a conflict mindset. Soc. Psychol. Personal. Sci. 6, 950–958 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Stroessner, S. J. & Dweck, C. S. in Social Perception: From Individuals to Groups (eds Stroessner, S. J. & Sherman, J. W.) 177–196 (Psychology Press, 2015).

  35. 35.

    Ames, D. & Fiske, S. Perceived intent motivates people to magnify observed harms. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 3599–3605 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Goldenberg, A., Saguy, T. & Halperin, E. How group-based emotions are shaped by collective emotions: evidence for emotional transfer and emotional burden. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 107, 581–596 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Schönbrodt, F. D. & Perugini, M. At what sample size do correlations stabilize? J. Res. Personal. 47, 609–612 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Brooks, M. et al. glmmTMB balances speed and flexibility among packages for zero-inflated generalized linear mixed modeling. R J. 9, 378–400 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Kuznetsova, A., Brockhoff, P. B. & Christensen, R. H. B. lmerTest package: Tests in linear mixed effects models. J. Stat. Softw. 82, 1–26 (2017).

  40. 40.

    Lenth, R. emmeans: Estimated marginal means, aka least-squares means. R package version 1.4. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=emmeans (2019).

  41. 41.

    Smithson, M. & Verkuilen, J. A better lemon squeezer? Maximum-likelihood regression with beta-distributed dependent variables. Psychol. Methods 11, 54–71 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Patil, I. & Powell, C. ggstatsplot: “ggplot2” based plots with statistical details. R package version 0.0.12. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=ggstatsplot (2018).

  43. 43.

    Lüdecke, D. sjPlot: Data visualization for statistics in social science. R package version 2.7.0. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=sjPlot (2019).

  44. 44.

    Revelle, W. psych: Procedures for psychological, psychometric, and personality research. R Package version 1.8.12. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=psych (2018).

Download references

Acknowledgements

Work on this project by M.C. was supported by a National Science Foundation Award (no. BCS-1551559). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. We thank members of the Harvard Intergroup Neuroscience Lab, Sidanius Lab and attendees at the 2018 East Coast Doctoral Conference for their helpful comments, Z. Ingbretsen and N. Hunt for help with data collection and I. Zahn and S. Worthington for statistical assistance.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

J.L. and M.C. designed all experiments and wrote the manuscript. J.L. completed data collection and analysis under the supervision of M.C.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jeffrey Lees or Mina Cikara.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Primary handling editor: Aisha Bradshaw

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary notes, figures, tables, methods and analysis.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lees, J., Cikara, M. Inaccurate group meta-perceptions drive negative out-group attributions in competitive contexts. Nat Hum Behav 4, 279–286 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0766-4

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing