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Ongoing Projects

The Cognitive-Ecological Challenge of Diversity ​​​​

Philipp Hennig receives prestigious ERC Starting Grant | Max Planck  Institute for Intelligent Systems

In light of the proceeding globalization, societies become more and more diverse regarding people’s ethnic and religious backgrounds, their habits, ideals, and beliefs. While this increasing diversity offers great opportunities for Europe and the world, it also comes with great challenges. The human tendency to derogate out-groups and minority groups poses a particular threat to peace and cooperation in diversifying societies. Most available psychological explanations for the formation of negative attitudes and stereotypes towards others rely on people’s self-serving motivations or personalities, which bears the risk of circularity and leaves our understanding of some of societies’ greatest challenges largely incomplete. Based on the research that I have conducted over the past years, I propose a theoretical framework that provides novel explanations for the formation of negative attitudes and stereotypes about out-groups and minorities. Accordingly, these phenomena arise as natural by-products of innocent cognitive processes and the structure of the external information ecology. This cognitive-ecological framework argues that people associate out-groups and minority groups with their distinct attributes which differentiate them from in-groups and majorities. In the external information ecology, however, distinct attributes have a high probability of being negative, and therefore out-groups and minorities suffer a general evaluative disadvantage. In addition, the framework can explain why most existing stereotypes are negative. In the domain of news reporting, it can explain why news recipients overestimate the prevalence of negative attributes and behaviors among members of minority groups, and why politician’s and journalists’ attempts to counteract often backfire.