Why Do We See So Many Things as ‘Us vs. Them’?
We’re wired from birth to tell Us from Them. And we inevitably (and sometimes unconsciously) favor Us—especially when we feel threatened. Of course, humans share that trait with many other creatures, from ants to salmon to macaques. What other creatures almost never do, though, is change their group perceptions and actions. The birds and bees kept to their tribes when Yugoslavs turned into warring Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians. Only humans—Hutu and Tutsi—could decide they are no longer countrymen, after peacefully sharing a homeland for centuries. Only humans can switch from feeling united as one American nation to feeling divided between conservative red states and liberal blue ones. Our capacity to change our perceptions also offers some hope, because it permits people to shift in the direction of more inclusion, more justice, more peace. In Nigeria and other places around the world, communities torn apart by group conflict are putting themselves back together with help from a surprising source: scientists who study the mind. Their methods are also helping to improve community relations with police in Toledo, Indianapolis, and other U.S. cities.