Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 31

VOLUME 11, NUMBER 1 A JOURNAL FOR THE THEOLOGY OF CULTURE also contribute to intergroup division and conflict. What then are these mechanisms? And what can we do to overcome them? The Cognitive Antecedents of Disunity To begin, there are a number of nonconscious cognitive processes that contribute to homogenous group formation and intergroup division. These processes are fueled by our cognitive-miser driven approach to perceiving and interacting with the social world. In an attempt to conserve valuable cognitive resources, we often rely on information about social group membership to help us interact with an individual and predict her behavior. To this end, we naturally categorize individuals into social groups. To a certain extent, this is helpful. If I walk into a restaurant and am greeted by the host, I can easily make some assumptions about the host without utilizing too much cognitive energy. Based on what I know about the social category of hosts, I can automatically assume that the individual host in this specific situation will ask me how many people are in my party, lead me to a table, and so on. If an individual has been categorized into a group, the perceiver already has a preconceived set of expectations and responses at her disposal to help her interact with the person while conserving her own limited mental energy. As a consequence, she can save time and cognitive effort by using an individual’s group membership to make inferences about the individual. However, categorization, like all shortcuts, has its drawbacks. Most importantly, in our haste to preserve mental energy, we often group people based on the most obvious characteristics rather than the most important ones. When we categorize, we typically focus on less significant but easily distinguishable features—like physical presentation, language, and theology that indicate membership in specific homogenous groups—rather than less obvious but more important features that indicate membership in larger heterogenous groups. Research on minimal groups—groups that are formed based on an inconsequential characteristic such as whether an individual underestimated or overestimated how many marbles were in a jar—suggests that simply putting people into groups (e.g., overestimators and underestimators) increases the likelihood that they will focus on the specific factor that divides them (e.g., estimation tendency) to the exclusion of more 30