Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 32

THE PREEMINENCE OF CHRIST IN US - Cleveland significant factors that unite them (e.g., being students at the same university).18 By dividing larger, heterogenous categories into smaller, more manageable homogenous subcategories, we are better able to make assumptions and predictions, thus conserving mental energy. For example, when asked to think about our category of Christians we often immediately (and incorrectly) think of our similar homogenous church or denominational group (a subordinate category) rather than the heterogeneous worldwide body of Christ (a superordinate category). Taken together, this research suggests that within the context of church groups, rather than perceiving the body of Christ as one large heterogenous group, we often perceive numerous distinct homogenous groups within the body of Christ. Consequently, the group categories that were intended to help us preserve cognitive energy in our interpersonal interactions actually serve to separate our group from other Christian groups. No matter how we categorize these distinct church groups (i.e., based on beliefs, language, ethnicity, location, and so on), we typically perceive a dichotomy between our ingroup and the outgroup. The people who are in our ingroup are the people who are obviously like us. The people who are in the outgroup are the people who are obviously not at all like us; they are the “other.” In this way, distinctions between groups serve an important function: they provide clear information on how a person should be categorized. If the distinction between two groups becomes blurred, it is more difficult to categorize someone as a member of a certain group and, by extension, save mental energy by using their membership in a social category to predict their behavior. It is significantly more energy-consuming to predict the actions of a member of a diverse group because one cannot make as many assumptions about the characteristics, values, and tendencies of the group. To this end, humans have a natural tendency to focus on social group memberships that are considerably homogenous (and thus easy to assess) and also to preserve the boundaries of said social groups. Group Polarization and Perspective Divergence In fact, this tendency to preserve the boundaries between social groups is so strong that group members often distinguish themselves from other groups even when there is no logical reason to do so. This phenomenon is a prime example of group polarization, another nonconscious cognitive process that 18. Henri Tajfel, “Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination,” Scientific American 223, no. 5 (1970): 96–102. 31