New Study Uncovers Surprising Connection Between Evolution and Discrimination

Discrimination Lonely Racism Outcast

Collective discrimination refers to the discriminatory actions or attitudes of a group or society towards a particular group of people. This type of discrimination can be based on any characteristic that is used to distinguish one group from another, such as race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Collective discrimination can take many forms, including prejudice, stereotypes, and institutionalized forms of discrimination such as laws or policies that disadvantage or discriminate against certain groups.

A research paper suggests that it is more effective to create environments that encourage the emergence of desired behavior through evolutionary dynamics, rather than simply trying to regulate against undesired outcomes.

According to a new study published in the inaugural issue of the journal Collective Intelligence, evolutionary forces may be contributing to collective tendencies to discriminate. Researchers from the MIT Sloan School of Management and Peking University used a mathematical model of natural selection on behavior to examine the concept of “group selection,” in which evolutionary forces affect groups of individuals.

Their model showed that in situations where technological changes challenge the dominance of one group and allow newly emerging groups to gain popularity, political polarization, bias, and discrimination can emerge.

The global rise of authoritarianism has intensified over the last few years, making their results more relevant than ever. The 2021 Freedom in the World Report found that countries with declines in political rights and civil liberties outnumbered those with gains by the largest margin in the past 15 years. Anti-immigration sentiment and policies have also continued or increased in many countries (Gallup, September 2020). At the same time, social media use has continued to rise, with an estimated 4.70 billion users globally (DataReportal, July 2020).

Andrew Lo

Professor Andrew W. Lo, MIT Sloan School of Management, a co-author of the study. Lo’s current research spans three areas: evolutionary models of investor behavior and adaptive markets, quantitative models of financial markets, and healthcare finance. Credit: MIT Sloan

“One of the central ideas of economics—the Efficient Markets Hypothesis—is that the random interactions of many individuals can produce a remarkable degree of collective intelligence,” says Lo. “For instance, by harnessing this wisdom of crowds, financial markets fuel tremendous economic growth and innovation such as new cancer drugs, self-driving cars, smartphones, and the Mars rover among many others. But failures in collective intelligence also give us economic bubbles, crashes, and global financial crises—the madness of mobs rather than the wisdom of crowds.”

Groups can form based on hate—often unconsciously—through the forces of natural selection, and such alliances can reduce our collective intelligence and cause great societal harm, the researchers say.

Humans naturally tend to anchor toward their original beliefs (Tversky and Kahnemen, 1974). Lo and Zhang’s research explores the present-day implications of this principle. When people are presented with new information—whether via news services or social media posts—there will be a group that believes this information regardless of its accuracy. And despite the small size of the initial group, engagement-based recommender systems can quickly amplify these beliefs, causing exponential growth of populations with polarized beliefs via typical evolutionary dynamics.

“Simply put, evolution can drive our prejudices,” says Zhang. “Since Darwin’s publication of Origins of Species in 1859, we have known that groups compete in order to survive. Competition exists alongside cooperation in ways that can propel us to new heights—such as the global collaboration that produced our COVID-19 vaccines. But it can also plunge us to new lows—such as state-sponsored terrorism, societies with polarized opinions, and hate crimes toward underrepresented groups.”

The authors recommend fostering environments in which the desired behavior of collective intelligence will emerge naturally through evolutionary dynamics, rather than simply regulating against the undesired outcome—which could create selective pressures that make things worse. Strategies to encourage such an environment include proactively providing social, educational, and economic opportunities for underrepresented groups to counteract negative feedback loops, as well as providing lessons and activities for children to interact with each other with diverse backgrounds, to develop more accurate perceptions of people from other groups. The most effective policies will prevent negative feedback loops from emerging.

“Given today’s near-instantaneous transmission of news, it’s now more important than ever to make sure we have the right tools and the right environment in which the wisdom of crowds can emerge naturally to forestall the madness of mobs,” says Lo.

Reference: “The wisdom of crowds versus the madness of mobs: An evolutionary model of bias, polarization, and other challenges to collective intelligence” by Andrew W. Lo and Ruixun Zhang, 9 September 2022, Collective Intelligence.
DOI: 10.1177/26339137221104785

8 Comments on "New Study Uncovers Surprising Connection Between Evolution and Discrimination"

  1. Given that the world’s population is around 8 billion, this statement in the above article is a little surprising…

    “social media use has continued to rise, with an estimated 470 billion users globally (DataReportal, July 2020).”

  2. Charles G. Shaver | January 9, 2023 at 8:34 am | Reply

    Nothing new in the title, birds (minimally) have been practicing discrimination for eons (e.g., “birds of a feather…”), essential for many species to survive. In the case of humanity, where the authors got it wrong was by misinterpreting some basic dynamics of life to be optional and misinterpreting some common labels to be accurate. ‘Total equality’ is a function of the unconscious mind and consciousness may be defined as “the ability to discriminate.” Most of humanity simply ranges between the two as situations demand but in recent centuries to decades a relative few have chosen to dwell in a less conscious state and drag the rest of us down with them (e.g., Covid-19 ‘scamdemic;’ totalitarian capitalists and communists).

    Then, too, from the perspective of a religiously independent senior lay American male, there are no such things as ‘love’ and ‘hate,’ simply a spectrum of sociability that spans from total acceptance to complete rejection. Affection and ‘being in-love’ are disparate, emotional, matters. Where the less conscious globalists are getting it wrong is to violate existing laws of nature and rules of human behavior, unsuccessfully trying to convert us all to subhuman ‘hive-minds’ like their own (e.g., queens and drones) without first addressing essential basics; common culture and common language. I have determined these things for myself by having been born and raised in the US under the US Constitution, with the only constitutional language being English (requiring only 26 letters to explain anything and everything, when most of the official ‘bleedership’ was more conscious. More specifically, as I have also determined for myself, as ‘necessity’ is the ‘mother of invention,’ so too ‘laziness’ is the ‘father.’ Drones don’t invent much, especially more affluent ones.

  3. I think this entire report is a bunch of woke dross and chaff. It must have been a type of 470 million users would certainly be understandable, but 470 billion seems lazy unscientific and seems to regard its audience as being a bunch of peasants who are too stupid to calculate the numbers mentioned in the article. The overall scolding tone of the article that if you don’t agree with it, you’re some kind of intolerant so-and-so. Seems to imply that only intelligent well-minded people will slavishly read every word with delirious abandon and gobble greedily the indoctrinated words. This doesn’t seem to be so much science as wishful thinking disguised as lazy social media manipulation. Just my opinion of course.

    • No, you’re correct. This is a site for scientific articles, but so many of the “soft sciences” are now melted into a disorganized mess of toxic political drama. This is a result of such nonsense. Ten years ago, there would have been a swarm of angry fem-in-is-ts flocking in to attack a comment like yours or mine. Useless courses like “gender studies” are at the origin of this drivel. It is no longer a secret. Today, the world is coming to recognize the difference between genuine need of people who need help, and the cluster B personality disordered thought leaders who get money for standing on the backs of such people without actually helping them. Among the few responses to those who feel entitled to judge you without knowing you is, “When I want your opinion on who I am, I’ll give it to you.” They are powerless if they can’t gaslight your mind.

  4. Self perpetuating drivel for people who believe everything they read.

  5. I think the demographics that have earned their rights are wondering why the same rights are freely given to others who are unappreciative and/or undeserving. It’s one thing to help, protect and serve others in need, it’s another thing to listen to the whining of overprivileged and toxic people complain of their own oppression over those who truly do need the help. It’s one thing to assist anyone who is trying to help themselves, it is quite another to hand over free sh!t at the expense of our own people. It is one thing to learn humility and working together, it is quite another for toxic thought leaders to monopolize and manipulate what people generally believe. It is one thing to educate about genuine diversity, it is quite another to create a rigid political protocol on who is permitted to say what in the name of diversity.

    Let’s not reframe hypocrisy as something else, okay? Those who point their fingers at us have three fingers pointing back at themselves.

  6. The connection with “evolution” is not apparent in this overview.

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