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When Beliefs Become Realities: Motives and Strategies for Essentialising Intergroup Differences

1 December 2006 - 30 November 2008

PI/s in Exeter: Professor John Dupré

Research partners: In collaboration with Dr Thomas Morton (lead) and Professor Tom Postmes

Funding awarded: £ 136,711

Sponsor(s): ESRC

About the research

Social and scientific understandings of humans as biological beings have accelerated at a pace that is unparalleled. Explaining many domains of human nature in biological terms is relatively uncontroversial. However, using biological notions to explain human social behaviour can be. The relative contributions of biological (nature) and social influences (nurture) to differences between individuals (eg personality) and differences between social groups (eg men and women) has always been an area of heated debate - both within science and within society at large. The current research aims to understand the psychology behind such debates. The basic questions are: how do people explain differences between people in their social world? And, what leads certain explanations to be preferred over others (eg when do people prefer nature to nurture)?

Specifically, the research will investigate:

  • The psychological motivations (eg for power or for meaning) that lead people to adopt particular theoretical models to explain intergroup differences in society.
  • The role of specific social contexts (eg contexts of inequality) the popularisation of particular theoretical models of human behaviour.
  • The consequences of popularisation for how individuals respond to others in society (ie intergroup relations) and to themselves as members of social groups (ie self-perception)

Economic and Social Research Council