Commonality leads to trust and acceptance

August 20, 2023

Listen to this article

Commonality leads to trust and acceptance

For many years, Alicia and I have been teaching and writing that commonality is one of the main drivers of both trust, acceptance and a sense of belonging to the same tribe.

We have also said this was true whether you were looking at the interaction between two individuals, the members of a club, corporate department, a firm or even a nation state. We based our ideas about the power of shared interests, beliefs, assumptions and even physical characteristics on our own, and other researchers’ evolutionary studies and on what we have gleaned from research in behavioral neurogenetics.

A new study reinforces this concept by looking at the relationships between Muslim Americans and non-Muslim Americans.

In the study, the attitudes of non-Muslim American participants towards Muslim Americans who identified strongly with both parts of their dual identity—Muslim and American—were just as positive as their attitudes towards Muslim Americans who identified only as American. In addition, exposure to dual-identified Muslim Americans was linked to more positive attitudes towards non-American Muslims. The same was also found in the American Mexican context. The findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Many prior studies have shown that people tend to have positive attitudes towards others who are part of their own social ingroup and negative attitudes towards outgroup members. However, people increasingly encounter individuals with dual or multiple social identities, and relatively few studies have examined people’s attitudes towards others with dual identities that simultaneously include both an ingroup and an outgroup.

To help deepen understanding of such attitudes, the researchers conducted a series of survey-based analyses involving a total of several hundred American participants. The researchers first evaluated non-Muslim American participants’ attitudes towards Muslim Americans who identified more strongly as Americans (the ingroup), as Muslims (the outgroup), or as both, equally. They also conducted a similar analysis focused on Mexican Americans.

In the context of both Muslim Americans and Mexican Americans, the analyses showed that participants’ attitudes towards people who equally strongly identified with both the ingroup and outgroup parts of their identity (dual-identified) were just as positive as towards those who primarily identified with the ingroup.

There were also signs of a “gateway group effect”: exposure to strongly dual-identified people was associated with more positive attitudes towards the relevant outgroup—that is, non-American Muslims or non-American Mexicans. However, when people with dual identities identified more strongly with the outgroup part of their identity (Muslim or Mexican), the gateway effect disappeared, and attitudes towards the outgroup sometimes became more negative.

What the researchers say: “Many people believe that to be fully accepted by a host culture, minority groups must assimilate with the majority culture (e.g., Latinx immigrants becoming more American). However, our findings suggest that, in terms of intergroup attitudes, explicitly embracing both identities (e.g., Latinx & American) can be as beneficial as fully assimilating only to the majority identity,” the researchers said. “This means that minorities may not need to relinquish any part of their identity as long as they also identify with the majority group identity. Moreover, we have found that the positive influence of the dual identification is also extended to the corresponding outgroup (e.g., the relationship between non-Latinx Americans and Latin America), with the dual-identity group serving as a gateway to more positive intergroup attitudes.”

So, what? This is an important study because it shows that people can get along, and collaborate, just fine if they have sufficient commonality, even if there are a significant number of elements that they don’t share.

As we have said before, commonality has to be emphasized, and articulated, in order for it to have an effect on trust and acceptance. This is as true in the business world as it is in any other sphere.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

Join the discussion

Join our tribe

Subscribe to Dr. Bob Murray’s Today’s Research, a free weekly roundup of the latest research in a wide range of scientific disciplines. Explore leadership, strategy, culture, business and social trends, and executive health.

Thank you for subscribing.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Check your details and try again.