The evolution of strongly-held group identities through agent-based cooperation

Abstract Identity fusion represents a strongly-held personal identity that significantly overlaps with that of a group, and is the current best explanation as to why individuals become empowered to act with extreme self-sacrifice for a group of non-kin. This is widely seen and documented, yet how identity fusion is promoted by evolution is not well-understood, being seemingly counter to the selfish pursuit of survival. In this paper we extend agent-based modelling to explore how and why identity fusion can establish itself in an unrelated population with no previous shared experiences. Using indirect reciprocity to provide a framework for agent interaction, we enable agents to express their identity fusion towards a group, and observe the effects of potential behaviours that are incentivised by a heightened fusion level. These build on the social psychology literature and involve heightened sensitivity of fused individuals to perceived hypocritical group support from others. We find that simple self-referential judgement and ignorance of perceived hypocrites is sufficient to promote identity fusion and this is easily triggered by a sub-group of the population. Interestingly the self-referential judgement that we impose is an individual-level behaviour with no direct collective benefit shared by the population. The study provides clues, beyond qualitative and observational studies, as to how hypocrisy may have established itself to reinforce the collective benefit of a fused group identity. It also provides an alternative perspective on the controversial proposition of group selection - showing how fluidity between an individual’s reputation and that of a group may function and influence selection as a consequence of identity fusion.
  • Roger Whitaker (Cardiff)
  • Gualtiero Colombo (Cardiff)
  • Yarrow Dunham (Yale)
Date Jun-2021
Venue Scientific Reports volume 11, Article number: 12071 (2021)