An Information Sampling Explanation for the In-Group Heterogeneity Effect

Authors: Elizaveta Konovalova and Gaël Le Mens

Psychological Review, Vol. 127, No 1, 47-73, January, 2020

People often perceive their in-groups as more heterogeneous than their out-groups. We propose an information sampling explanation for this in-group heterogeneity effect. We note that people frequently obtain larger samples of information about in-groups than about out-groups. Using computer simulations, we show that this asymmetry in sample sizes implies the in-group heterogeneity effect under a wide range of assumptions about how experience affects perceived variability. This is the case even when perceived variability is the outcome of rational information processing, implying that the structure of the environment is sufficient to explain the emergence of the in-group heterogeneity effect. A key assumption of our explanation is that perceived group variability depends on the size of the sample observed about this group. We provide evidence in support for this assumption in two experiments. Our results considerably expand the scope and relevance of a prior sampling explanation proposed by Linville, Fischer, and Salovey (1989). They also complement other explanations that proposed that information about in-groups and out-groups is processed differently.