Word Order and World Order: Titles of Intergroup Conflicts May Increase Ethnocentrism by Mentioning the In-Group First

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Abstract

The title of a historical event is usually the first thing we learn about that event. This article investigates whether group order in supposedly neutral conflict titles (e.g., Polish–Russian War) is systematically biased toward naming the in-group first (e.g., Polish–Russian War in Polish; Russian–Polish War in Russian) and whether group order affects perceptions of the groups involved. Based on linguistic evidence that individuals have the tendency to name themselves first, we expected and found a systematic tendency to name the in-group first in N = 172 real-world titles of historical conflicts from more than 40 languages (Study 1), under controlled conditions with participants from different cultures (Studies 2a and 2b), and in a minimal group experiment (Study 3), which identifies group membership as a crucial factor and rules out alternative explanations. Furthermore, based on findings on perception, it is predicted and found in 3 studies (Study 4, 5a, and 5b) that a group is perceived as more important when mentioned first rather than second. This effect depended, however, on group order in the questions asked. Additionally, the first group was consistently associated with more power. Combined, seemingly neutral conflict titles may therefore increase ethnocentrism as it is the in-group that is mostly mentioned first and because of that perceived as more important.

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