The Negative Effects of Tribalism: Uniting Beyond Divisions

People Protesting - The Negative Effects of Tribalism | Happiness 2.0


Human societies have always displayed a tendency towards tribalism, where individuals align themselves with groups that share their beliefs, values, or identities. While social cohesion and a sense of belonging can be positive outcomes of tribalism, its negative effects on individuals and communities cannot be overlooked. In this blog post, we will explore in detail the detrimental consequences of tribalism and highlight scientific studies that shed light on this phenomenon.

I. Polarization and Conflict

Tribalism often leads to polarization and conflict, creating divisions among people. In a seminal study conducted by Drury and Reicher (2009), researchers examined the dynamics of crowds during mass gatherings and protests. They found that individuals tend to categorize themselves and others into “us” versus “them” groups, leading to an “in-group bias” where positive attitudes and behaviors are shown towards members of one’s own group while negative attitudes and behaviors are directed at those outside the group. This ingroup bias contributes to social polarization and can escalate tensions between different groups.

Moreover, a study published in the journal Nature by Centola et al. (2018) revealed that tribalism can escalate conflicts and hinder social cooperation. The researchers conducted an online experiment where participants were divided into groups. The study demonstrated that when individuals were exposed to homogeneous groups and incentives that favored cooperation within the group, it led to increased polarization and reduced cooperation between different groups. This finding emphasizes the negative consequences of tribalism, as it fosters division and hampers collaborative efforts that are essential for addressing complex societal challenges.

II. Erosion of Empathy and Understanding

Tribalism often fuels prejudice and diminishes empathy, resulting in an erosion of understanding between groups. A pioneering study by Dapretto et al. (2006) used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural responses of individuals while processing information about members of their own racial group and members of other racial groups. The results indicated that individuals exhibited stronger activation in brain regions associated with empathy when processing information about their own racial group compared to other racial groups, suggesting a bias in empathy based on tribal affiliations. This bias in empathy can perpetuate stereotypes and hinder the development of harmonious intergroup relations.

Furthermore, tribalism can lead to the creation and perpetuation of stereotypes. A study conducted by Hewstone et al. (2002) explored the effects of intergroup contact on reducing stereotypes and prejudice. The researchers found that increased contact between groups led to more positive intergroup attitudes, as it provided an opportunity for individuals to challenge and revise their preconceived notions about other groups. This highlights the importance of fostering connections and promoting understanding between different tribes to counteract the negative effects of tribalism.

III. Stagnation of Progress and Innovation

One of the significant negative effects of tribalism is the stagnation of progress and innovation. When individuals are locked into rigid group identities, they tend to resist new ideas, alternative perspectives, and constructive criticism from outside their group. This closed-mindedness impedes intellectual growth and inhibits the advancement of society as a whole.

In a study published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Homan et al. (2015) investigated the impact of group identity on creativity and problem-solving. The findings revealed that when individuals strongly identified with a group, they were less likely to consider alternative solutions and exhibited a decrease in creative problem-solving abilities. This stifling effect of tribalism on innovation is detrimental to societal progress, as breakthroughs often arise from diverse perspectives and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Lastly, tribalism can lead to the formation of echo chambers, where individuals only seek information and opinions that align with their group’s views. This confirmation bias inhibits critical thinking, undermines intellectual diversity, and hinders the exploration of new ideas. In a rapidly changing world, embracing diversity of thought and fostering an environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas is crucial for driving innovation and finding effective solutions to complex problems.


While tribalism may provide a sense of identity and belonging, its negative effects on individuals, communities, and societal progress cannot be overstated. The studies mentioned in this blog post illustrate the detrimental consequences of tribalism, including polarization and conflict, erosion of empathy and understanding, and the stagnation of progress and innovation. As we strive for a more inclusive and harmonious world, it is crucial to recognize and address the negative effects of tribalism, fostering unity and cooperation across diverse groups for the betterment of society as a whole. By embracing diversity, promoting empathy, and encouraging open-mindedness, we can mitigate the negative effects of tribalism and work towards a more interconnected and prosperous future.

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