In a new study, psychologists found that those who participated in a randomly designed ritual were less likely to trust those they perceived as belonging to an outgroup.
Researchers gave college students rituals to perform over the course of a week after asking them to estimate a number of dots in images. Students who had one ritual were told on their return that they had under-estimated the number of dots and belonged to a "red" team, whereas students who had another ritual were told they had over-estimated and belonged to a "blue" team. Then, everyone performed their ritual another time and sat down to play a trust-based computer game with a partner.
In the game's setup, a base amount of money would be tripled if participants sent it to their partner, and they would have to choose whether to trust the partner to send half of the new amount back to them. Results showed that those who played the game with a member of the opposite team entrusted their partners with less virtual money.
Researchers controlled for separate outgroup bias and the difficulty of the ritual task by trying the experiment with easier and less-practiced rituals, which were not associated with changes in behavior toward an outgroup, unlike the more complex rituals in the main study.