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New knowledge for old credences: Asymmetric information search about in-group and out-group members


Simona Sacchi, Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, P.zza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1 20126, Milan, Italy (e-mail:


Three experiments examined how people gather information on in-group and out-group members. Previous studies have revealed that category-based expectancies bias the hypothesis-testing process towards confirmation through the use of asymmetric-confirming questions (which are queries where the replies supporting the prior expectancies are more informative than those falsifying them). However, to date there is no empirical investigation of the use of such a question-asking strategy in an intergroup context. In the present studies, participants were asked to produce (Study 1) or to choose (Studies 2 and 3) questions in order to investigate the presence of various traits in an in-group or an out-group member. Traits were manipulated by valence and typicality. The results revealed that category-based expectancies do not always lead to asymmetric-confirming testing: whereas participants tended to ask questions that confirmed positive in-group and negative out-group stereotypical attributes, they used a more symmetric strategy when testing for the presence of negative in-group or positive out-group traits. Moreover, Study 3 also revealed a moderation effect of in-group identification. The findings point to the role played by motivational factors associated with preserving a positive social identity. Possible consequences of these hypothesis-testing processes in preserving a positive social identity for intergroup relations are discussed.