What are the origins of ethnocentrism? Again, Kinder and Kam define ethnocentrism as the psychological tendency to separate our social worlds into "us" and "them." From Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion:
Ethnocentrism is a mental habit. It is a predisposition to divide the human world into in-groups and out-groups. It is a readiness to reduce society to us and them. Or rather, it is a readiness to reduce society to us versus them. This division of humankind into in-group and out-group is not innocuous. Members of in-groups (until they prove otherwise) are assumed to be virtuous: friendly, cooperative, trustworthy, safe, and more. Members of out-groups (until they prove otherwise) are assumed to be the opposite: unfriendly, uncooperative, unworthy of trust, dangerous, and more. Symbols and practices become objects of attachment and pride when they belong to the in-group and objects of condescension, disdain, and (in extreme cases) hatred when they belong to out-groups. Ethnocentrism constitutes a readiness to act in favor of in-groups and in opposition to out-groups...A nice example of this, per my picture above, is the desire to take back "our" country. Apparently, we take it back from "them."
So where does ethnocentrism come from? In Us Against Them Kinder and Kam review four classic accounts:
1. Actual group conflictOverall, Kinder and Kam see truth in all these theories and suggest that a general theory of ethnocentrism should incorporate them all while addressing their limitations. For example, while actual group conflict can be a source of ethnocentrism, a great deal of of group "conflict" is more imagined than real. Fears of "those people" taking "our" jobs might be legitimate in certain cases, but it can also be a symptom of paranoia. A full account of ethnocentrism would have to explain the paranoia (imagined group conflict) along with the legitimate Malthusian struggles between groups. As another example, any genetic account of ethnocentrism will need to consider how social learning and education modify or eliminate our innate inclinations.
Ethnocentrism arises when real-world groups compete over scarce resources. For example, concerns over immigration (i.e., "those people") might intensify during periods of high unemployment.
2. A symptom of an authoritarian personality
Psychological research in the 1950s found that prejudices tend to be highly correlated. That is, people who are suspicious of, let's say, Jews, also tend to be suspicious of other out-groups: Blacks, gays, Hispanics, etc. What could explain this "generalized prejudice" (i.e., ethnocentrism)? It was argued that a certain personality type--the authoritarian personality--drove this generalized suspicion of out-groups. The authoritarian personality has been described as a rigid adherence to traditional values, a moralistic condemnation of those who violate "traditional" norms, a preoccupation with power, a disdain for empathy/charity, a cynical attitude about human nature and the general view that the world is a dangerous place.
3. The expression of social identity
Social psychological research suggests that identity is inherently a sense of "belonging." We define who we are in relation to some group. This process of social categorization causes us to accentuate the similarities amongst in-group members while accentuating our differences with out-group members.
4. A mental predisposition acquired through natural selection
Group selection accounts of human evolution have suggested that natural selection would have rewarded in-group favoritism and altruism. If so, in-group bias may be an evolved psychological trait.