While observational evidence suggests that people behave more prosaically toward members of their own ethnic group, many laboratory studies fail to find this effect.
To test this hypothesis, a study was conducted to make progress on this issue by examining a potential explanation for the incongruence between experimental and observational studies. In contrast to laboratory studies, which occur in a relatively low-stress environment, observational studies are more likely to reflect decisions made when individuals are under stress.
Under peaceful and low-stress conditions, ethnicity may be less salient; individuals may follow norms that dictate treating non-ethnic individuals and ethnic individuals similarly. However, when stress is high, ethnic preferences may rise to the surface.
In conclusion, the starting point of the study was the fact that while observational studies provide evidence that ethnicity is an important determinant of economic, social, and political outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa, many laboratory studies fail to find an effect of ethnicity on behavior.
The researchers examined the possibility that this difference is explained by the fact that ethnic preference may only emerge during times of stress, which is when important real-world decisions tend to be made.
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