Human Nature

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 1–27 | Cite as

Different Selection Pressures Give Rise to Distinct Ethnic Phenomena

A Functionalist Framework with Illustrations from the Peruvian Altiplano
  • Cristina MoyaEmail author
  • Robert Boyd


Many accounts of ethnic phenomena imply that processes such as stereotyping, essentialism, ethnocentrism, and intergroup hostility stem from a unitary adaptation for reasoning about groups. This is partly justified by the phenomena’s co-occurrence in correlational studies. Here we argue that these behaviors are better modeled as functionally independent adaptations that arose in response to different selection pressures throughout human evolution. As such, different mechanisms may be triggered by different group boundaries within a single society. We illustrate this functionalist framework using ethnographic work from the Quechua-Aymara language boundary in the Peruvian Altiplano. We show that different group boundaries motivate different ethnic phenomena. For example, people have strong stereotypes about socioeconomic categories, which are not cooperative units, whereas they hold fewer stereotypes about communities, which are the primary focus of cooperative activity. We also show that, despite the cross-cultural importance of ethnolinguistic boundaries, the Quechua-Aymara linguistic distinction does not strongly motivate any of these intergroup processes.


Ethnicity Categorization Intergroup relations Stereotyping Essentialism Cooperation 



We thank our participants in Huatasani and our research assistants in the field: Saida Calancho, Mesa Dobek, and Sandy Enriquez. Clark Barrett, Dan Fessler, and three anonymous reviewers gave constructive feedback on earlier versions of this paper. This research was supported by National Institutes of Health grant 1RC1TW008631 and an International Cognition and Culture Institute mini-grant. This work was exempted by the UCLA Office for the Protection of Research Subjects, #08-169.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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