Outgroup Homogeneity Bias


Someone I know was posting a bunch of common cognitive biases recently, and described something called the Outgroup Homogeneity Bias. Wikipedia says, “According to the outgroup homogeneity bias, individuals see members of their own group as being relatively more varied than members of other groups.”

This of course can be applied to all kinds of things. Right now I want to quote a few people, though. Keep in mind, the groups don’t even have to objectively exist, this stuff also applies to perceived grouping, is in fact possibly an artifact of perceived grouping.

Here is what Stephen Shore says about which autistic people he believes to be mostly alike, and which autistic people he believes show more variation:

The high-functioning Asperger portion of this syndrome has the greatest diversity in shapes because the variation in presentation along with the number of people with autism in this area is the greatest.

This is accompanied by a graph, as shown on this page (scroll down to the part called “The Autism Spectrum”). It shows an arrow saying “increasing variability of presentation”, where the “most variable” people (“HFA/AS”) are supposedly the “least autistic” people, and the “Kanner’s” people are more alike.

Then you have the exact opposite, as stated by Donna Williams:

As a consultant in the field of Autism for the last ten years I have seen many people diagnosed at both the Autistic and Asperger’s end of the spectrum. I have found that Aspies are a far more homegenous group than those with Autism.

Stephen Shore views himself as on the extreme “HFA/AS” end of the autistic spectrum. Donna Williams views herself as part of the “autistic” end of the spectrum. Stephen shore views “Kanner autistics” as more homogenous. Donna Williams views “aspies” as more homogenous.

And many autistic people seem to view non-autistic people as more or less homogenous, and vice versa. And, as I said, this applies to many other things. Sometimes, when you see a group of people (a real one or one you imagine) in your head, as all being the same, it’s because you don’t view yourself as one of that group of people, and you’re falling into that kind of bias.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

12 responses »

  1. To state the obvious, what you’re describing is basically the “all Asians look alike” kind of claim.

    Donna Williams views herself as part of the “autistic” end of the spectrum

    I don’t like that sort of use of “autistic” there. It puts in words the idea that HFA/AS is not really autism, something promoted by many curebies (except curebies who happen to be parents of HFA/AS kids). I don’t know if Donna Williams feels that way, but that’s how it comes across.

  2. How many times have people seen NTs (neurotypicals) referred to as being all alike, all following each other in a blind groupthink way, blah, blah, blah, while us autistics are unique and different. Sounds like the same thing to me.

  3. Hey,
    I’ve been reading your blog for weeks now and this one prompted me to write. I just wanna say that I love the way you put things in their place. You’re right on most of the time and your fearless expression of the truth has kept me up late at night squinting straining my eyes reading your page. Thanks for saying the stuff that needs to be said. You have fascinated, shocked, inspired, horrified, and elated me.
    My son is an autistic 3 year old. I’m really tired of hearing the same crap from therapists and parents telling me about my kid and how to change him. They brag about how they “cured” their kid of autism with their brand of therapy. I don’t want some little robot who eats cardboard for breakfast. I just want my happy kid. That makes me very lonely in the “parental autistic community.”
    You and your blog have, in a way, sort of connected me to a part of myself that is fine being ok with everything. And that has brought me and my son closer when I already thought we couldn’t be closer.
    Just, thanks for doing what you do.
    Now GO! Go write something mean about me and put ME in my place! Only kidding! Please!
    In Solidarity,

  4. I think some of it also has to do with default settings. “Dominant” groups such as whites or straights view themselves as the default, and usually aren’t forced to adapt themselves to rules established by another group. I feel this means they have to do less self-examination, and are less likely to notice the sameness or difference in their midst.

  5. It’s not just done by dominant groups to non-dominant groups though. (Although dominant groups can do far more harm when doing this, than non-dominant groups can, because, well, they’re dominant.)

  6. Yup, I’ve definitely noticed that one…and one thing I’ve been rather surprised to see (though I suppose I shouldn’t have been in retrospect since thinking this probably indicates a kind of bias on my part) is autistics claiming that all NTs are the same. Every single person I’ve ever met has been different from everyone else I’ve met, regardless of how you might be about to group or sub-group them along category lines.

  7. I wrote a comment yesterday here that must have got lost in the spam-wars. It was about how my students have showed me the neurodiversity among NTs, which actually is one of the more interesting things that my students have given me the opportunity to learn.

  8. Joel, Blind people are not blind to the metaphorical use of the word blind, nothing is more offensive than moderating your speech and avoiding the use of phrases that use blind as a metaphor to avoid upsetting your unsighted interlocutor, you draw attention to your embarrasment about there natural state of being.

  9. …out of curiosity, is there a formal name for the bias whereby someone believes “I know one of Those People, so because they’re all the same, now I know about every single one of them?” Or is that just a variation on outgroup homogeneity bias? Because if there *is* a name, I’d love to be able to call people on it when I catch them doing it.

  10. I’ve seen blind people who respond both ways, and it’s certainly not something to do tons of groveling over and such. At the same time, however, *I* get offended when autistic is used as a synonym for dumb or anti-social, such as in the context of an “autistic foreign policy.”

    As for my embarrassment about their natural sense of being, I truly can say that I don’t have that, nor am I doing it to avoid upsetting someone. Nor is it even that I’m uncomfortable around blind people. It’s for different reason entirely, and I am pretty sure that I am the expert on my motives. :)

  11. Aside from the homogeneity business, that graph seems to get the DSM model of the spectrum wrong. From what we understand, what the DSM does isn’t so much measuring ‘severity’ as it is counting ‘symptoms’. Roughly speaking, the theory goes that Kanner’s/LFA = doesn’t speak (normally), HFA = didn’t speak (normally) as a child but does now, Asperger’s = spoke (normally) as a child and has the required number of other symptoms, PDD-NOS = not enough symptoms for Asperger’s but still autistic (or ‘on the autism spectrum’ for those who wish to call a spade a digging implement to be used with two hands).

    Of course this is no use at all in determining what someone can and can’t do, and hence what kind of assistance is needed; however, the people responsible for rendering assistance often take the labels to refer to ‘severity’, so that if you have X diagnosis you don’t qualify for Y kind of assistance. Or one thing is seen mostly through a neurological paradigm and another mostly through a psychiatric paradigm. And all of it is often seen through an intellectual paradigm, where if you understand something you must be able do do it/do something about it; high IQ ‘compensating’ for autism and all that.

    Berke: It’s got to be something other (but probably inclusive of) outgroup homogeneity bias, because think of, say, the autistic people who think they know all about autism and being autistic because they know themselves.

    laurentius-rex and Joel: Perhaps autism-as-metaphor is more harmful than blindness-as-metaphor; it’s the same kind of thing, confusing something about a person that they can’t change with something they can change, something intentional & moral, but autism is already thought of like that much more than blindness is. “My child won’t listen” / “Autistic people withdraw into their own world” / “You’re ignoring me”, and calling meltdowns tantrums and all that rot. Same problem with mental disability: people using terms indicating low IQ (whatever that is) to say they consider someone to be stupid/wilfully ignorant/refusing to think well. With blindness metaphors, people are more (though not always sufficiently) aware that they’re metaphors.

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