Research Shows Parochial Cooperation and Competition Play Role in Carrying-Capacity Stress and Intergroup Conflict

Summary of:

De Dreu, C. K. W., Gross, J., Fariña, A., & Ma, Y. (2020). Group cooperation, carrying-capacity stress, and intergroup conflict. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24(9), 760-776.

Background & Theory

This article examines intergroup relations and conflict, specifically by evaluating group cooperation and carrying-capacity stress. As groups expand, carrying-capacity stress may do the same, leading to parochial cooperation and parochial competition. This article seeks to understand why this happens. Parochialism in this study is defined as having a narrow or limited outlook.

Research Question

The authors seek to address the following question:

  1. What roles do group cooperation and carrying-capacity stress play in intergroup conflict, specifically through parochialism?


The authors present an overview of numerous research experiments and findings related to the purpose of this article. They provide an overview specifically of research related to parochial cooperation, parochial competition, social categorization, how beliefs and preferences are formed (and how they become parochial), how we make decisions and how this impacts parochial actions, how we learn and change (and how bias is involved), and at a neurological level what parts of our brain are related to each of these areas. Additionally, the authors examine studies related to hormonal modulators, as there is evidence these also are related to parochial cooperation and parochial competition, and what future research would be helpful to further understand these matters.


The results show that many studies conducted resulted in a high likelihood of the groups engaging in parochial cooperation or parochial competition; it seems we are naturally more likely to choose to behave in this way, especially when strongly identifying with our ingroups. The authors note that parochialism may be the inherent cause of intergroup conflict and competition and that carrying-capacity stress can result from parochial cooperation. When this happens, it’s likely that parochial competition will follow.

Additionally, parochial cooperation and parochial competition don’t always occur together; the unique dependencies and boundaries of the groups and other factors determine this. They ultimately are two different concepts. The authors note that individuals inherently prefer their ingroup because they depend upon it and vice versa, which may become a habit of the group as a whole and is ultimately to help resolve social dilemmas within the ingroup. When two or more groups come alongside one another, there may be greater distinction between groups, an increase in carrying-capacity stress, and the formation of negative interdependencies, which result in conflict and competition. 

What This Means

  • Many of us have a natural bias for our ingroup that occurs at even a neurological level. 
  • Parochialism may be a natural instinct we have, though parochial cooperation and parochial competition often lead to intergroup conflict. 
  • Group cooperation may be the cause of carrying-capacity stress, as parochial cooperation may expand one’s group and place stress on the resources available to multiple groups. This can lead to parochial competition, and result in greater intergroup conflict.
  • When we only examine what is important to us, whether individually or as a group, intergroup relations are more likely to suffer and intergroup conflict is more likely to occur. Finding ways to remedy this is critical to further preventing and resolving intergroup conflict.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Finding ways to encourage groups to take on different perspectives may be a start to resolving intergroup conflict. Understanding the ways our brain operates may be helpful in creating perspective-taking activities, as it’s shown our bias starts early and at a neurological level.

For everyone: It’s perfectly acceptable to identify closely with people in your circle, but try to be aware of where you have bias, and try to think outside of your own world. This may help prevent conflict for you personally, and for your own group of friends, family, etc.