Background. Normative universalism involves making evaluations and decisions according to a universal rule, irrespective of one’s affiliation and relations with other people. Social categorization is the main cognitive mechanism underlying deviations from universalism. When there are several salient alternative social identities, there is a possibility of counterbalancing effects among different social biases, leading to unbiased decisions or judgments (i.e., practical universalism).
Objective. The present study investigates whether multiple categorization can induce alternative social biases, which counterbalance each other and produce universalistic solutions at both the individual and group levels.
Design. A socially heterogeneous sample of Russian participants (N=300) made a series of binary choices in a hypothetical situation posing two social alternatives, each of which was presented as a set of social categories unrelated to the task: country, gender, age, and sector of employment.
Results. When faced with a series of choices involving multiple social categorization, the participants tended to pursue different types of biased strategies. The most frequent were country ingroup preference (31.7%) and low status aversion (17.7%). Practical universalism was identified in 2% of cases. Group-level results showed strong ingroup preference and high-status preference, which are two independent sources of bias. At the same time, the diversity of individual strategies allowed the participants to identify conditions (specific combinations of social attributes) under which the biases counterbalanced each other and resulted in universalistic solutions.
Conclusion. Individuals respond strategically to multiple categorization. Universalistic strategies are seldom applied at the individual level, but the diversity of individual strategies provides opportunities for universalistic solutions at the group level.
Keywords: universalism; particularism; multiple social categorization; social bias; social status.