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Monday, September 22, 2014

Mental "Glitches" Are Slowing EV Sales (Part 4 - Ingroup Bias)

Welcome to part 4. In this series, we are looking at the cognitive biases and logical fallacies that all of us have and how these could be impacting the mass adoption of plug-in vehicles. We have looked at Cognitive DissonanceStatus Quo Bias, and Confirmation Bias. In this post we'll be looking at Ingroup Bias.

Ingroup Bias

We are social creatures. Our brains are wired to support our family and our tribe. We distinguish between those within this circle and those that are "other". In our modern world, this is expanded to patriotism, religious affiliation, political parties, and even sport fandom. 

The ingroup bias is an expression of this tribal loyalty. 


The biology of this effect is associated with oxytocin, the so-called "love molecule." This neurotransmitter helps us to forge tight bonds with our ingroup. It also spurs suspicious, fearful, and even disdainful of people not from our ingroup. This bias causes us to overvalue the opinions of our ingroup. This could be at the expense of ignoring experts that are far more qualified to offer advice.

The ingroup bias is another bias for the familiar. Much like the status quo bias causes us to prefer familiar methods and the confirmation bias causes us to prefer ideas that we already believe, the ingroup bias causes us to prefer people that we already know.

Ingroup Bias Applied to Plug-in Vehicles 

Plug-in cars were the subject of scorn and ridicule by several conservative talk radio and opinion 'news' shows. They painted a picture of EVs as gutless golf carts only driven by liberal tree huggers and, therefore, not something for a "real American." This made plug-in cars a hot political issue. In 2012, GM said that the Chevy Volt was designed to pass crash testing, but not as a political football.


For a product to move to mass adoption, it has to transcend political groups. Smartphones, for example, are neither conservative nor liberal. The early marketing for EVs that focused on the environmental impacts, such as Nissan's polar bear ads, contributed to the division.

The good news is that this is changing. EV advertising has moved from environmental benefits to the more traditional joy of driving focus. This shift happened as more cars became available and the focus shifted from the early adopters of 2011 and 2012 to a wider scope of potential buyers.

Despite the shift, some of the tribal fractures from 2011/2012 still persist. If you are confronted with these, you must be tactful in your responses. Find out what matters to them and discuss how plug-in cars can help meet those needs. E.g., if they are concerned with the environment, that is easy, discuss the CO2 reductions by driving electric and how these can be even lower when the vehicle is renewably powered. If they are not environmentally minded, don't even bring this aspect up. Or if it comes up because they say something like, global warming is BS. You can tell them that Bob Lutz from GM felt the same way and he was the major force at GM that made the Volt. There are many other reasons beyond CO2 and global warming that EVs are great cars. Are they concerned with their monthly budget? There are lease deals for less than $150. This is less than what many people are spending monthly on gasoline. Are they concerned with government spending and national debt? The bulk of our defence spending in the middle east is to secure oil extraction and transportation routes. What about performance and safety...

Your perspective matters, but it is not the only one
If you are going to address the public as a plug-in advocate, you should be able to address all of these issues. It is important to be able to discuss what brought you to be behind the wheel of an EV, but you have to be able to articulate aspects EV ownership that work for other people as well.

You don't want argue with someone that their perspective is not valid. When you do, you paint yourself as part of their outgroup. Then you have no credibility with them. Can you address misconceptions? Sure, you can, but in a 5 minute conversation, you are generally far better off finding something that peaks their interest and starts them down the road to discover more information on their own.