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  • The Azimuth Team

Human Brain Over-Estimates Minority Numbers

Updated: May 23, 2022

According to a new study by Azimuth Advisor Ran Hassin and colleagues, the human brain dramatically over-estimates the number of minorities in a given population. Hassin is one of Israel's leading cognitive psychologists, and as has been true for much of Ran's previous research, the political implications of his findings are profound.

In US-based lab experiments, Hassin and colleagues showed respondents pictures of Black and White individuals in rapid succession. Although Blacks made up only 25% of the total, both White and Black subjects estimated Black prevalence at over 40%.

In Jerusalem, similarly, Hassin and colleagues asked Arab and Jewish university students to estimate the percentage of Arabs on campus. Although the real proportion was 12%, both Arabs and Jews estimated the true number at over 30 percent. Much to Hassin's surprise, the estimators' personal political opinions - namely, their support for liberal or conservative positions on the Arab-Israeli relations - did not affect their estimations. Over-estimating the prevalence of minorities is a universal human phenomenon, it seems, rather than an attribute of this or that political group.

The study has important political implications. If members of the majority population routinely think that minorities are far more numerous than they truly are, their fear of being overwhelmed by newcomers and "others" will increase. Their support for diversity-promoting policies, by contrast, will drop. Minorities, conversely, may over-estimate their social, demographic and political power, taking risks that the numbers do not warrant.

It's not too much of a stretch to link these findings to the "Great Replacement Theory" currently making the rounds on white supremacist websites. According to this theory, Western elites (including "the Jews") are engineering a demographic transformation of Europe and North America, reducing whites to a powerless minority through the importation of people of color via immigration, asylum programs, and the like. These elites' intention is to create a more malleable electorate that will allow them to pursue their own nefarious policies.

If Hassin and his colleague's findings are correct, advocates of the Great Replacement Theory may be motivated, in part, by a common human tendency to misperceive the true number of minorities in a given population, regardless of the estimator's actual political orientation.

To read more, check out this article in Israel's leading daily, Haaretz, or this one in the Scientific American.


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