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How humanity can work together to solve global challenges

In our increasingly interconnected world, the global challenges faced by humanity – from the climate crisis to issues like poverty and food insecurity – demand unified action. Yet, how can diverse global populations be encouraged to work together towards such common goals?

A new study offers some clues, suggesting that recognizing our shared experiences and biological connections may be the key to fostering a sense of global unity.

Bridging divides through social bonds

Researchers at the University of Oxford set out to explore the potential of “identity fusion” to promote prosocial action to tackle major challenges on a global scale

“From tackling the climate crisis to preventing nuclear war, many of the world’s largest-scale collective action problems require global cohesion and prosocial action. However, human group alignments are typically parochial, prioritizing regional, national, or local interests over global ones,” wrote the study authors.

“Is it possible to create new forms of social cohesion on a global scale, capable of transcending and overcoming parochial concerns?”

The study reveals a significant finding. Recognizing our globally shared experiences and biology can strengthen our psychological connection to all of humanity. This sense of belonging motivates actions that benefit the global community and tackle pressing worldwide problems.

Expanding the scope of unity

Shared ancestry and transformative experiences drive social cohesion primarily within smaller groups such as nations or religious communities. However, the study suggests that extending these factors to the global population could lead to a stronger, more unified world.

Study first author Lukas Reinhardt is the leader of the Global Cohesion Lab at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion (CSSC).

“Us-vs-them thinking is on the rise globally, exacerbating conflicts and complicating efforts to solve global problems. Our research, however, suggests that fostering a shared global identity could facilitate cooperation on a global level,” said Reinhardt.

Empirical evidence of unity

The study involved two significant experiments with over 1,000 participants from the United States. In one experiment, participants viewed a TED Talk. It illustrated that all humans share a common ancestry, which metaphorically portrays us as one large human family.

After viewing the talk, participants reported stronger psychological bonds with humanity at large compared to those who had not seen the video. Interestingly, they also felt a stronger connection to individuals from opposing political parties.

Shared experiences: Motherhood and beyond

Another part of the research focused on shared experiences, specifically motherhood. The experts found that mothers who recognized shared maternal experiences with other women worldwide reported stronger social bonds with them.

This connection was visually represented through images of overlapping circles, with greater overlap indicating stronger bonds.

The impact of these strengthened bonds was not just theoretical but translated into concrete prosocial actions. The researchers employed a behavioral economics tool to measure this. They asked participants how they would distribute money between different groups.

As a result, the findings indicated that participants who felt a stronger connection to humanity were more inclined to act in favor of the collective good.

Uniting humanity to tackle global challenges

“At the CSSC we have been studying for years these two pathways to strong forms of group cohesion – based on shared biology and shared experiences – but this is the first time we have shown that we can create powerful bonds uniting all of humanity. If we can do this in a simple experiment, we can develop far more powerful methods of motivating action on global problems in the future,” said study co-author Professor Harvey Whitehouse, director of the CSSC.

“Remembering that we are all related and all experience many of the same challenges in life could be the key to addressing a wide range of global problems, from intergroup conflicts to extreme poverty and the climate crisis.”

This innovative research underscores the potential of shared human experiences and biology to bridge global divides. By cultivating a broader sense of identity and interconnectedness, it is possible to enhance cooperation across borders and tackle the global challenges that impact all of humanity.

The study is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.


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