ASU's Origins Project will explore why we fear others

Separating the world into “in” groups and “out” groups is a long held trait of humans and other species on Earth. It has evolved along with the life forms that harbor it.

Is the reason for xenophobia a competition for resources? Is it based on deep-seated survival instincts? Is it in our genes? Has the time come to change it?

All of these questions will be addressed by ASU’s Origins Project in two public events that will explore “Xenophobia, why do we fear others?” on March 30 and 31.

“Immigration is a good current example of xenophobia,” said Lawrence Krauss, director of Origins. “Why is it that we, of all societies, fear immigrants like we do today? It has become nearly a daily topic in the news and a political hot point for those who want to be president. Do we need to change this thinking given Earth’s dwindling natural resources and the need to think globally about the sustainability of the planet, and not just consider the health of a society or country?”

To explore this, Origins will host two public events. One will detail the world of ants, where the protection of in groups has graphic and lethal consequences. The second will address broader manifestations of xenophobia and explore whether the time has come to change this behavior. In addition, Science Friday, NPR’s weekly science program, will address xenophobia in a portion of its broadcast on March 30, Krauss said.

Here are details of the two public events:

War and Peace in the World of Ants

6 p.m., March 30, room 191, Life Sciences A wing. Free, non-ticketed.

Pulitzer-Prize winning author and ASU Foundation professor Bert Hoelldobler will explain the world of ants and the parallels between ant and human conflict. This is the dilemma of social evolution – wherever closely integrated societies exist there is discrimination and rejection of foreigners.

The Great Debate: Xenophobia, why do we fear others?

7 p.m., March 31, Gammage Auditorium. This is a ticketed event. Tickets are now on sale, contact Gammage Box Office, (480) 965-3434 or Ticketmaster.

Is our instinct to form "in" groups and "out" groups – such an important part of our evolutionary history – now maladaptive as we face a future increasingly dependent upon cooperation and shared responsibilities toward limited resources?

The panel will discuss the biological and sociological dimensions of xenophobia. The panel includes:

Rebecca Saxe, a revolutionary cognitive neuroscientist from MIT

Frans de Waal, a renowned primatologist from Emory University

Freeman Dyson, distinguished theoretical physicist and mathematician from the Institute for Advanced Study

Jeffrey Sachs, a leading international economic advisor and director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University

Charles Blow, a provocative New York Times editorialist

Steven Neuberg, an experimental social psychologist from ASU

Krauss, who will moderate the Great Debate, said it will be the keystone event to a two- and a half-day workshop that will focus on xenophobia on March 30 to April 1. The latest thinking and research on xenophobia will be discussed and explored during the workshops.

Krauss added that the prices for the Great Debate ($4 plus fees for students; $10 plus fees for the public; and $16 plus fees for VIP seating) were drawn up to encourage wide audience participation in this event.

For more information on these events, visit, or call 480-965-0053.