In-group favoritism is ubiquitous and associated with intergroup conflict, yet is little understood from a biological perspective. A fundamental question regarding the structure of favoritism is whether it is inflexibly directed toward distinct, "essentialist" categories, such as ethnicity and race, or is deployed in a context-sensitive manner. In this article, we report the first study (to our knowledge) of the genetic and environmental structure of in-group favoritism in the religious, ethnic, and racial domains. We contrasted a model of favoritism based on a single domain-general central affiliation mechanism (CAM) with a model in which each domain was influenced by specific mechanisms. In a series of multivariate analyses, utilizing a large, representative sample of twins, models containing only the CAM or essentialist domains fit the data poorly. The best-fitting model revealed that a biological mechanism facilitates affiliation with arbitrary groups and exists alongside essentialist systems that evolved to process salient cues, such as shared beliefs and ancestry.