Conference Talk – CBEN 2022

Retesting the Hypothesis of Behavioral Immune System as the Basis of Intergroup Biases during a Pandemic

Lei Fan & Joshua M. Tybur

Intergroup biases are thought to (partially) emerge from the behavioral immune system. We conducted two studies – one longitudinal study and one experiment – to test this hypothesis from two different perspectives. The longitudinal study (assessed at four time points of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Netherlands – May 2020, N1 = 998; February 2021, N2 = 711; October 2021, N3 = 549; June 2022, N4 = 537) tested whether negativity toward immigrants: (1) changed across the pandemic; (2) related to explicit disease concerns and/or disgust sensitivity. Results revealed that: (1) explicit disease concerns were higher when the pandemic was in a more severe stage, but disgust sensitivity did not vary across time points, nor negativity toward immigrants; (2) between-person – but not within-person – variation in disgust sensitivity related to negativity toward immigrants, but explicit disease concerns and assessment time in the pandemic did not. The experiment study (conducted in the UK (N = 1371) and China (N = 1533)) examined (1) whether people are less comfortable with microbe-sharing contact with an ethnic outgroup member than an ethnic ingroup member, and (2) whether this difference is exacerbated by additional visual cues to a target’s infectiousness. We observed that contact comfort was lower for targets with infectious appearance. However, we detected no differences in contact comfort with ethnic-ingroup targets versus ethnic-outgroup targets, nor any interaction between group membership and appearance manipulation. In total, results suggest that even (stable) individual differences in disgust sensitivity relate to intergroup biases, it may not be solely resulted from the behavioral immune system, in which people interpret ethnic outgroup membership as a cue to infection risk.


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