Conference Talk – HBES 2023

Are people more averse to microbe-sharing with ethnic outgroup members

Intergroup biases are widespread across cultures and time. The current study tests an existing hypothesis that has been proposed to explain such biases: the mind has evolved to interpret outgroup membership as a cue to pathogen threat. In this registered report, we test a core feature of this hypothesis. Adapting methods from earlier work, we examine (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. Using Chinese (N = 1533) and British (N = 1371) samples recruited from the online platforms WJX and Prolific, we assessed contact comfort with targets who were either East Asian or White and who were either modified to have symptoms of infection or unmodified (or, for exploratory purposes, modified to wear facemasks). Contact comfort was lower for targets modified to have symptoms of infection. However, we detected no differences in contact comfort with ethnic-ingroup targets versus ethnic-outgroup targets. These results do not support the hypothesis that people interpret ethnic outgroup membership alone as a cue to infection risk.

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