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This study tested the hypothesis that threats related to infectious diseases would make persons less willing to affiliate with out- groups and that feelings of disgust and beliefs about the out-group members would mediate this effect. To test this hypothesis, American participants of European descent were presented with either a disease threat or control threat. Then they were shown a photograph of someone of the same race or different race. Participants were asked to indicate whether they would avoid the target person and to state their emotional and cognitive responses to the person. As predicted, disease salience decreased the desire to affiliate with out-group members, and both feelings of disgust and beliefs about the infection risk posed by the target person mediated this relationship. Keywords disease threat, prejudice, affiliation, out-groups, in-group Date received: November 19, 2019; Accepted: May 11, 2020 Evolutionary models have long recognized that behavioral, is evidence that increases in disease salience can cause persons cognitive, and emotional reactions should depend on the sal- to avoid interactions with out-group members (e.g., Schaller & ience of particular goals or motives present in different con- Neuberg, 2012) and engage in more overt discriminatory texts (e.g., Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Gangestad & Simpson, behavior (e.g., Laakasuo et al., 2018). These researchers have 2000). Schaller and his colleagues have suggested that persons argued that prejudicial and avoidance responses to out-group possess a set of psychological mechanisms that motivate beha- members may have been adaptive in our ancestral past viors designed to limit exposure to potential sources of disease because out-group members may have been a particular dis- (Schaller & Duncan, 2007). When a disease threat is salience, it ease threat. That is, out-group members could have carried serves as an important contextual cue that engages these psy- novel pathogens to which persons have less physical immu- chological mechanisms (Schaller & Park, 2011). Given that nity, and out-group members may not have adhered to local other persons are potential sources of pathogens, disease sal- norms regarding hygiene that restrict disease contagion (Mur- ience has implications for many social behaviors. For example, ray & Schaller, 2016). Additionally, there is evidence that research has indicated that increases in infectious disease sal- sufficiently different out-groups may activate avoidance ience influence preferences for symmetrical faces (Young responses similar to the responses activated by disfigured et al., 2011), preferences for novel sexual partners (Hill persons (Ackerman et al., 2009). et al., 2015), and willingness to conform (Wu & Chang, 2012). An important social impact of disease salience is on University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV, USA responses toward members of out-groups. A considerable body of research has indicated that when the threat of disease is Corresponding Author: salient, persons have a tendency to express more prejudicial Murray Millar, University of Nevada, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV attitudes about out-group members (e.g., Duncan & Schaller, 89154, USA. 2009; Lund & Boggero, 2014; Park et al., 2007). Further, there Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 Evolutionary Psychology Evolutionary scholars exploring the relationship between Method disease threat and reactions to out-groups have primarily Participants focused on the mediating role of the affective response of dis- gust. Their research has produced evidence that disease threats A power analysis using G*Power (version 3.1) indicated that a cause persons to react with disgust to out-group members in a sample of at least 128 persons would be needed to have at least manner similar to other potential sources of pathogens. The an 80% probability of detecting a medium-sized true effect in a feelings of disgust appear to motivate the avoidance of out- two-factor analysis of variance (ANOVA; Faul et al., 2009). A group members (e.g., Vartanian et al., 2015). sample more than twice this size consisting of 271 participants Although past research has focused on feelings of disgust, it (139 women and 132 men) of European descent was recruited is also possible that disease threats may elicit cognitive from the general community and a large university in the responses about out-group members who are partially respon- Southwestern United States. The study employed an electronic sible for the increases in prejudice and avoidance. Disease sign up procedure to recruit participants and participation in the threats may trigger the stereotypes associated with out-groups study was limited to persons indicating that they were 18 years that produce feelings of disgust or perhaps disgust primes those of age or older. The average age of the participants was 36, and stereotypic beliefs and makes them more available. It seems the range of ages was 18–78 years of age. Participants were possible that beliefs about out-group members may reflect the randomly assigned to view a photograph depicting someone of putative causes suggested by Murray and Schaller (2016) for the same race or different race and to either the disease or the development of the relationship between disease threat and accident threat salience conditions. Seven participants failed out-group prejudice. That is, persons may believe that out- to properly complete the experimental protocol. group members represent a particular infection risk because they carry novel diseases and fail to adhere to hygienic norms. Materials If persons hold these beliefs, then it seems probable that these beliefs play a role in promoting prejudice and discrimination Six photographs were used in the study that depicted a male’s toward out-group members. head and shoulders with a whited-out background. Three of the photographs were of persons of African descent and three were of persons of European descent. In a pretest, each person in these photographs was rated by 17 participants on 7-point scale Current Research with end points of 1 (physically unattractive) and 7 (physically The purpose of the present study was to explore the mediating attractive). Pictures depicting persons rated a slightly above role of these beliefs. Essentially, are these beliefs (anomalous- average in physical attractiveness (M ¼ 5.04) were chosen for ness appearance, infection risk, violation of disease-prevention the current study. norms) part of the reason that persons have a desire to avoid out-group members when a disease threat is salient? To address Procedure this question, participants were presented with either a disease threat or control threat. Then, they were shown a photograph At the beginning of the study, the participants were informed depicting someone of the same race or different race. While that the purpose of the study was to investigate how people with viewing the photograph, participants were asked to give their different personalities evaluated other persons. The participants initial impressions of the person in the photograph. They were were reassured that all of their responses would be completely asked to indicate how likely they would be to avoid the person confidential. Following the introduction, they completed a and to indicate the infection risk posed by the person, how short demographic questionnaire that asked participants to anomalous the person appeared, how likely the person would indicate their sex, age, general state of health, and ethnicity. violate disease-reducing norms, and feelings of disgust associ- ated with the person. It was predicted that when a disease threat Manipulation of disease and accident threats salience. Following was salient, participants would express a greater desire to avoid the demographic questionnaire, participants were asked to out-group members than in-group members. Further, it was carefully read a short paragraph that they would be tested on expected that the same pattern of results would be obtained later in the study. Approximately, half the participants were with each of the potential mediators. That is, disease salience randomly assigned to read a paragraph that presented informa- should create stronger feelings of disgust, more concerns about tion related to everyone’s vulnerability to infectious diseases. infection risk, more concern about health norm violations, and Specifically, the paragraph presented information about stronger judgments about the anomalous appearance of out- influenza indicating that persons of any age can contract the group members than in-group members. In addition, it was illness and that it can lead to serious complications. After read- predicted that beliefs (anomalousness, infection risk, violation ing the paragraph, participants were asked to recall the last time of disease-prevention norms) and feelings of disgust would they had encountered someone with the flu and to answer four partially mediate the relationship between the manipulations questions about symptoms experienced by this person. The (control vs. disease threat and in-group vs. out-group member- other participants read a short paragraph that presented infor- ship) and the desire to avoid out-group members. mation about a nondisease health threat. The paragraph Millar et al. 3 presented information about car accidents indicating that any- Outgroup one can be involved in a car accident and that these accidents 4.2 In-group can lead to extensive injuries. After reading the paragraph, participants were asked to recall the last time they had encoun- tered a car accident and to answer four questions about the 3.8 accident (see Miller and Manner, 2012, for a similar proce- dure). In a pretest, 22 participants rated each paragraph on 7- 3.6 point scale with end points of (very anxious/not very anxious, 3.4 threatened/not threatened, and very fearful/not very fearful). No significant differences between the disease threat and the 3.2 accident threat paragraphs were found, F(s) < 1. In-group/out-group manipulation. Following the salience manip- Accident Disease ulation, the participants were presented with one of the six Threat Type photographs. The participants were asked to briefly think about this person in the photograph and imagine what the person Figure 1. The mean avoidance scores as function of threat type and might be like. Approximately half the participants viewed a group membership. Higher scores indicate more avoidance. person from the same race (Whites viewing Whites) and half viewed a person from a different race (Whites viewing Blacks). participant to create a measure of avoidance (a ¼ .95), disgust (a ¼ .96), anomalous appearance (a ¼ .91), infection risk (a ¼ Measurement of reactions to target persons in photographs. After .94), and health norm violations (a ¼ .87). To examine the viewing the photograph, the participants were asked to make hypothesis that disease threat would lead to more avoidance, some judgments about the target person by indicating their more negative beliefs (infection risk, norms, and anomalous agreement with a number of statements on scales with end appearance) and more feelings of disgust each of these mea- points of 1 (strongly disagree) and 7 (strongly agree). State- sures were analyzed in separate 2 (control vs. disease threat) ments were presented that were related to each of the three 2 (in-group vs. out-group membership) ANOVA. When avoid- mediating variables. Perceptions of anomalously were mea- ance was examined, a main effect for group membership was sured with statements such as this person looks a little odd and found with participants expressing a greater desire to avoid out- this person has a strange appearance. Infection risk was mea- group members (African Americans; M ¼ 3.88, SD ¼ 1.20) sured with statements such as this person might carry unusual than in-group members (White Americans; M ¼ 3.34, SD ¼ diseases that I could catch and this person poses an infection risk. Violations of health norms were measured with statements 1.16), F(1, 266) ¼ 10.50, p ¼ .001, Z ¼ .04. This main effect such as this person might not regularly wash their hands and was qualified by the expected threat type by group-membership this person might not have had their immunizations. In addi- interaction, F(1, 266) ¼ 4.15, p ¼ .04, Z ¼ .02. When a tion, a measure of desire for affiliation and disgust with the disease threat was salient, participants expressed more desire target person was included. Desire for affiliation was measured to avoid out-group members than in-group members, F(1, 266) by indicating agreement with statements such as I would keep ¼ 13.60, p < .001, Z ¼ .05, and when a control threat was away from this person and I would not be a friend to this present, this difference disappeared, F < 1 (see Figure 1). person, and disgust with statements such as this person makes The same pattern of results was obtained when the potential me feel disgusted. The order of the measures of the mediator mediators of disgust and infection risk were examined. Overall, variables, affiliation, and disgust was randomized for each participants indicated more feelings of disgust toward out- participant. group members (M ¼ 3.84, SD ¼ 1.24) than in-group members In order to test the hypotheses, several ANOVAs were con- (M ¼ 4.19, SD ¼ 1.22), F(1, 262) ¼ 5.72, p ¼ .02, Z ¼ .02, ducted to explore whether the manipulations (threat type and and this was qualified by a threat type by group-membership group membership) interacted to influence both avoidance and 2 interaction, F(1, 262) ¼ 4.16, p ¼ .04, Z ¼ .02. If a disease the mediating variables (disgust, infection risk, health norms, threat was salient, participants expressed more disgust toward and anomalous appearance). Following this, a series of regres- out-group members than in-group members, F(1, 262) ¼ 14.33, sions were conducted to demonstrate mediation by showing 2 p < .001, Z ¼ .03, and if a control threat was present, this that the removal of the variance associated with the mediators difference disappeared, F < 1 (see Figure 2). Similarly, parti- would weaken the relationship between the manipulated vari- cipants indicated more concern about an infection risk from ables and avoidance. out-group members (M ¼ 3.56, SD ¼ 1.23) than in-group members (M ¼ 3.03, SD ¼ 1.24), F(1, 266) ¼ 13.90, p < .001, Z ¼ .05 and this was qualified by a threat type by Results group-membership interaction, F(1, 266) ¼ 6.29, p ¼ .01, Z ¼ .02. In the disease threat conditions, infection risk was per- The items used to measure each of the potential reactions to the person presented in the photographs were averaged for each ceived as greater for out-group members than in-group Mean Avoidance 4 Evolutionary Psychology members. First, separate mediational analyses were conducted Outgroup for each of the potential mediators (disgust and infection risk). 4.5 In-group These mediational analyses attempted to show that the influ- ence of the interactive effect (Threat type Group member- 4.3 ship) on avoidance was mediated by changes in the mediator 4.1 (disgust or infection risk). If disgust or infection risk mediates the impact of the interaction on avoidance, then the removal of 3.9 the variance associated with the mediator should weaken this relationship and there should be a nonzero indirect effect of the 3.7 interaction term through the mediator on avoidance. To demonstrate this, separate two-step hierarchical regres- 3.5 sion analyses were performed for both of the potential media- Accident Disease tors (disgust and infection risk). In the first step, avoidance was Threat Type regressed on threat type, group membership, and the interaction term (Threat type Group membership). The interaction term Figure 2. The mean disgust scores as function of threat type and was created by centering the variables and multiplying the group membership. Higher scores indicate more feelings disgust. threat type variable by the group membership variable. In the second step, avoidance was regressed on the same variables in the first step (threat type, group membership, and the interac- Outgroup 3.9 tion term) with the addition of the mediating variable. To In-group 3.7 demonstrate the indirect effect of the interaction through the mediating variable a bootstrap procedure outlined by Hayes 3.5 (2018) was used. 3.3 When disgust was examined, in the first step unsurprisingly in light of the ANOVA results, the interaction term signifi- 3.1 cantly predicted avoidance, b ¼ .61, t ¼ 2.04, p ¼ .02. In the 2.9 second step, consistent with the mediational hypothesis, when 2.7 the variance associated with disgust was controlled for by add- ing it to the model, the interaction between threat type and 2.5 group membership was no longer a significant predictor of Accident Disease avoidance, b ¼ .14, t ¼ 0.72, p ¼ .47. Further, consistent with Threat Type the mediational hypothesis, there was evidence for an indirect effect of the interaction (Threat type Group membership) Figure 3. The mean infection risk scores as function of threat type through feelings of disgust on avoidance. The 95% confidence and group membership. Higher scores indicate more perceived interval (CI) based on 5,000 bootstrap samples for the indirect infection risk. effect (b ¼ .45) did not contain a zero effect (CI [.02, .89]). When beliefs about infection risk were examined, again in members, F(1, 266) ¼ 18.95, p < .001, Z ¼ .067, and this was the first step, the interaction term significantly predicted avoid- not found in the control threat conditions, F < 1 (see Figure 3). ance, b ¼ .69, t ¼ 2.37, p ¼ .02. In the second step, consistent The ANOVAs examining the health norms and anomalous with the mediational hypothesis, when the variance associated appearance variables failed to find the predicted interaction with infection risk was controlled for by adding it to the model, between threat type and group membership. In both analyses, the interaction between threat type and group membership was the only significant finding was a main effect for group mem- no longer a significant predictor of avoidance, b ¼ .27, t ¼ bership. Participants believed that out-group members were 1.04, p ¼ .30. In addition, there was evidence for the indirect more likely to violate health norms (M ¼ 3.13, SD ¼ 1.10) effect of the interaction (Threat type Group membership) than in-group members (M ¼ 2.84, SD ¼ 1.10), F(1, 267) ¼ through feelings of infection risk on avoidance (b ¼ .32, 95% 5.14, p ¼ .02, Z ¼ .02, and that out-group members (M ¼ adjusted bootstrap with 5,000 samples CI [.06, .65]). 4.05, SD ¼ 1.15) had a more anomalous appearance than in- Having demonstrated that both disgust and beliefs about group members (M ¼ 3.63, SD ¼ 1.10), F(1, 267) ¼ 10.00, infection risk could act separately as mediators, another anal- p < .002, Z ¼ .04. ysis was performed to demonstrate the combined mediational effects of both of these variables. A serial multiple mediational Mediational Analyses model was used in which the indirect effect of the interaction A set of mediational analyses was performed to examine the (Threat type Group membership) on avoidance flows hypothesis that feelings of disgust and beliefs would partially through disgust and then infection risk (interaction term > dis- mediate the relationship between the interaction (Threat type gust > infection risk > avoidance). There was evidence for the Group membership) and the desire to avoid out-group combined mediating role of disgust and infection risk. The 95% Mean Infection Risk Mean Disgust Millar et al. 5 CI based on 5,000 bootstrap samples for this indirect effect health norms is particularly puzzling in light of research indi- (b ¼ .04) did not contain a zero effect (CI [.005, .12]). cating that persons do have negative beliefs about the health practices of out-group members (Priest et al., 2018). It is tempt- ing to simply conclude that concerns about norm violations and Control Analyses anomalous appearance do not act as mediators. Yet it is also It was important to examine whether the participants’ sex inter- possible that the study’s procedures may have been responsible acted with the manipulations because all the targets in the for the lack of findings. For example, the effects of anomalous pictures were men. To examine this, the independent variables appearance may have been obscured by utilizing photographs (avoidance, disgust, infection risk, anomalous appearance, and that were standardized across ethic groups in terms attractive- health norms) were analyzed in separate 2 (sex of the partici- ness, that is, in an effort to control attractiveness, all the persons pant) 2 (threat type) 2 (group membership) ANOVAs. In in the photographs had all been rated as moderately attractive. all of these analyses, the sex of the participant did not interact Or perhaps the items used about health norm violations did not with any other variable. The only significant effect found was address the relevant health norms, that is, norms that the parti- when disgust was examined, overall, women reported more cipants in this sample believed would be violated. feelings of disgust (M ¼ 4.22, SD ¼ 1.17) than men (M ¼ Beyond addressing the hypotheses, the results also produced 3.83, SD ¼ 1.28), F(1, 262) ¼ 5.24, p ¼ .02, Z ¼ .02. Simi- p a couple of other notable findings. First, the sample expressed larly, it is important to examine whether the age of the parti- relatively higher levels of prejudicial beliefs about the out- cipant interacted with the manipulations. To examine this, a group (African Americans) than the in-group. This was true regression analysis was conducted in which age of the partici- not only for infection risk and disgust but also for the variables pant, threat type, in-group/out-group membership, and interac- not influenced by threat manipulation, that is, they perceived tions of these variables were regressed on avoidance. The age out-group members as more likely to violate health norms and of the participant was not involved in any significant effects. more anomalous in appearance than in-group members. Unfor- However, the distribution of ages in the sample did not allow tunately, this finding is consistent with a large literature that for a particularly robust test of age effects. has examined the prevalence and promotion of stereotypic beliefs in the American population (e.g., Deskins et al., 2017) and some of these stereotypes include the endorsement of Discussion beliefs related to the relative health of African Americans The purpose of the current study was to investigate whether (e.g., Priest et al., 2018). A second notable finding was, even beliefs, in addition to feelings of disgust, mediated the relation- though the sex of the participant did not interact with our ship between disease salience and avoidance of out-group manipulations (threat type and group membership), women members. The findings provided partial support for the predic- overall reported more feelings of disgust at the thought of tions. When a disease threat was salient, participants believed interacting with the targets than men. This finding is consistent that out-group members posed a greater infection risk than in- with a large body of research and theorizing that has suggested group members. Further, these beliefs about infection risk women experience more disgust than men (e.g., Al-Shawaf mediated the relationship between disease threat and the desire et al., 2017). to avoid out-groups. Finally, a multimediational model that included both feelings of disgust and beliefs about infection Issues and Limitations risk suggested that both the variables could play a simultaneous mediating role. First, it is important to recognize that there are host of other In addition, the results of the current study replicated a contextual factors beyond group membership that make indi- couple of significant findings found in the extant literature. viduals more or less responsive to the health threats posed by First, the results add to the large corpus of research indicating others. For example, an individual with poor health may be that disease threats compared to other types of threats can particularly concerned about the health threats posed by out- motivate avoidance and prejudice toward members of the group members (Park et al., 2007). Also, during pregnancy, out-group (e.g., Schaller & Duncan, 2007; Schaller & Park, women often experience an increase disgust sensitivity that 2011). This is important because recently, some controversy might increase their negative reactions to out-group members about the interpretation of this relationship has arisen (Kusche (Navarretea et al., 2007). The relationship between these other & Barker, 2019). Second, the results provide another demon- contextual factors and group membership will need to be stration that disease threats are associated with more feelings of explored. disgust toward out-group and that these feelings of disgust Second, in the current study, out-group/in-group member- mediate the relationship between disease threat and avoidance ship was operationalized by having European Americans eval- of the out-group (e.g., Zakrzewska et al., 2019). uate either African or European American targets. It is possible However, contrary to the predictions, the participants’ that the current findings would not generalize to other non- beliefs about violating health norms and anomalous appearance African American out-groups. That is, European Americans were uninfluenced by disease threat or group membership and may have a unique response to African Americans as opposed did not act as mediators. The failure of beliefs about violating to other ethnic out-groups (e.g., Hispanics, Asian Americans). 6 Evolutionary Psychology motivation: Implications for intervention and neuroplasticity in Further, it is conceivable that other non-European groups (e.g., psychopathology. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11. https:// Hispanics, Asian Americans) might respond differently when doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00261 asked to evaluate out-group members. It is important to note Deskins, T., McIntyre, R., Bartosek, M., & Fuller, E. (2017). The effects that European Americans have been traditionally the majority of African-American stereotype fluency on prejudicial evaluation of and power-holding group in American society. There is the targets. 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Evolutionary Psychology – SAGE
Published: Jul 9, 2020
Keywords: disease threat; prejudice; affiliation; out-groups; in-group
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