Fear is readily associated with an out-group face in a minimal group context

C D Navarrete, M M McDonald, B D Asher, N L Kerr, K Yokota, A Olsson, J Sidanius: Fear is readily associated with an out-group face in a minimal group context. In: Evolution and Human Behavior, 33 (5), pp. 590–593, 2012, ISSN: 10905138.


Research on prepared learning demonstrates that fear-conditioning biases may exist to natural hazards (e.g., snakes) compared to nonnatural hazards (e.g., electrical cords) and that fear is more readily learned toward exemplars of a racial out-group than toward exemplars of one's own race. Here we push the limits of the generalizability of the mechanisms underlying race biases in a fear-conditioning paradigm by using arbitrary group categories not distinguished by race. Groups were distinguishable solely by t-shirt color, with assignment based on performance in a perceptual task. In this “minimal group paradigm,” we found that out-group exemplars were more readily associated with an aversive stimulus than exemplars of one's in-group. Our findings suggest that prepared learning in an intergroup context is not limited to contexts involving racial categories involving histories rife with cultural stereotypes and that previous findings of learning biases along racial lines may be interpreted as a by-product of a broader psychological system for prepared fear learning toward categories of agents that may have posed persistent threats over human evolutionary history.