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Hard-Wired for Prejudice? Experts Examine Human Response to Outsiders
NY Times ^ | April 20, 2004 | NANCY WARTIK

Posted on 04/20/2004 4:39:28 AM PDT by Pharmboy

It's only a short step from feeling angry to feeling angry at someone, especially if that person is of a different social group, sex or ethnicity.

At least that is what psychologists who are investigating the link between emotions and prejudice are finding.

In a study that measured how emotional states affected views of outsiders, the researchers, from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, found that anger increased the likelihood of a negative reaction to members of a different group and that sadness or a neutral emotion did not.

The study will appear in the May issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Taken together with other research, the findings suggest that prejudice may have evolutionary roots, having developed as a quick, crude way for early humans to protect themselves from danger.

"The anger is serving as a signal that there's some level of threat or hostility in the environment," said Dr. David DeSteno, an assistant professor of psychology at Northeastern University and an author of the study. "And if there's a threat in your environment, it's more likely to come from someone not in your social group than someone who is, because usually social group members reinforce each other. They protect each other from outsiders."

The new research on emotions and prejudice has been partly inspired by changing ideas about the nature of emotion itself. Social scientists once dismissed emotions as an illogical nuisance. But by the 1980's, researchers had begun to consider emotions useful in their own right.

"Emotions and the response tendencies that go with them help guide our reactions to the world," Dr. Galen V. Bodenhausen, director of the social psychology program at Northwestern University, said. "Rational thought is great in a lot of circumstances where you have time and latitude to do it. But emotions provide rapid, immediate guidance, a gut reaction."


Robert Spencer for The New York Times
Dr. David DeSteno and Dr.
Nilanjana Dasgupta observe a
student, Angela Naniot,
demonstrate an experiment in
Amherst, Mass., on reactions to
different social groups

In 1994, Dr. Bodenhausen conducted one of the first studies to show that moods could affect whether people invoked hurtful stereotypes. In it, the researchers gave 135 undergraduate psychology students a writing exercise that left them feeling sad, angry or neutral. Next, they had the students read fictional case histories and rate the likelihood that the people described in the stories were guilty of misconduct.

Some participants read about "Juan García," a student who had supposedly assaulted a classmate. Others read the same case, with the name changed to "John Garner."

Some students read about a student accused of cheating, while others read the same case history, with the student identified as a college athlete.

Angry students, the researchers found, were more likely to find Juan García guilty of assault than John Garner. They were also more likely to think that the athlete had cheated. The students who were neither angry nor sad tended not to rely on stereotypes in their judgments.

Students who felt sad were, if anything, biased in favor of the people linked with negative stereotypes.

"Angry situations often require rapid response," Dr. Bodenhausen said of the results. "It's not a good time to be pensive."

For better or worse, he noted, stereotyping, arising as it does from the mind's tendency to make sense out of the world by categorizing and simplifying, provides a basis for that rapid response.

Sadness, on the other hand, "isn't often associated with immediate threats," Dr. Bodenhausen said, but "with losses or other kinds of problems that being reflective and thoughtful might help you to solve."

Sad students, he said, may have been in a frame of mind that led them to evaluate the case histories more slowly and to reach more judicious conclusions.

In the new study, Dr. DeSteno and his colleagues tried to demonstrate that people are, at a very basic level, wired to distrust outsiders. In one part of the study, volunteers answered quiz questions like, "How many people ride the New York subway every day?" and were classified as overestimators or underestimators.

In fact, the quiz was a ruse, and the participants were randomly assigned to one group or the other. The researchers then induced angry, sad or neutral moods in the participants and had them take a computerized test.

In the test, positive words like love or negative words like death were flashed on a screen, followed by an image of someone identified as an underestimator or an overestimator. The subjects were asked to respond to each photograph by pressing a key labeled "us" or "them."

When the photos followed positive words, the researchers found, the angry subjects took significantly longer to identify members of the "them" group than they did when the photos followed negative words.

Response time on such tests is considered a good measure of automatic, unconscious thought patterns.

It may seem intuitively obvious that feeling angry can elicit hostility toward outsiders. But another study by Dr. Bodenhausen demonstrated that the responses of happy people were quite similar to those of angry people, that they were more likely to draw on negative stereotypes in judging guilt or innocence.

Dr. Bodenhausen speculated that this might be because the mind essentially strives to function as a fuel-efficient machine. "Happiness is associated with environments that are safe, where things are going well," he said. "When we feel happy, going with simple first reactions seems adequate for judging the world."

It also may ensure, he added, that "when the time comes to confront problems, we'll have the energy to do it."

In other instances, a biased reaction may provide a quick boost for the ego. In a study at the University of Michigan in 1997, the researchers looked at about 125 undergraduate pyschology students, with Jews and foreigners excluded, and found that those who had suffered blows to their self-esteem were more likely than those with high self-esteem to assign negative stereotypes to a woman in a video who wore a Star of David necklace and was identified as "Julie Goldberg."

The more negatively the subjects with low self-esteem rated Julie, the more their own self-esteem levels increased.

On the other hand, both groups of subjects gave positive evaluations to a woman identified as Maria D'Agostino who was wearing a cross.

"For most people, it is a constant task to try to feel good about themselves," said Dr. Steven Spencer, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and a co-author of the study. "It can take a lot of effort and work."

Thinking bad things about people in another group, Dr. Spencer said, makes people feel better about their own group, "which then makes them feel better about themselves."

Being more aware of the effects that emotions can have on attitudes, Dr. Bodenhausen said, can be helpful in daily life.

"People may be very reluctant to confront this about themselves, because it's so undesirable to be prejudiced," he said. "Confronting the possibility that these biases exist in us is a necessary part of the solution."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Front Page News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: genes; humanevolution; prejudice; xenophobia
For me, this concept has explained why--for non-Asians--it is harder to see individual differences in, for example, Chinese people. Why? It is critical for self-protection to know whether or not another individual is part of your "friendly" tribe; someone of another race is clearly "other," and we needn't differentiate any further. For those of the same race, we need to discern subtleties in individuals.
1 posted on 04/20/2004 4:39:29 AM PDT by Pharmboy
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To: Pharmboy
OK. Which one is Chinese? Japanese? Vietnamese?





2 posted on 04/20/2004 4:52:09 AM PDT by Jaysun (The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.)
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To: Pharmboy
In China, there is a group of people in a certain province, called Hak-Ka, translating somewhat to mean "Outsiders". There are Hak-Ka restaurants in San Francisco that serve Hak-Ka food - that to me, doesn't seem to be much different than standard fare, except for really tiny tea cups.

They had been in that province for 700 YEARS!...and are still called "Outsiders". Maybe they had an Affirmative Action program for them when they got there, and earned everybody's resentment for ever afterwards..who knows?

3 posted on 04/20/2004 5:16:28 AM PDT by guitfiddlist
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To: Pharmboy
For me, this concept has explained why--for non-Asians--it is harder to see individual differences in, for example, Chinese people. Why?

Gah! This question always drives me crazy! Because there are fewer individual differences in Chinese people!

4 posted on 04/20/2004 5:17:13 AM PDT by prion
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To: prion
Gah! This question always drives me crazy! Because there are fewer individual differences in Chinese people!

They used to say that about black people...

5 posted on 04/20/2004 5:18:55 AM PDT by guitfiddlist
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To: guitfiddlist
They used to say that about black people...

Oh, for chrissakes, it's true of black people! This isn't bigotry, it's genetics.

Many of the genes that make up "blackness" or "orientalness" tend to be dominant. Many of the genes that make up "Europeanness" are recessive. This means that white people come in a bewildering variety: redheads, blondes, brunettes, curly haired, wavy haired, straight-haired, very tall, tall, average, short, very short, giant noses, tiny noses, blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes, giant noses, tiny noses, white skinned, olive skinned. Basically, our genes are wussy. Anybody can push them over. That, and we outbreed a lot.

There's a good deal more variation in American blacks than African ones, because we've been trading genes for so long. How many of the above characteristics do you expect to find in African blacks? Han Chinese? And what the hell is wrong with saying it?

Terror of being called a racist has run through this country like a plague of stupid.

6 posted on 04/20/2004 5:30:42 AM PDT by prion
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To: prion
To you, round eyes, but not to them.

No, I believe that once "other" has been identified, more precise differentiation need not be accomplished.

7 posted on 04/20/2004 5:31:45 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: thefactor; PatrickHenry; aculeus
PING
8 posted on 04/20/2004 5:33:51 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: Pharmboy
The "They all look the same to me" is found within each race. It's know as ethno-centric sympathy. GENERALLY whites look the same to blacks. I have a friend who is Chinese, he was able to tell the difference between Japanese, Korean, Thai, but not able to tell the difference between Irish, Italian, Hispanic.
It's very important to know who is who down at the watering hole.
9 posted on 04/20/2004 5:34:14 AM PDT by olde north church (The opposite of authoritarianism isn't Libertarianism, it's anarachy.)
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To: Pharmboy
To you, round eyes, but not to them.

No, I'm sorry. That's simply laughably untrue.

I'm sure the Chinese have no problems telling each other apart, and may have difficulty telling us apart. But there simply is not anywhere near the same amount of genetic variation in ethnic Chinese than there is in generic Northern Euopean mutt.

10 posted on 04/20/2004 5:35:32 AM PDT by prion
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To: prion
Yes, from a telescope you can't tell people apart. But as you get closer, distinguishing characteristics are readily apparent. But I'm glad you qualified your original statement, which DID sound appallingly racist.
11 posted on 04/20/2004 5:35:55 AM PDT by guitfiddlist
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To: olde north church; prion
Exactly. It is important to distinguish "other" among people that look similar to you down to the subtle differences in jaw or nose shape; but when they are CLEARLY not of your "tribe," futher differentiation is unnecessary.
12 posted on 04/20/2004 5:36:33 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: Pharmboy
I have a prejudice against dumbass liberals. However, we have enough of 'discerning differences' in the world IMHO.
13 posted on 04/20/2004 5:38:05 AM PDT by cyborg (The 9-11 commission members have penis envy.)
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To: prion
But there simply is not anywhere near the same amount of genetic variation in ethnic Chinese than there is in generic Northern Euopean mutt.

Puh-leeze. There was no doubt as much cross-shtupping in Asia as in Europe. Do you have one scintilla of evidence to support your contentions?

14 posted on 04/20/2004 5:39:01 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: Pharmboy
Exactly. It is important to distinguish "other" among people that look similar to you down to the subtle differences in jaw or nose shape; but when they are CLEARLY not of your "tribe," futher differentiation is unnecessary.

Brilliant point, and well stated.

15 posted on 04/20/2004 5:40:48 AM PDT by guitfiddlist
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To: Pharmboy
Do you have one scintilla of evidence to support your contentions?

What the hell are you talking about, evidence? When was the last time you saw a naturally blonde Korean? Or one with blue eyes, or curly hair?

It's a matter of having bred within a certain (very large - I'm not implying anything bad here) gene pool, until the dominant genes are so dominant that the recessive ones almost never show themselves.

16 posted on 04/20/2004 5:42:49 AM PDT by prion
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To: Pharmboy
http://www.ancestrybydna.com/

Lots of cross boffing has been found with this test. I think I'll try it and see what coconuts fall out of the genetic family tree. I'll bet some folks will be shocked with what they find in their little genetic wood piles.
17 posted on 04/20/2004 5:45:17 AM PDT by cyborg (The 9-11 commission members have penis envy.)
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To: prion
You are focusing on Caucasian traits. Globalize your thoughts.

Over the years I have tried to train myself to differentiate between various Asians and can now--in a reasonably reproducible manner--differentiate between Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese and Japanese. While the differences among them may not be as clear as those between red and brown hair, they do exist.

18 posted on 04/20/2004 5:48:32 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: Pharmboy
...the findings suggest that prejudice may have evolutionary roots

The next time a guy decides to drag someone down the road behind his pickup, his attorney will be using this study as a defense. The Evolution Card.

19 posted on 04/20/2004 5:49:33 AM PDT by mtbopfuyn
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To: Pharmboy
The languages are different. All one has to do is listen.
20 posted on 04/20/2004 5:49:36 AM PDT by cyborg (The 9-11 commission members have penis envy.)
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To: cyborg
Wow, Cy, that is pretty interesting. Do you know how reliable this outfit is? Have you or someone you know gone through the process?
21 posted on 04/20/2004 5:51:07 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: Pharmboy
While the differences among them may not be as clear as those between red and brown hair, they do exist.

Ladies and gentlemen, my point in its entirety.

22 posted on 04/20/2004 5:51:24 AM PDT by prion
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To: mtbopfuyn
Sexual desire also has evolutionary roots. But we civilized non-sociopathic folk keep it under control. Same thing for prejudice: I am convinced it has genetic/evolutionary roots, but intellectually I have taught myself to override that and judge people as individuals.
23 posted on 04/20/2004 5:53:07 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: guitfiddlist
"Two arms, two legs...I just can't tell those little human goobers apart."


24 posted on 04/20/2004 5:53:38 AM PDT by guitfiddlist
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To: prion
Well, then we agree (I think).
25 posted on 04/20/2004 5:53:38 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: Pharmboy
Well I was thinking of doing it to see if it's crap or not.
26 posted on 04/20/2004 5:56:19 AM PDT by cyborg (The 9-11 commission members have penis envy.)
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To: Pharmboy
Over the years I have tried to train myself to differentiate between various Asians and can now--in a reasonably reproducible manner--differentiate between Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese and Japanese. While the differences among them may not be as clear as those between red and brown hair, they do exist.

And the Asians probably have an easier time telling each other apart than they do the various breeds of European. Likewise, I can't tell apart a Pathan from a Tajik from a Baluchi, but THEY sure as heck can.

27 posted on 04/20/2004 5:59:26 AM PDT by dirtboy (John Kerry - Hillary without the fat ankles and the FBI files...)
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To: dirtboy
I thought it was interesting that when I went to Italy, Italians seemed to know that I was half Italian (without even aksing).
28 posted on 04/20/2004 6:02:58 AM PDT by cyborg (The 9-11 commission members have penis envy.)
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To: cyborg
As I remember, you have a pretty interesting and varied background. If they can tease your ancestry apart, I'll fork over my 200 bucks!
29 posted on 04/20/2004 6:03:25 AM PDT by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: Pharmboy
LOL... if they can figure it out, then there will be one less person confused (me!).
30 posted on 04/20/2004 6:07:55 AM PDT by cyborg (The 9-11 commission members have penis envy.)
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To: cyborg; Pharmboy; prion
BTTT
31 posted on 04/22/2004 3:30:12 PM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi min oi)
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To: fourdeuce82d; Travis McGee; El Gato; JudyB1938; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Robert A. Cook, PE; lepton; ...
PING
32 posted on 04/22/2004 3:31:20 PM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi min oi)
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To: neverdem
I'm hard wired to hate libs and commies. Wait. That's pretty redundant!
33 posted on 04/22/2004 3:31:56 PM PDT by cyborg (The 9-11 commission members have penis envy.)
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