Associative Learning Processes in the Formation of Intergroup Anxiety and Avoidance in Society

O’Donnell, A. (Griffith University), Neumann, D. (Griffith University), Duffy, A. (Griffith University)

Laboratory-based aversive conditioning studies have shown that pairing an outgroup member with a fear-inducing, aversive stimulus results in fear toward images of that outgroup member. However, laboratory research designs have been criticised for being unrealistic and simplistic in comparison to the complexities of the real world. The current study was the first to attempt to apply an aversive conditioning framework to explain the formation of intergroup fear and subsequent anxiety toward, and avoidance of, the outgroup in the real world. A retrospective method was used in which two American online samples were asked to recall details regarding their first negative encounter with an African American (N = 554) or Muslim (N = 613) individual, respectively. Congruent with learning theory, participants who reported an unpleasant event with an outgroup member reported more fear during the encounter than did those who did not report experiencing an unpleasant event. Additionally, the intensity of unpleasantness during the first encounter was indirectly related to current avoidance of the outgroup, through the mediating mechanisms of retrospectively recalled fear and current levels of intergroup anxiety. These results were the first to showcase that aversive conditioning can contribute to the formation of intergroup anxiety outside the laboratory.

Event Timeslots (1)

Overcoming Barriers to Intergroup Contact Symposium 2