Does COVID-19 threat relate to intergroup attitudes? A test in the U.K.

Hirotaka Imada, Fanny Lalot, Dominic Abrams

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Social and evolutionary psychologists propose that humans have acquired an evolutionary mechanism that facilitates pathogen avoidance behavior: the behavioral immune system (BIS). Previous studies have revealed that the BIS yields negative attitudes toward out-group members. Given the clear relevance of pathogen-avoidance psychology to individuals’ reactions to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the present research examined whether attitudes toward potentially pathogenic outgroups during the pandemic would reflect the BIS. Using large-scale panel data (N = 1,548) collected in May 2020 in 3 of the U.K.’s devolved nations (England, Scotland, and Wales), we examined whether perceived COVID-19 threat was associated with negative attitudes toward 2 different national out-groups linked to the initial outbreak (Italy and China), as well as the in-group (the U.K.). Failing to support the BIS hypothesis, mini-meta-analyses on results from the 3 nations revealed that COVID-19 threat was only very weakly associated with attitude toward the U.K., Italy, and China. Results suggest that implications from pathogen psychology might be more limited than previously thought and apply only to specific out-group members. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2024 APA, all rights reserved)
Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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