Affective Learning About Racial In-Group and Out-Group Members

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Neumann, David
Webb, Sarah
Paolini, Stefania
Griffin, Andrea
O'Donnell, Alex
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Brighton, United Kingdom


Learning experiences occur within a social context and these can influence whether an individual is likely to approach or avoid certain people and situations in the future. The present study used an associative learning paradigm to investigate the acquisition and attenuation of affective responses towards in-group and out-group members defined on the basis of ethnicity. White Australian participants initially viewed images of two White faces (in-group) and two Middle Eastern ethnicity faces (outgroup) in a habituation phase. Next, one face of each ethnic group type was paired with an aversive electrotactile stimulus whereas the other face was presented alone in an acquisition phase. Finally, all faces were presented alone in an extinction phase. Self-report ratings showed no interactions between face ethnicity and whether it was paired with the aversive stimulus or not. Ratings of fear and arousal were higher and ratings of pleasantness and liking were lower for out-group faces than in-group faces after all phases. In addition, these ratings were higher for the faces paired with the aversive stimulus than for faces presented alone following the acquisition and extinction phases. Skin conductance responses did show an interaction between face ethnicity and whether it was paired with the aversive stimulus or not, although this was limited to the acquisition phase. In this phase, responses were larger to out-group faces paired with the aversive stimulus than to out-group faces presented alone whereas there were no differences between in-group faces paired with the aversive stimulus or presented alone. The results suggest that negative emotional responses are overall elevated and are more likely to be associated with negative experiences for ethnic out-group members than for in-group members. The results have implications for racial prejudice and for the personal and situational factors that may motivate an individual to approach or avoid intergroup contact.

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European Conference on Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences 2016: Official Conference Proceedings

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© The Author(s) 2016. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, providing that the work is properly cited.

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Biological Psychology (Neuropsychology, Psychopharmacology, Physiological Psychology)

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