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Threat on the mind: The impact of incidental fear on race bias in rapid decision-making

Matthew Hunsinger, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Theories of emotion and intergroup relations predict a link between fear, outgroup perception, and behavioral intentions toward specific groups. However, surprisingly, past research has not empirically tested the impact of actually experiencing incidental fear on appraisals of in- and outgroups and socially impactful decision-making. Accordingly, the goals of this dissertation were three-fold: (1) to determine whether the experience of incidental fear increases biased decision-making targeted at racial outgroup vs. ingroup members; (2) to investigate whether some individuals are more impacted by fear than others; and (3) to explore the psychological mechanism underlying the biasing impact of fear. In Study 1, fear increased race biased decision-making for female (but not male) participants, and for those who chronically believe the world is a dangerous place. In Study 2, fear shunted attention selectively towards Black over White faces for female (but not male) participants; however, it did not produce race biased decision-making. In Study 3, fear did not modulate attention to danger-relevant stimuli or intergroup decision-making. The implications of these findings and future research directions are discussed.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Hunsinger, Matthew, "Threat on the mind: The impact of incidental fear on race bias in rapid decision-making" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3427537.