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Negative emotions magnify implicit bias

Although emotions typically help people adapt to obstacles and challenges in the environment, sometimes they can spill over and bias people’s implicit attitudes toward groups even though the emotion may have been activated by a source unrelated to that group.

We found that emotions like anger and disgust magnify implicit bias. Inducing people to feel angry or disgusted in one situation created implicit bias against an unknown (fictitious) group encountered in another situation even though the emotion had been activated by an unrelated source.

However, when it comes to real groups, anger vs. disgust have different effects. Anger (but not disgust) increased implicit bias against Arabs, whereas disgust (but not anger) increased implicit bias against gays and lesbians. This suggests people’s emotions magnify bias only when the threat signaled by the emotion is connected to a pre-existing stereotype of a known group.  Disgust signals the threat of moral contamination and is associated with stereotypes of sexual minorities. Anger signals threat of aggression and is associated with stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. These findings show how emotions fan the flames of prejudice automatically in a surprisingly nuanced way.