Danger, Disease, and the Nature of Prejudice(s)

Mark Schaller, Steven Neuberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

186 Scopus citations


An evolutionary perspective on human cognition provides a foundation for research programs that identify unique linkages between specific threats and specific prejudices directed against specific categories of people. It also provides a set of logical tools that help identify conditions under which these prejudices are exaggerated or inhibited. We focus here on two kinds of threats: The threat of interpersonal violence and the threat of infectious disease. The inferred threat of interpersonal violence leads to a fear prejudice against members of coalitional outgroups. This prejudice (along with a set of cognitive consequences) emerges especially under conditions that connote vulnerability to interpersonal harm. The inferred threat of infectious disease leads to a disgust prejudice against individuals whose morphological appearance or behavior deviates from normative standards. This prejudice emerges especially under conditions that connote vulnerability to infection. Together, these lines of research yield insights about the origins of prejudices directed against many different categories of people (many of whom pose no real threat whatsoever) and also have useful implications for prejudice-reducing interventions. The results also indicate that the psychology of prejudice is best conceptualized as the psychology of prejudices (plural).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-54
Number of pages54
JournalAdvances in Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - 2012


  • Disgust
  • Evolution
  • Fear
  • Infectious disease
  • Intergroup relations
  • Person perception
  • Prejudice
  • Social cognition
  • Stereotyping
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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