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 abolishment of affective responses towards ingroup and outgroup members. Australian Caucasian participants initially viewed images of two European Caucasian faces (ingroup) and two Middle Eastern faces (outgroup) in a pre-exposure phase. Next, one face of each racial group type was paired with an aversive 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 of fear, arousal, and unpleasantness were higher towards outgroup faces than ingroup faces after all phases. In addition, these ratings were higher for the faces paired with the aversive stimulus than for faces presented alone during the acquisition and extinction phases. Skin conductance responses to the faces did not differ between ingroup and outgroup faces. However, in the acquisition phase, they were larger to outgroup faces paired with the aversive stimulus than to outgroup faces presented alone. The results suggest that negative emotional responses are overall elevated and are more likely to be associated with negative experiences for racial outgroup members than for ingroup members. However, dissociations between self-report and objective physiological measures exist and these may reflect different underlying learning processes. The implications for personal and situational factors that may motivate an individual to approach or avoid intergroup contact are discussed.
David L. Neumann, Griffith University, Australia
Sarah Webb, Griffith University, Australia
Stefania Paolini, Newcastle University, Australia
Andrea S. Griffin, Newcastle University, Australia
Alexander W. O’Donnell, Griffith University, Australia