Article | Journal of Experimental Social Psychology | May 2014

Group Membership Alters the Threshold for Mind Perception: The Role of Social Identity, Collective Identification, and Intergroup Threat

by Leor M. Hackel, Christine E. Looser and Jay J. Van Bavel

Abstract

Human faces are used as cues to the presence of social agents, and the ability to detect minds and mental states in others occupies a central role in social interaction. In the current research, we present evidence that the human propensity for mind perception is bound by social group membership. Specifically, we show how identification with different social groups influences the threshold for mind perception. In three experiments, participants assessed a continuum of face morphs that ranged from human to doll faces. These faces were described as in-group or out-group members. Participants had higher (i.e., more stringent) thresholds for perceiving minds behind out-group faces, both in minimal (Experiment 1) and real-world groups (Experiment 2). In other words, out-group members required more humanness than in-group members to be perceived as having minds. This intergroup bias in mind perception was moderated by collective identification, such that highly identified group members had the highest threshold for perceiving minds behind out-group relative to in-group faces. In contrast, Democrats and Republicans who perceived the other party as threatening had lower thresholds for perceiving minds behind out-group faces (Experiment 3). These experiments suggest that mind perception is a dynamic process in which relevant contextual information such as social identity and out-group threat change the interpretation of physical features that signal the presence of another mind. Implications for mind perception, dehumanization, and intergroup relations are discussed.

Keywords: Groups and Teams; Identity; Personal Characteristics; Cognition and Thinking;

Citation:

Hackel, Leor M., Christine E. Looser, and Jay J. Van Bavel. "Group Membership Alters the Threshold for Mind Perception: The Role of Social Identity, Collective Identification, and Intergroup Threat." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 52 (May 2014): 15–23.