Too Close for Comfort: The Effects of Threatening Stereotypes on Perceptions of Proximity

Anissa J. Maffett


Do stereotypes influence how we perceive physical stimuli in our social world? The current project addresses this question by examining whether people differentially perceive targets based on whether a stereotype-based threat accompanies the target. Previous research finds that people evaluate physically threatening stimuli (e.g., spiders, aggressive people) as closer than non-threatening stimuli (Cole Balceitis, & Dunning, 2012). However, less is known about the role of stereotypes in activating a threat response. It was predicted that participants who are made aware of the threatening status of a group will perceive a member of that group as standing physically closer. Overall, the results indicated that the feeling of threat influenced distance estimates only when participants felt they were in the real presence of an individual who met the stereotype of a possible disease carrier (e.g., stereotype consistent condition). This study adds to the growing literature on social factors that influence embodied cognition and provides further support for the ability of threat to influence distance perceptions.