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Stereotypes are relied upon to help guide people through their social world. Although typically characterized as unfavorable, stereotypes can serve a number of beneficial functions. Stereotypes allow people to quickly process new information about novel individuals, environments, or events by applying preexisting stereotype-consistent information. Processing new information quickly is essential in novel or unfamiliar situation because it helps determine how to best react. While there are a number of beneficial qualities of stereotypes, a disadvantage of stereotypes is that they can potentially lead to distortions in reality. Stereotypes play an active role in the evaluation of stimuli (e.g., persons), but we know much less about whether stereotypes influence the visual perception of physical stimuli. The current project examines whether people deferentially perceive the distance of physical targets based on whether the target is accompanied by stereotype-based threat. Previous research finds that people evaluate physically threatening stimuli (e.g., spiders, aggressive people) as physically closer than non-threatening stimuli (Cole, Balceitis, & Dunning, 2012). The current study seeks to replicate and extend these findings by examining the role of stereotypes in activating a threat response. The current study will examine this question by looking at the visual perception of distance when presented with threatening stimuli based on stereotype information. Specifically, will participants perceive a confederate participant to be physically closer when that person fits the stereotype of someone who likely has an ostensibly dangerous (and fictitious) disease? It is predicted that participants who are made aware of the threatening status of an individual through stereotypes will perceive that person as physically closer than when the person is not consistent with the stereotypes of a potential disease-carrier. The findings from this experiment have the potential to understand just how influential stereotypes can be in distorting physical reality in our social world.

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Honors Thesis

Primary Advisor

Erin O'Mara

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Stander Symposium poster


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