General Prejudice Versus Discrete Emotions: Understanding Patterns of Intergroup Emotions

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Principal investigators:

Catherine A. Cottrell

New College of Florida



Steven L. Neuberg

Arizona State University



Sample size: 940

Field period: 8/25/2004 -9/3/2004


This TESS research explored the qualitatively diverse ways in which members of differing groups feel and think about each other. According to our sociofunctional approach (Cottrell & Neuberg, 2005), individuals are attuned to specific threats to ingroup resources and social structures, and these threats evoke functionally distinct emotions. Because of qualitatively distinct historical and contemporary interdependencies among different groups, and the different patterns of threat these groups are therefore perceived as affording one another, patterns of intergroup emotion should depend greatly on the particular groups involved. In our TESS internet study, we asked White, Black, and Asian American respondents to report the emotional responses and perceived threats they direct toward White, Black, or Asian Americans. Analyses strongly support these predictions, thus corroborating previous research with college samples (e.g., Cottrell & Neuberg, 2003; Cottrell & Neuberg, 2005).


H1: Different groups can evoke qualitatively different profiles of emotional reactions.
H2: Measures of discrete emotions will better differentiate people's feelings toward other groups than will a traditional measure of general prejudice.
H3: Different groups can evoke qualitatively different profiles of perceived threats.
H4: Profiles of the specific threats posed by different groups will reliably and systematically predict the emotion profiles evoked by these groups.
H5: The profiles of perceived threats and elicited emotions reported toward each group will depend on the respondent's ingroup and its functional relationship with the target group.

Experimental Manipulations

Our TESS study involved two manipulations: respondent ethnicity and target group ethnicity. First, we selected 940 Knowledge Networks panel members who had previously self-identified as White American (n = 332), Black American (n = 355), or Asian American (n = 253). Second, within each of these respondent group subsamples, individuals were randomly assigned to evaluate one of three ethnic groups: White Americans, Black Americans, or Asian Americans.


Respondents completed a series of items designed to measure the affective reactions and threat perceptions associated with their randomly assigned target group. These items have all been tested and refined in our previous research, which suggests that they are reliable and valid indicators of the relevant theoretical constructs (see Cottrell & Neuberg, 2005). Presentation of the affective response and threat perception items was counterbalanced across all respondents.
To assess affective responses, respondents reported both the general favorability (i.e., prejudice) and the specific feelings they directed toward the target ethnic group on 7-point scales. Based on their theoretical relevance to intergroup affect, we focused on six discrete emotions: anger, fear, disgust, envy, pity, and respect.
To assess perceived threats, respondents indicated their agreement with statements regarding the specific threats that the target ethnic group poses to their ingroup (i.e., "people like me") on 7-point scales. Based on their prior empirical relevance to these target and respondent groups, we focused on threats to reciprocity relations (by choice), reciprocity relations (due to a lack of ability), physical safety, personal property, values systems of the ingroup, personal rights and freedoms, and economic opportunities.

Summary of Results

First, respondents reported different profiles of discrete emotional responses toward different target groups. Second, a traditional measure of prejudice (i.e., general favorability) masked these textured emotional reactions in several cases, such that participants reported similar general prejudice--but distinct emotion profiles--toward different groups.
Third, respondents reported different profiles of perceived threats toward different target groups.
Fourth, regression analyses revealed that the specific threats associated with different groups systematically predicted the discrete emotions evoked by the groups; see Cottrell and Neuberg (2005) for more information on these predictions and analyses.
Fifth, different configurations of respondent group and target group demonstrated distinct threat and emotion profiles.


We find strong support for each of our five primary hypotheses. In all, this TESS study makes several important contributions: (1) These data replicate previous studies conducted with college samples, thus shedding valuable light on the validity and generalizability of the theoretical arguments derived from our sociofunctional approach (see Cottrell & Neuberg, 2005).
(2) By investigating our hypotheses within three ethnic groups, we were able to extend previous research by testing the sociofunctional implications that different groups are likely to possess qualitatively different prejudices toward the same group, that prejudices directed toward one another by two groups may not always be similar, etc. (3) These data provide an effective challenge--directed at both laboratory and survey researchers--to the conventional use of a simple, unidimensional measure to assess "prejudice,"
and should lead researchers to consider instead employing a small subset of measures to assess discrete emotional reactions.


These data are currently being prepared for journal submission. Those interested in a more thorough presentation of the conceptual framework and the logic of our analyses may wish to see
Cottrell, C. A., & Neuberg, S. L. (2005). Different emotional reactions to different groups: A sociofunctional threat-based approach to 'prejudice.' Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 770-789.