Evolutionary psychologists suspect that prejudice is rooted in survival: Our distant ancestors had to avoid outsiders who might have carried disease. Research still shows that when people feel vulnerable to illness, they exhibit more bias toward stigmatized groups. But a new study inPsychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science suggests there might be a modern way to break that link.
“We thought if we could alleviate concerns about disease, we could also alleviate the prejudice that arises from them,” says Julie Y. Huang of the University of Toronto, about a study she conducted with Alexandra Sedlovskaya of Harvard University; Joshua M. Ackerman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Yale University’s John A. Bargh. The group found that the sense of security derived through measures such as vaccination and hand washing can reduce bias against “out” groups, from immigrants to the obese.