Europe and France have been shaken by a major social crisis provoking divisions and conflicts within populations in a context of repeated terrorist attacks as well as an unprecedented migrant wave. In a Europe of closing borders, there is fertile ground for acts of racism and intolerance which can jeopardize the foundational principles of fraternity and equality. In this context, the question of how best to navigate prejudice and the integration towards people originating from other groups is more crucial than ever. This project deals directly with this question by examining how interpersonal behaviors reduce prejudice. Nowadays, prejudice is expressed in covert rather than blatant forms and, therefore, is more tightly linked to “implicit” negative attitudes toward outgroup members. As these attitudes hinge on stored information in memory, this form of prejudice depends on past experiences with outgroup members. During interpersonal contact, our memory system stores sensory-motor traces extracted from multiple cues. Previous interpersonal behaviors are thus an essential determinant of prejudice. At the most fundamental level, interpersonal behavior can be categorized as either approach or avoidance reactions to the interaction partner. Approach and avoidance are defined as a distance decrease or increase, respectively. These behaviors are closely linked to evaluative processes: positive (negative) evaluations trigger approach (avoidance). Importantly, the relation between behavioral reactions and evaluative processes is bidirectional; for example, approaching a person will subsequently increase their likeability. However, past research has not considered the grounded nature of stored memories of interpersonal interactions. To fill this gap, we adopt an embodied and situated perspective. This research project thus investigates prejudice reduction through approach interpersonal behaviors toward outgroup members in ecological contexts. We rely on grounded cognition models derived from the philosophical and psychological literatures to examine the behavioral component of the interaction in its full complexity. Such an endeavor paves the way for an ecological approach to interpersonal interactions. Doing so will enable us to (a) establish the ecological validity of prejudice reduction including an examination of its durability; (b) disentangle theories about evaluative processes, and (c) propose insights for innovative and effective interventions in prejudice reduction. The project will be structured around three tasks. In Task 1, we will develop an innovative procedure to manipulate ecological behaviors and assess the effects of approach on implicit prejudice. To develop an ecological procedure, we will derive elements from Philosophy and Psychology, two fields which have served as the arena for numerous debates concerning grounded cognition. We will apply these theoretical insights in a Virtual Reality Environment where participants interact with avatars. We will rely on different contexts and situations to address the situated nature of interpersonal interactions. In Task 2, we will employ the procedure developed in the previous task and assess whether interpersonal emotions potentiate or lessen the impact of approach on implicit prejudice. Finally, in Task 3, we will study the underlying mechanisms of this effect by systematically opposing two major models explaining the impact of interpersonal behaviors on evaluative processes. In the course of understanding the determinants of prejudice and its relation to approach and avoidance, this project addresses both theoretical as well as applied issues. On a theoretical level, we will create valuable knowledge in the domains of prejudice, evaluative processes and grounded cognition. On an applied level, this project will offer effective intervention tools that can be implemented in everyday settings to reduce prejudice, and thereof foster social integration and national stability.
Monsieur THEODORE ALEXOPOULOS (Université Paris Descartes - Laboratoire Psychologie sociale, menaces et société)
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
LPS Université Paris Descartes - Laboratoire Psychologie sociale, menaces et société
Help of the ANR 283,439 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: October 2016 - 48 Months