Proximity under threat: The role of physical distance in intergroup relations
Throughout human history, social groups have invested immense amounts of wealth and time to keep threatening out-groups at a distance. In the current research, we explored the relationship between intergroup threat, physical distance, and discrimination. Specifically, we examined how intergroup threat alters estimates of physical distance to out-groups and how physical proximity affects intergroup relations. Previous research has found that people judge threatening out-groups as physically close. In Studies 1 and 2, we examined ways to attenuate this bias. In Study 1 a secure (vs. permeable) US-Mexico border reduced the estimated proximity to Mexico City among Americans who felt threatened by Mexican immigration. In Study 2, intergroup apologies reduced estimates of physical proximity to a threatening cross-town rival university, but only among participants with cross-group friendships. In Study 3, New York Yankees fans who received an experimental induction of physical proximity to a threatening out-group (Boston Red Sox) had a stronger relationship between their collective identification with the New York Yankees and support for discriminatory policies toward members of the out-group (Red Sox fans) as well as how far they chose to sit from out-group members (Red Sox fans). Together, these studies suggest that intergroup threat alters judgment of physical properties, which has important implications for intergroup relations.