May 24, 2010

Sexual Selection and the Psychological Architecture of Race Prejudice

Carlos Navarrete, Michigan State University Department of Psychology & Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior Program

Intergroup aggression perpetrated by men has been a persistent feature of human societies for centuries, and may have been common enough over evolutionary time to have allowed selection to shape the neural circuitry underlying the psychology of prejudice. Because intergroup aggression poses different adaptive challenges for men and women, the psychological adaptations that operate to cope with such threats may differ between the sexes as well. Because racial categories are often mentally represented as group-like entities, modern race bias should be understandable within this general framework. Results from several studies are consistent with this perspective, and show that (a) race bias is primarily directed at male exemplars of racial-outgroups, (b) men are more likely to be aggressively prejudiced than women, and (c) women are more likely to be fearfully prejudiced than men, particularly during the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle. Illustrations of how these systems may be operative in political attitudes and voting preferences for Barack Obama are presented. These results are consistent with the notion that the psychology of intergroup prejudice is generated by different psychological systems between men and women.