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Mood states affect judgments in general and intergroup judgments in particular. The aim of the present research was to show that ingroup projection is influenced by affective states in a similar way as ingroup bias. Varying mood states and relevance of the intergroup situation orthogonally, the results supported the hypotheses that positive mood in conjunction with low relevance and negative mood in conjunction with high relevance elicit higher levels of biased prototypicality perceptions compared to the other conditions of the design. Given substantial evidence from previous research that mood in conjunction with perceived relevance moderates motivated versus heuristic processing, we propose that the present results correspond with motivation- versus cognition-based ingroup projection and suggest different processes underlying the phenomenon of relative ingroup prototypicality. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
A large number of studies have emphasized the essential role of mood in intergroup judgments (for reviews, see Bodenhausen, Mussweiler, Gabriel, & Moreno, 2001; Machunsky & Meiser, 2009b). However, some studies emphasized the negative effects of sad mood on intergroup judgments (e.g., Kenworthy, Canales, Weaver, & Miller, 2003) whereas others stressed the deteriorating effects of elevated mood (e.g., Bodenhausen, Kramer, & Suesser, 1994) so that, overall, the results concerning mood effects on intergroup judgments remained largely inconsistent. An important step forward in the understanding of mood effects in general was Forgas' multiprocess affect infusion model (AIM; Forgas, 1995). The model specified a number of boundary conditions for various mood processes so that it allows one to incorporate a large range of effects that were initially thought of as being incompatible. Among other contributions, the model is able to explain why both happy and sad moods may have the same outcome in terms of increased discrimination although they elicit fundamentally different processes.
An impressive demonstration of the converging impact of happy and sad moods with regard to discrimination stems from a series of experiments by Forgas and Fiedler (1996) that show that both happy and sad moods increase intergroup discrimination but under different boundary conditions. The authors reasoned that positive mood together with low relevance of the intergroup situation elicits a heuristic processing style. Heuristic processing in the context of an intergroup scenario will foster the use of categorical information (Bodenhausen, 1993), and a typical consequence of increased use of category labels is an increase in intergroup discrimination (e.g., Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000). In contrast, negative mood in combination with high personal relevance of the judgment is expected to result in motivated processing that aims at repairing one's negative mood state and restoring a positive self-image (Forgas, 1991). In the context of an intergroup scenario, Forgas and Fiedler (1996) expected mood repair to be achieved through a privileged treatment of one's own group so that the authors hypothesized negative mood together with high personal relevance of the intergroup situation to also increase intergroup discrimination. Hence, ingroup favoritism (i.e., a biased intergroup judgment in favor of the ingroup) was expected to arise under two different conditions, namely conditions that elicit heuristic processing (i.e., positive mood together with low relevance of the intergroup situation) and conditions that elicit motivated processing (i.e., negative mood together with high relevance of the intergroup situation). Two experiments supported the authors' predictions of increased ingroup bias under both heuristic and motivated processing. The assumption that motivated and heuristic processing, respectively, were responsible for the observed effects was corroborated by a specific pattern of correlations between response latencies for the judgment task and ingroup bias. In particular, under low relevance, positive mood as opposed to negative mood went together with fast responses and with more ingroup bias, indicating a simplified and resource efficient (i.e., heuristic) judgment process. Under high relevance, however, slow response times under negative mood were related to more bias, indicating a time-intensive search process in service of a preexisting goal (i.e., motivated processing). Altogether, this research nicely contributed to the endeavor to disentangle inconsistent results of mood effects in the domain of intergroup judgments.
The first aim of the present research was to show that a similar pattern may emerge also for subtle correlates of intergroup discrimination. In particular, ingroup favoritism has been shown to be associated with the perception of the ingroup as being more prototypical than the outgroup of a common superordinate category that includes both the ingroup and the outgroup. The ingroup projection model introduced by Mummendey and Wenzel (1999) suggests that people project ingroup attributes onto the superordinate category and, furthermore, that the resulting relative ingroup prototypicality leads to a more positive evaluation of the ingroup compared with the outgroup (see also Turner, 1987). Research on the ingroup projection model has supported the general assumption that ingroups are perceived as more prototypical than outgroups (Waldzus, Mummendey, Wenzel, & Boettcher, 2004; Wenzel, Mummendey, Weber, & Waldzus, 2003) and that relative ingroup prototypicality reliably covaries with ingroup bias (Bianchi, Machunsky, Steffens, & Mummendey, 2009; Wenzel et al., 2003; see also Machunsky, Meiser, & Mummendey, 2009). The present research thus aims at testing whether the predictions of the AIM also hold for the more subtle measure of relative ingroup prototypicality.
Furthermore, this research not only may extend previous findings by testing the assumptions of the AIM also for more subtle measures of intergroup judgment but may also be informative concerning the process assumptions of the ingroup projection model. Despite convincing empirical evidence for the phenomenon of relative ingroup prototypicality and its correlates with ingroup bias, there remains some uncertainty about the processes underlying ingroup projection. Earlier research seems to indicate that both motivation and cognition may play a role for the perception of relative ingroup prototypicality. Given substantial evidence that the experimental paradigm employed by Forgas and Fiedler (1996) elicits different types of processing styles, we suppose that the present research will also shed some further light on the processes underlying ingroup projection. Therefore, the second aim of the present research was to contribute to the understanding of the mechanisms leading to ingroup projection.
So far, there is some tentative evidence for motivation-based ingroup projection on the one hand and for a cognition-based perspective (including also heuristic processes) on ingroup projection on the other hand. Evidence for the former process is provided by studies showing that ingroup identification goes together with relative ingroup prototypicality (i.e., Wenzel et al., 2003) and that threat from an outgroup increases relative ingroup prototypicality (Ullrich, Christ, & Schlüter, 2006). Evidence for the latter process comes from research that has emphasized the role of mental category representations with more complex and diverse superordinate categories reducing relative ingroup prototypicality (Waldzus, Mummendey, Wenzel, & Weber, 2003). Furthermore, the link between relative ingroup prototypicality and ingroup bias emerges especially for ingroups that are mentally represented as homogeneous and distinct (Machunsky et al., 2009), and recent research provided preliminary evidence for increased levels of relative prototypicality for groups with a prototype-based compared with an exemplar-based group representation (Machunsky & Meiser, 2013). Hence, empirical evidence seems to support a motivation- as well as cognition-based perspective on ingroup projection so that one may conclude that both motivation and cognition may play a role for the perception of relative ingroup prototypicality. This conclusion nicely converges with recent research by Rosa and Waldzus (2012). The authors manipulated time pressure, cognitive load, and thoughtfulness together with the security of the intergroup context and found evidence for elevated levels of ingroup projection under conditions that were expected to elicit heuristic processing (i.e., high time pressure, high cognitive load, and low thoughtfulness together with a secure intergroup context) as well as under conditions that were expected to elicit motivated processing (i.e., low time pressure, low cognitive load, and high thoughtfulness together with an insecure intergroup context) compared with the other cells of the design. These studies manipulated both motivation- and cognition-based processing within the same design and thus represent an impressive illustration of the notion that ingroup projection may result from different processes.
Nevertheless, some interpretational problems remain with these previous studies. Specifically, Rosa and Waldzus (2012) used minimal-group-like paradigms (Experiments 1 and 2) and assessed relative ingroup prototypicality by asking participants for trait ratings with regard to the ingroup, the outgroup, and the superordinate category. Given that the groups were minimal, no ingroup or outgroup prototype existed so that it remains an open question how participants formed ingroup and outgroup judgments. One option is that the mental self-representation constituted the basis for ingroup and superordinate category ratings (Machunsky & Meiser, 2009a). However, such a process would call into question whether the authors actually observed ingroup projection. In Experiment 3, the authors used real groups and thereby solved the aforementioned problem. However, another problem may result from the specific manipulations of motivated and heuristic processing. In particular, empirical evidence for the construct validity of the manipulations in Experiments 1–3 was provided neither in these studies nor in previous research, and it thus remains uncertain whether the observed effects on ingroup projection can indeed be attributed to motivated versus heuristic processing. The present study therefore extends this previous research by relying on a well-established experimental paradigm with solid evidence for the construct validity of the manipulations of heuristic and motivated processing.
The objective of the present research is thus twofold. First, we aim to demonstrate that incidental mood influences not only explicit measures of intergroup discrimination but also more subtle measures of intergroup perception and judgment. In other words, relative ingroup prototypicality as an important correlate of ingroup bias is expected to vary with mood and relevance in much the same way as ingroup bias itself. We therefore hypothesized that biased prototypicality perceptions may result from both positive and negative moods and that the relevance of the intergroup situation moderates the effect of mood with increased ingroup projection under negative mood in conjunction with high relevance of the intergroup situation and under positive mood in conjunction with low relevance of the intergroup situation relative to the other constellations of the design. Such a pattern of results would underline the relation between ingroup prototypicality and intergroup judgments and would further support the AIM by showing that its predictions not only hold for rather blatant indicators of intergroup discrimination but are also valid for more subtle measures of intergroup perception.
Second, given substantial evidence that positive mood together with low relevance of the judgment elicits heuristic processing and negative mood together with high relevance of the judgment elicits motivated processing (Bodenhausen et al., 1994; Forgas, 1989, 1991; Forgas & Fiedler, 1996), we believe that the hypothesized effects would constitute further evidence for the notion that ingroup projection has both motivational and cognitive origins (Rosa & Waldzus, 2012; see also Machunsky & Meiser, 2013). Finally, we used a real intergroup scenario so that participants could access ingroup and outgroup prototypes that constitute the origin of inference to the superordinate category. The present research thus goes beyond previous research by extending the predictions of the AIM to more subtle measures of intergroup judgment and by applying a well-established research paradigm that allows for informed conclusions concerning the underlying processes.
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Earlier research has shown that mood influences ingroup bias in fundamental ways (Forgas & Fiedler, 1996). The aim of the present research was to demonstrate that mood also influences an important correlate of ingroup bias, namely prototypicality perceptions (Wenzel, Mummendey, & Waldzus, 2007). Building on a research design by Forgas and Fiedler (1996), we found that relative ingroup prototypicality, measured either in an indirect way in terms of Euclidean distances or in a direct way by prototypicality judgments, increases under positive mood with low relevance of the intergroup context as well as under negative mood with high relevance of the intergroup context. These results corroborate the idea that the implications of the AIM also hold for more subtle measures of intergroup judgments.
Given that earlier research has demonstrated that the effects of mood and relevance can be attributed to a heuristic processing style in the positive mood/low relevance condition and to a motivated processing style in the negative mood/high relevance condition (Bodenhausen et al., 1994; Forgas, 1989, 1991; Forgas & Fiedler, 1996), heuristic versus motivated processing may also underlie the pattern of results in the present research. The present research may be thus considered as another piece of evidence for the recently formulated assumption that ingroup projection can result from both heuristic and motivated processing (Machunsky & Meiser, 2013; Rosa & Waldzus, 2012). This conclusion raises the question of the processes underlying motivated and heuristic ingroup projection. The ingroup projection model as it was originally formulated by Mummendey and Wenzel (1999) is essentially motivational as it strongly builds on the premise of social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) that people strive toward a positive social identity. In other words, people use ingroup projection instrumentally to favor their ingroup. Concerning a cognitive mechanism of ingroup projection, Wenzel et al. (2007) mentioned differential accessibility of ingroup versus outgroup exemplars or inductive reasoning principles as possible cognition-based processes of ingroup projection.
Machunsky and Meiser (2013) have suggested another possibility that builds on the seminal work of Rosch, Mervis, Gray, Johnson, and Boyes-Braem (1976) and the notion that superordinate categories are generally less defined than so-called basic categories. Hence, superordinate category representations have to be generated at the time of judgment, and one strategy may be to infer characteristics from subordinate categories. Various lines of research suggest that mental ingroup and outgroup representations differ (e.g., Maass, Salvi, Arcuri, & Semin, 1989; Otten & Moskowitz, 2000) so that under certain conditions, it is more efficient and less cognitively demanding to use the ingroup instead of the outgroup representation in order to characterize the superordinate category. The assumption that inferences from the ingroup require less cognitive effort than inferences from the outgroup implies that this form of ingroup projection is essentially heuristic. The process proposed by Machunsky and Meiser (2013) certainly represents only one among many possible heuristic processes underlying biased prototypicality perceptions, and the present research does not provide any direct evidence for a particular heuristic process. Likewise, the present research lacks direct evidence for the assumption that heuristic versus motivated processes underlie the observed effects. Our conclusion concerning the underlying processes builds on previous research that has revealed processing differences as a consequence of the employed research paradigm. Although it is reasonable to infer processes by relying on substantial evidence provided by past research, the lack of direct evidence for the underlying processes should be regarded as a limitation of the present research.
Another issue concerns the causal relation between relative ingroup prototypicality and ingroup bias. So far, we have not specified the direction of influence between prototypicality and bias, and have instead only referred to a covariation between these two variables. The authors of the ingroup projection model postulated that relative ingroup prototypically represents the basis of evaluative intergroup judgments and, thus, precedes ingroup bias (Mummendey & Wenzel, 1999; Wenzel et al., 2007). Two studies provided empirical evidence for this sequence. First, a study by Waldzus and Mummendey (2002, cited in Wenzel et al., 2007) showed that experimental manipulations of relative ingroup prototypicality led to significant differences in ingroup bias in the expected directions. Second, a two-wave panel study by Kessler et al. (2010) yielded causal effects from relative ingroup prototypicality to ingroup bias. However, this latter study also revealed that the relation between relative ingroup prototypicality and ingroup bias is reciprocally causal so that ingroup bias also influenced perceptions of prototypicality. The conclusion from this analysis is that relative ingroup prototypicality is not only a precursor of ingroup bias but may also serve as a post hoc justification for the devaluation of the outgroup (see also Machunsky et al., 2009, for a similar perspective). Thus, there is some evidence that the ingroup prototypicality–ingroup bias link works both ways.
The finding that the link between prototypicality and bias is reciprocal leads to the interesting question whether the two causal pathways are contingent upon certain boundary conditions, and it appears plausible to assume that they are. For instance, in the context of the present research, one could assume that heuristic processing, prevailing under positive mood and low relevance, leads to a cognitive shortcut of ingroup projection that may stem from differential availability of ingroup and outgroup prototypes (Machunsky & Meiser, 2013). The resulting ingroup prototypicality may then serve as a heuristic cue for intergroup judgments. This suggests a sequence from prototypicality to bias. In contrast, for negative mood in conjunction with high relevance of the intergroup situation, the reverse causal pathway may appear more plausible: Given that participants strive toward a self-enhancing perspective of themselves, they may first evaluate the ingroup more positively than the outgroup in order to reach their goal of self-enhancement. In a next step, they may feel a need to justify their biased judgment. Perceiving the ingroup as more prototypical than the outgroup may provide a justification for the motivated biased intergroup evaluation. These assumptions remain speculative here, and more research is needed to clarify the relation between processing style and causality. Nevertheless, the present research may stimulate new research questions in that one may consider processing styles and their influence on the causality between relative ingroup prototypicality and ingroup bias.5
In general, much research over the past decades has shown that weak and temporary mood states can bring about strong influences on intergroup perception and judgment. To name but a few of the most impressive studies, we have learned that positive compared with negative or neutral mood increases stereotypic judgments (Bodenhausen et al., 1994), false recognition of stereotypic attributes (Park & Banaji, 2000), and intergroup discrimination given that the relevance of the intergroup situation is low (Forgas & Fiedler, 1996). Conversely, Forgas and Fiedler (1996) demonstrated that also negative mood, in combination with high relevance of the intergroup situation, increases intergroup discrimination. According to the authors, it is unfortunate that events that make group membership personally involving are often those that generate negative affective states. The general finding that everyday mood produces biases that have quite remarkable consequences on intergroup judgments has practical implications, for instance for questions of criminal and social justice. The present finding that mood influences not only evaluative intergroup judgments but also perceptions of relative ingroup prototypicality may allow deriving some specific recommendations for practice. First, a promising way to reduce biased prototypicality perceptions under positive mood is to increase personal relevance of the judgment. For instance, Bodenhausen et al. (1994) have demonstrated that personal accountability of judgments decreases stereotypic perceptions under positive mood. In many everyday life situations ranging from personnel selection in organizations to the distribution of financial means in communities and associations, it may therefore be a good strategy to increase personal relevance, for instance by financial incentives or by public accountability. In contrast, in situations that may cause negative affective states and personal relevance in the sense of potentially self-threatening outcomes, it may be more instrumental to take actions that secure the status of the judging person or group (Rosa & Waldzus, 2012). For instance, judgments in the context of reorganizations of companies or in the context of criminal cases involving victim witnesses may be less biased if authorities assure status positions of subunits and victim groups. Another strategy that may work independent of positive or negative mood may be to increase the perceived diversity of the superordinate category so that ingroup projection is blocked (Waldzus et al., 2003). However, if relative ingroup prototypicality serves as a post hoc justification for ingroup bias that results from the motivation to enhance oneself, this strategy may be less effective as participants will probably find other grounds for justifying ingroup bias.
In sum, the present research showed that mood in conjunction with personal relevance affects perceptions of relative ingroup prototypicality much the same way as it affects evaluative intergroup bias itself. This may be considered as evidence that the implications of the AIM hold true for more subtle measures of intergroup perception. Furthermore, the observed pattern of results may be another piece of evidence for recent theoretical developments of the ingroup projection model that assume ingroup projection to occur for both motivation- and cognition-based reasons.