The Nonverbal Transmission of Intergroup Bias: A Model of Bias Contagion with Implications for Social Policy


Max Weisbuch, Psychology Department, University of Denver, Denver, CO 80208 [e-mail:].


Social and policy interventions over the last half-century have achieved laudable reductions in blatant discrimination. Yet members of devalued social groups continue to face subtle discrimination. In this article, we argue that decades of antidiscrimination interventions have failed to eliminate intergroup bias because such bias is contagious. We present a model of bias contagion in which intergroup bias is subtly communicated through nonverbal behavior. Exposure to such nonverbal bias “infects” observers with intergroup bias. The model we present details two means by which nonverbal bias can be expressed—either as a veridical index of intergroup bias or as a symptom of worry about appearing biased. Exposure to this nonverbal bias can increase perceivers’ own intergroup biases through processes of implicit learning, informational influence, and normative influence. We identify critical moderators that may interfere with these processes and consequently propose several social and educational interventions based on these moderators.