While most research on prejudice has focused on how people's negative stereotypes contribute to intolerance, new research by Princeton University's Susan Fiske, PhD, indicates that emotions such as pity, envy, disgust and pride may play a bigger role. In fact, according to Fiske's research--conducted with Princeton doctoral student Amy Cuddy and Lawrence University psychologist Peter Glick, PhD--these emotions appear tied not only to people's prejudicial ideas about social, cultural and religious "outgroups" they don't belong to but also to discriminatory behavior--an important, but often overlooked aspect of prejudice, said Fiske during an APA Board of Scientific Affairs Master Lecture at APA's Annual Convention in Honolulu.

"It's not illegal to have a bad thought or feeling in your head," said Fiske. "What really matters is the behavior."

And the types discriminatory behavior prejudice can spur include excluding and harming others, Fiske said. She and her colleagues have also found evidence that emotional prejudices of pity, envy, disgust and pride exist across cultures and, through neuroimaging studies, that these four emotions may activate distinct parts of the brain.

Why emotions?

Fiske began her research on emotions and prejudice with a metaanalysis of 57 studies--done over 50 years--on attitude behavior and racial bias. With former Princeton student Cara Talaska and New York University professor Shelly Chaiken, PhD, she found that emotions predict behaviors more than twice as well as negative stereotypes.

To better establish how emotions figure into discrimination, Fiske, Cuddy and Glick put together a study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 82, No. 6), to determine how people sort sociocultural groups into categories and what emotions those groupings bring forth. They surveyed both students and nonstudents and found that people tend to rate groups along two primary dimensions: warmth, or whether the group is friendly, trustworthy or sincere; and competence, or whether the group is skillful and capable. In turn, these ratings are associated with one of four emotions: disgust, pity, pride and envy.

For example, people rate groups such as homeless people, drug addicts and poor people low on both warmth and competence, prompting them to feel disgust. In contrast, they rate elderly people, along with the disabled and developmentally challenged, high on warmth but low on competence, prompting them to feel pity. People tend to rate middle-class people, whites and Americans high on both warmth and competence, prompting them to feel "pride," or what Fiske calls feelings of "ingroup" or "reference group" warmth and affiliation. And, finally, people tend to rate those who are rich, Jewish or Asian low on warmth and high on competence, prompting them to feel envy.

The same patterns emerged in a separate survey whose U.S. sample was 77 percent white, 6 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic. Fiske and her colleagues asked participants to rate behaviors, such as "harm," "cooperation," "help and protection" and "affiliation," for each of the four sociocultural groupings that had elicited pity, pride, disgust and envy.

They found that those in the disgust category prompted feelings of both active and passive "harm," while pride-inducing groups receive both "cooperate" and "protect," but no feelings of harm. The pity groups get "helped and protected," but also socially excluded and neglected, Fiske noted, while the envy groups prompt a disturbing mix of "harm" and "affiliation."

"They get cooperated with and associated with, because they are high status and they have resources that other people have to have," she explained. "But when the chips are down, they get attacked."

"I personally think that this is a model of genocide," she added. "Many of the groups who have been subject to mass killings or genocide are groups who were once seen as entrepreneurs but perceived as outsiders."

Prejudice across cultures

Once Fiske and her colleagues had shown this relationship between emotions and behaviors in groups of Americans, they wanted to see whether these links would hold true in cultures known for modesty and humility, such as Asian ones.

"If you don't have these norms of saying 'I'm the greatest,'" she said, "then maybe you don't have a norm saying 'we're the greatest' and so maybe you won't have the same kind of outgroup derogation, because you don't have the same kind of ingroup love."

Their data showed that people in European countries categorized groups the same way the Americans in her original studies did. However, data gleaned from three Asian samples in Japan, Korea and Hong Kong showed a remarkable difference, she noted.

For the most part, participants sorted the groups similarly to American participants, for example, assigning disgust to the homeless and envy to the rich. However, none of the groups fell under the "pride" category. That is to say, feelings of ingroup warmth were missing, Fiske said.

"So the answer is that this is both universal and culture-bound," says Fiske. "It suggests that you can have outgroup derogation without ingroup love prejudice."

Emotions on the brain

Fiske's latest round of research, with Princeton doctoral student Lasana Harris, is examining whether pity, disgust, envy and pride activate distinct neural regions of the brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Fiske and Harris measured the brain activity of 12 participants as they categorized 24 pictures of people, animals and objects meant to be associated with the four emotions.

So far, they've found that "differentiated prejudices appear to lead to differentiated activations," Fiske said. These brain activations add to evidence from verbal reports that emotional prejudices reside in particular brain regions and suggest that these reactions are immediate and not necessarily conscious, she explained.

"We are getting different patterns of response, but what we need now is to have multiple replications," she added. "But it's promising."