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“Other Minds Are Not Equal”: Exploring the Role of Mind Perception in an Intergroup Context

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Many theories have been developed to explain the processes by which people attribute mental states to other minds. However, these theories do not fully address potential asymmetries in the attribution of mind to members of one’s own vs. other groups. Recent research suggests that attributing or denying mental states to other human beings may depend on perceived stereotypes of the target group, but differences may also occur in the “minimal group” context—that is, upon first categorizing targets into arbitrary or novel groups. The current research proposes that there is, indeed, a difference in how we perceive the minds of ingroup and outgroup members and, consequently, in our moral judgments involving those individuals. Two studies were designed to analyze test this thesis. Study 1(N = 494 college students) made use of a writing task and speeded action identification task to assess spontaneous mental state attributions to members of four differentially stereotyped groups. Overall, the types of mind attributions produced in the writing samples reflected the stereotype content of the targeted groups. Results also confirmed that participants were more easily able to imagine the ingroup member performing complex actions, requiring higher levels of agency and motivation attributions, compared to the homeless target. This study also examined the moral consequences of attributing or withholding mental capacities to group members—with a specific focus on differences in harm and closeness, as well as consequentialist thoughts about the targeted groups. Mixed results were found supporting certain predictions based on stereotype content for some groups, but not others. Study 2 (N = 390 college students) used the same tools to further explore the underlying mind perception in a less stereotype-rich context—namely, the minimal group paradigm. By manipulating group meaningfulness, this study examined the minimum conditions for the emergence of mind perception asymmetries. Despite the successful induction of minimal groups, this study’s findings found limited support for group entitativity influence on mind perception in this context. Theoretical implications for the future research are provided in the discussion.

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