The effects of disease threat on ethnocentric attitudes

Throughout history, humans have engaged in ethnocentrism. Previous research suggests that ethnocentrism is an evolved mechanism that reduces the likelihood of a human contracting a contagious disease. The present study explored the effects that contagion and threat have on ethnocentric attitudes. Participants first completed measures designed to assess health philosophy and perceived vulnerability disease. Participants were then randomly assigned to view one of four series of photographs: Disease Threat, Threats Control, Contagion Control, or Neutral Condition. After viewing the photographs, participants completed a generalized ethnocentrism measure. As predicted, ethnocentrism scores were highest when participants felt vulnerable to disease. However, the results from the experimental portion of the study were not consistent with the hypothesis in that there was no significant difference in ethnocentrism scores between participants in the four groups. Participants who endorsed an Eastern health philosophy had lower ethnocentrism scores than those who did not subscribe to an Eastern health philosophy. The findings provide additional evidence that ethnocentrism is associated with perceived vulnerability to disease and health beliefs; however, this effect may not be very substantial.