EFFECTS OF DISEASE SALIENCE ON SHAME, PRIDE, AND CONFORMITY
University of Kansas
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Three studies investigated the effects of disease salience on conformity and the emotions of shame and pride. Humans possess a set of psychological adaptations to combat deleterious effects of parasitic disease (Schaller & Duncan, 2007). While these adaptations predictably lead to avoidance of strangers and out-groups, they also increase approach and conformity towards the in-group. I posit that heightened conformity pressure resulting from disease threat helps procure alliances and social support that is beneficial in offsetting the prospective cost of illness (Navarrete & Fessler, 2006). Shame and pride are hypothesized to provide reward-punishment contingencies to facilitate conformity to help one fulfill expectations of one's in-group. If disease threat increases conformity in individuals so they can secure social coalitions, the process should be driven by an increase in shame and a decrease in pride. I hypothesized that disease salience would (i) increase conformity, (ii) increase shame and decrease pride, and (iii) shame would increase whereas pride would decrease conformity. Three studies conducted on KU undergraduates tested these hypotheses using both correlational (Study 1) and experimental (Studies 2 and 3) designs. Study 1 (N=289) found positive associations between indicators of chronic disease salience and those of conformity. Also, some of these associations were partially mediated by chronic levels of shame and pride. Study 2 (N=290) manipulated disease salience by exposing participants to information about either the Flu (disease condition) or the white-tail deer (control condition) and recorded participants' approval of a proposed policy prescribing stricter measures against the issue of sexual assault on KU campus under three conditions of normative influence (pro-policy, anti-policy, and neutral). Disease salience did not increase conformity on average. Instead, it introduced resistance among participants with high commitment to feminist ideology in response to anti-policy influence. Participants with low commitment to feminist ideology did not exhibit such resistance. Study 3 (N=248) examined the effects of disease salience on approval of a proposed policy curtailing freedom of speech on KU campus under the same three conditions of normative influence as in Study 2. Disease salience (marginally) increased conformity to pro-policy influence among those who placed little value on Religiousness. Neither results of Study 2 nor 3, however, showed a mediation of these effects via shame or pride. Results of the three studies presented here suggest that disease threat may increase conformity to social influence when the influence is consistent with one's existing positions or those held by one's in-group. Disease threat can also cause opposition to social influence if it is against one's existing commitments or the views espoused by one's in-group. Findings of this research highlight the role of commitment to in-group ideology as a critical moderator of the conformity inducing effect of disease threat. These results also explain why disease-ridden societies espouse extreme ideologies and are more polarized along ideological lines.
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