How do group-based interaction tendencies form through encounters with individual group members? In four experiments, in which participants interacted with group members in a reinforcement learning task presented as a money sharing game, participants formed instrumental reward associations with individual group members through direct interaction and feedback. Results revealed that individual-level reward learning generalized to a group-based representation, as indicated in self-reported group attitudes, trait impressions, and the tendency to choose subsequent interactions with novel members of the group. Experiments 3 and 4 further demonstrated that group-based reward effects on interaction choices persisted even when past group reward value was no longer predicted of future positive outcomes, consistent with a habit-like expression of group bias. These results demonstrate a novel process of prejudice formation based on instrumental reward learning from direct interactions with individual group members. We discuss implications for existing theories of prejudice, the role of habit in intergroup bias, and intervention strategies to reduce prejudice.
- Instrumental learning
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science