Proximity under threat: The role of physical distance in intergroup relations

Y. Jenny Xiao, Michael J.A. Wohl, Jay J. Van Bavel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Throughout human history, social groups have invested immense amounts of wealth and time to keep threatening out-groups at a distance. In the current research, we explored the relationship between intergroup threat, physical distance, and discrimination. Specifically, we examined how intergroup threat alters estimates of physical distance to out-groups and how physical proximity affects intergroup relations. Previous research has found that people judge threatening out-groups as physically close. In Studies 1 and 2, we examined ways to attenuate this bias. In Study 1 a secure (vs. permeable) US-Mexico border reduced the estimated proximity to Mexico City among Americans who felt threatened by Mexican immigration. In Study 2, intergroup apologies reduced estimates of physical proximity to a threatening cross-town rival university, but only among participants with cross-group friendships. In Study 3, New York Yankees fans who received an experimental induction of physical proximity to a threatening out-group (Boston Red Sox) had a stronger relationship between their collective identification with the New York Yankees and support for discriminatory policies toward members of the out-group (Red Sox fans) as well as how far they chose to sit from out-group members (Red Sox fans). Together, these studies suggest that intergroup threat alters judgment of physical properties, which has important implications for intergroup relations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0159792
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Proximity under threat: The role of physical distance in intergroup relations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this