We believe that intergroup threats play a significant role in causing the problems that plague intergroup relations. In this chapter, we lay out the reasoning and research on which this claim is based. We begin by addressing the causes of intergroup threats (see Figure 7.1). We argue that some types of people are more prone than others to perceive intergroup threats. Negative attitudes and related cognitions also play a role in causing intergroup threats. Likewise, prior intergroup relations and intergroup contact contribute to the perception of intergroup threats. In addition, the circumstances in which intergroup interactions occur can lead people to perceive that their group is under threat. Next, we argue that intergroup threats can lead to negative attitudes and expectations, activate cognitive biases, and reduce the effectiveness of cognitive processing. In addition, they often elicit negative emotions such as fear and anger. Perceived intergroup threats commonly lead to negative intentions and behaviors toward outgroups including aggression and discrimination. Intergroup threats can also generate retaliatory and other negative reactions from outgroups that further complicate intergroup relations. However, under some conditions intergroup threats can lead to positive outcomes such as amicable interactions and productive attempts to resolve conflicts. We end with a discussion of the implications of intergroup threats for intergroup interactions.
To encourage future research on intergroup threats, we speculate freely about their causes and consequences. We present examples of relevant research when they are available. Our presentation of these issues is shaped by our previous theoretical articles on intergroup threats, our disciplinary background (social psychology), and the fact that the overwhelming majority of the research on these topics has been conducted in Western countries.
Types of Intergroup Threats
Realistic and symbolic threats have been the focus of most of the extensive research on intergroup threats (Stephan, Ybarra, & Morrison, 2015). Realistic threats are those in which an outgroup is perceived to pose a threat of tangible harm to the ingroup. The potential types of tangible harm range from experiencing negative psychological outcomes such as frustration, embarrassment, feeling inept, being confused, or being perceived as prejudiced, to being concerned about being the target of physical harm, discrimination, economic loss, theft, destruction of personal property or being exposed to infectious diseases.