Interactions between people are influenced in important ways by the immediate and nonconscious ("automatic") responses that unfold in the presence of others. This is particularly true when one of the interaction partners is a member of a salient social category, such as a racial minority. The main question this research will answer is, "What are the factors influencing automatic cognitive, physiological, and behavioral responses toward others?" This proposal answers this question by looking at how these responses are shaped by the factors in a person's environment that allow vs. prevent the person from executing certain behaviors. For example, a person cannot flee a threatening other if cornered, and a person can more successfully be aggressive when surrounded by one's coalition. It is proposed that three factors, or resources, serve as input into a nonconscious computational process of possible action: coalitional resources ("What can I do given the presence of reliable others?"), bodily resources ("What can I do given my current physiology?"), and structural resources ("What can I do given the physical environment?"). This research will test how each of these factors are incorporated into decisions about which actions are to be executed, and how this computational process is reflected at the cognitive, physiological, and behavioral levels.

The proposal focuses primarily on interactions with males from racial outgroups and the defensive threat behavior that might follow from such interactions. The research is interdisciplinary in drawing explicit connections to nonhuman animal models, evolutionary biology, and behavioral ecology. The experiments utilize diverse experimental techniques and analyses, including reaction time measures, psychophysiological assessment, immersive environments, and computational modeling. The program of research connects the cognitive, physiological, neurobiological, and behavioral levels, and sets up a generative program of future research.

The questions addressed by this proposal are of critical importance both for individuals and for society in general, because social interactions are strongly influenced by the types of automatic responses studied in this proposal. For example, this research addresses the underlying causes of racial asymmetries in unarmed shootings of citizens by police officers and other citizens alike.

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Michigan State University
East Lansing
United States
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