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PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e23929. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023929. Epub 2011 Sep 1.

Signal detection on the battlefield: priming self-protection vs. revenge-mindedness differentially modulates the detection of enemies and allies.

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  • 1Department of Technological Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, Arizona State University, Mesa, Arizona, United States of America. vaughn.becker@asu.edu


Detecting signs that someone is a member of a hostile outgroup can depend on very subtle cues. How do ecology-relevant motivational states affect such detections? This research investigated the detection of briefly-presented enemy (versus friend) insignias after participants were primed to be self-protective or revenge-minded. Despite being told to ignore the objectively nondiagnostic cues of ethnicity (Arab vs. Western/European), gender, and facial expressions of the targets, both priming manipulations enhanced biases to see Arab males as enemies. They also reduced the ability to detect ingroup enemies, even when these faces displayed angry expressions. These motivations had very different effects on accuracy, however, with self-protection enhancing overall accuracy and revenge-mindedness reducing it. These methods demonstrate the importance of considering how signal detection tasks that occur in motivationally-charged environments depart from results obtained in conventionally motivationally-inert laboratory settings.

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