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Heuristic cues automatically activate disease cognitions despite rational knowledge to the contrary Duncan, Lesley Alexandra

Abstract

According to one adaptive perspective on social cognition, the perception of facial disfigurement activates an evolved disease-avoidance mechanism, and in so doing automatically triggers disease-relevant cognitions. The present study used the implicit association test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998), a computer-based reaction-time methodology to provide an especially strong test of the alleged automaticity of this disfigurement-disease linkage. The methods were designed to measure who is more likely to be implicitly linked to the concept "disease"- (a) a person who is known to be healthy but who has a facial disfigurement, or (b) a person who is known to be infected with a contagious disease but who looks just fine. The findings suggest that the tendency to associate disfigurement with disease is automatic and can actually override explicit rational knowledge to the contrary. Some limitations and implications of the study are discussed.

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