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The behavioral immune system and the psychology of human sociality

Author(s): Schaller M

Abstract

Because immunological defence against pathogens is costly and merely reactive, human anti-pathogen defence is also characterized by proactive behavioural mechanisms that inhibit contact with pathogens in the first place. This behavioural immune system comprises psychological processes that infer infection risk from perceptual cues, and that respond to these perceptual cues through the activation of aversive emotions, cognitions and behavioural impulses. These processes are engaged flexibly, producing context–contingent variation in the nature and magnitude of aversive responses. These processes have important implications for human social cognition and social behaviour—including implications for social gregariousness, person perception, intergroup prejudice, mate preferences, sexual behaviour and conformity. Empirical evidence bearing on these many implications is reviewed and discussed. This review also identifies important directions for future research on the human behavioural immune system—including the need for enquiry into underlying mechanisms, additional behavioural consequences and implications for human health and well-being.

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