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On the Outside Looking In: Distress and Sympathy for Ethnic Victims of Violence by Out-Group Members

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It is well documented that individuals respond with negative emotions to racial and ethnic out-groups. Yet, it is unknown whether the responses are a measure of simple emotional reactivity or if they are also influenced by emotion regulation. Given the importance of emotions in out-group evaluation (see Intergroup Emotion Theory; Smith and Mackie, 2008), we investigated emotional reactivity and regulation in response to out-group victimization. Forty-one undergraduates completed the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire and viewed three sets of images: lynching of African-Americans, torture of Abu Ghraib prison detainees, and IAPS images depicting graphic violence. Participants rated 13 emotions before and after viewing the images. A factor analysis identified four emotional response categories: Distress, Sympathy, Arousal and Avoidance. Analyses at both the individual emotion level and factor level indicated that negative emotions (e.g., anger, disgust, and guilt) were greater in response to violence against ethnic groups relative to violence depicted in the IAPS images. Emotional suppression predicted blunted distress and arousal to ethnic victimization. These findings highlight that emotional responses to out-group victimization are complex and tempered by emotional suppression. Individuals’ emotion regulation may provide further insight into responses to ethnic and racial out-groups.

Affiliations: 1: Marquette University, Department of Psychology Milwaukee, wiUSA ; 2: Marquette University, Department of Psychology Milwaukee, wiUSA


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