Behavior may be automatically prompted by cues in our social environment. Previous research has focused on cognitive explanations for such effects. Here we hypothesize that affective processes are susceptible to similar automatic influences. We propose that exposure to groups stereotyped as dangerous or violent may provoke an anxiety response and, thus, a tendency to move away. In the present experiment, we subliminally exposed participants to images of such a group, and found that they displayed greater avoidance in a subsequent interaction. Critically, this effect was explained by their increased sensitivity to threat-related information. These findings demonstrate an affective mechanism responsible for nonconscious priming effects on interpersonal behavior.
- subliminal priming