The Concept of Threat


Hank, R. (1997). External intergroup threat as an antecedent to perceptions in in-group and out-group homogeneity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,13(6), 0022-3514.

This article explores the concept of threat within the psychological domain. The concept is investigated from different perspectives of psychology as outlined in the article. An establishment of the different ways on how individuals process either threatening or non-threatening stimuli is achieved.  In addition, the article emphasizes on the distinction between interpersonal and intergroup threat within social psychology. Other features of threat are elaborated in the article such as reaction of threat to different personalities. Additionally, reaction to threat is shown to differ depending on the threat target, whether an individual or a group.

The author conducted two research experiments. Both researches involved making observation of natural reaction without an external influence hence a Naturalistic research. The first research purposed to establish the group response when threatened from actions of an external group with intentions to harm. The study involved One hundred and twelve undergraduates in introductory psychology at Texas A&M University receiving partial course credit. Participants from rival universities were to compose essays and exchange it for marking. This created the threat condition. Students were biased in judging essays from rival university students. A benevolence situation was also created and students were lenient in judging essays from a friendly university.

A threat manipulation affected individual perception of the in-group and the out-group. Self out-group differences appeared to exceed the perceived similarities. On the other hand, participants within a benevolent situation indicated no difference in their perception of self out-group similarities or differences. Moreover, participants in the threatened conditioned perceived homogeneity from the out-group as they distinguished the self from the out-group too. In other words, external intergroup threat resulted to an increase in self in-group similarities and self-out-group differences. 

The second experiment involved sixty-nine undergraduates as the participants. It was dissimilar from the first in that the benevolence condition was eliminated. Similar measures applied. The author observed replicate results to the first experiment. The findings thus supported the claim that external intergroup threats results to perceptions of in-group and out-group homogeneity. External threats are thus perceived to establish similarity to the in-group but different from the out-group. These outcomes could not be recorded in the controlled condition because participants in this case were conscious of their differences. 

Both experiments implied that an external threat resulted to perceptions of the out-group as well as the in-group homogeneity. It also caused perceptions of the self as related to the in-group but distinct from the out-group. External threat can thus lead to self-categorization at group levels. This phenomenon is a direct affiliate of perceptions of in-group homogeneity. Similarly, external threat may produce out-group homogeneity. According to the research carried out, there is consistence in that self is a distant from the out-group.

External threat thus differs from internal threat in terms of perceptions and consequences. In case of internal threat, identification is a key moderator of group perceptions. This is because in-group weaknesses make low identifiers quit the groups. They thus perceive in-group heterogeneity and also perceive the self as less similar to the group. External threat is different in that all members align themselves at the same level to defend their group.

The article however leaves the arena open for research on the perceptions associated with external threat targeting at an individual rather than a group. It is also arguable that external threat promotes group unity. According to the author, earlier research shows that members of a group do not view an external threat as towards individuals but the entire group. A possible suggestion is that individuals tend to minimize discrimination directed to them and exaggerate discrimination directed to the group. The article ends by provoking research on how external group threat could find applications in politics. This proposal is based on the foundation that groups experience group-based injustices that could be thought as external threats.

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