Electronic Theses and Dissertations


Open Access Thesis


In order to protect themselves from harmful pathogens, individuals have evolved a behavioral immune system (BIS) that is sensitive to disease cues (Schaller, 2006). At the cultural-level, there are variations in norms based on the prevalence of pathogens within a region (Schaller & Murray, 2008). Previous findings support the notion that the BIS promotes conformity (Murray & Schaller, 2012; Murray, Trudeau, & Schaller, 2011; Gelfand et al., 2011), as this produces an environment that is more protected against harmful pathogens. The current study attempted to provide experimental evidence for increased punishment for norm violations when the BIS was activated. Seventy-six participants were exposed to one of three photosets that were designed to elicit either BIS activation, general threat arousal, or a neutral affect. After viewing the photoset, participants took part in a fixed artificial group task in which fairness norms were violated. It was hypothesized that participants who were exposed to BIS activation would be more likely to reject unfair offers within that task. A main effect of offer fairness was found, where the more unfair an offer was, the more likely participants were to reject it. However, no significant interaction between prime and offer fairness emerged. This effect was neither moderated nor mediated by a measurement of perceived sensitivity to disease. Treating reaction time as the dependent variable, exploratory analyses revealed a similar main effect of offer fairness. Similarly, no significant interaction between prime and offer fairness emerged with reaction time as the dependent variable. Collapsing the BIS activation and general threat arousal groups did yield a moderately significant interaction between prime and offer fairness, suggesting that general threat arousal may play a role in responses to norm violation. Further exploratory findings and alternative explanations are discussed.

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Nicholas Schwab

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (vii, 76 pages)



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