A social virus: Intergroup dehumanization and unwillingness to aid amidst COVID-19 − Who are the main targets?

Eli Adler, Shira Hebel-Sela, Oded Adomi Leshem, Jonathan Levy, Eran Halperin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Previous studies have shown that external threats, such as financial crises and natural disasters, might fuel negative attitudes, emotions, and behaviors towards outgroup members. However, it is unclear what types of outgroups are likely to be targeted when an external threat is taking its toll. In this study, we examine two types of outgroups that might be at risk of becoming victims of intergroup hostility. The first is the “ultimate scapegoat” outgroup which has a long history of negative relations with the ingroup. The second is the “context-dependent” outgroup which is viewed as an outgroup only in certain contexts. We utilized the COVID-19 crisis and the highly diverse social makeup of Israeli society to explore the extent to which each type of outgroup would be targeted. Results from our study (N = 664), conducted during the first peak of COVID-19 in Israel, show that higher levels of exposure to COVID-19 predicted lower willingness to aid outgroups and that outgroup dehumanization mediated this association. However, this held true only when the target outgroup was a context-dependent outgroup. When the target group was the ultimate scapegoat, exposure to COVID-19 did not predict ingroup willingness to aid them. Our findings contribute to our theoretical and practical knowledge on how intergroup hostility proliferates during external threats and, as such, are valuable to scholars, practitioners, and policymakers working to reduce intergroup tensions during large-scale crises.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-121
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Dehumanization
  • External threat
  • Intergroup relations
  • Scapegoating
  • Willingness to aid


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