The Evolution of Intergroup Bias: Perceptions and Attitudes in Rhesus Macaques

Neha Mahajan, Margaret A. Martinez, Natashya L. Gutierrez, Gil Diesendruck, Mahzarin R. Banaji, Laurie R. Santos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Social psychologists have learned a great deal about the nature of intergroup conflict and the attitudinal and cognitive processes that enable it. Less is known about where these processes come from in the first place. In particular, do our strategies for dealing with other groups emerge in the absence of human-specific experiences? One profitable way to answer this question has involved administering tests that are conceptual equivalents of those used with adult humans in other species, thereby exploring the continuity or discontinuity of psychological processes. We examined intergroup preferences in a nonhuman species, the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta). We found the first evidence that a nonhuman species automatically distinguishes the faces of members of its own social group from those in other groups and displays greater vigilance toward outgroup members (Experiments 1-3). In addition, we observed that macaques spontaneously associate novel objects with specific social groups and display greater vigilance to objects associated with outgroup members (Experiments 4-5). Finally, we developed a looking time procedure-the Looking Time Implicit Association Test, which resembles the Implicit Association Test (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995)-and we discovered that macaques, like humans, automatically evaluate ingroup members positively and outgroup members negatively (Experiments 6-7). These field studies represent the first controlled experiments to examine the presence of intergroup attitudes in a nonhuman species. As such, these studies suggest that the architecture of the mind that enables the formation of these biases may be rooted in phylogenetically ancient mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-405
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Comparative cognition
  • Intergroup bias
  • Rhesus monkeys


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