Death on the brain: effects of mortality salience on the neural correlates of ingroup and outgroup categorization

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Research has shown that thoughts of one's; own death (i.e. mortality salience; MS) increase aspects of intergroup bias. However, the extent to which MS influences neural activity underlying basic person perception processes has not been examined. In the current study, event-related brain potentials were used as measures of online attentional and evaluative processes as White participants categorized ingroup (White) and outgroup (Black) faces according to expression (happy vs angry) following either MS or a control induction. Results showed that MS affected the amplitude of the P2 and N2 components elicited by ingroup faces but had no effect on the processing of outgroup faces. Processing of angry ingroup relative to angry outgroup faces was pronounced in the MS condition, reflected both in N2 amplitude and in longer latency of the P3 component, suggesting heightened sensitivity to threats to positive ingroup. Overall, findings suggest that MS intensifies perception of social category features, primarily by enhancing processing of ingroup cues.

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