DIGSSCORE Tuesday seminar

Lene Aarøe: How the behavioral immune system shapes anti-immigration attitudes

Aarøe presenting
Lene Aarøe
Erla Løvseth

Associate professor Lene Aarøe from Aarhus University gave a presentation titled "How the behavioral immune system shapes anti-immigration attitudes and vote choice in modern democracies. 

Infectious disease has been an enduring threat across human evolutionary history. Through natural selection, humans have evolved a range of mechanisms to protect against disease. Some of these are related to the biological immune system. Others are psychological motivations – sometimes referred to as the behavioral immune system – and are designed to motivate avoidance of disease threats. In this talk, I investigate how this behavioral immune system shapes political cognition using biological, physiological, experimental and survey data from the United States and Denmark. First, I draw on insights from biology and psychology to advance to our understanding of why there is so strong opposition to immigration. I argue and demonstrate that these deep-seated psychological motivations for pathogen avoidance irrationally and unconsciously lead people to oppose immigration, and to reject otherwise effective roads to successful integration. Secondly, I investigate the implications of pathogen avoidance motivations for party identification and vote choice – two of the most politically consequential individual-level preferences. Using well-powered cross-national data I demonstrate a consistent, substantial, and replicable connection between deep-seated pathogen avoidance motivations and partisanship.