Is Obsessive Tidiness the Root of Racism and Homophobia?

Mark Prigg, Daily Mail, November 27, 2017

An aversion to ‘broken patterns’ such as the sight of a picture hanging crookedly on a wall, out of order tiles, or a desk with things in the wrong place has been linked to racism and homophobia.

The Yale team say their groundbreaking study ‘sets out a new basis for prejudice’.

The researchers say that traditional explanations of prejudice, namely that it arises from a sense of danger or some deeply embedded evolutionary flight-or-fight response, may now not be correct.

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How they did it

The Yale psychologists recruited several hundred people, using Amazon’s crowdsourcing internet service Mechanical Turk.

They then divided them into teams and subjected them to several tests designed to uncover responses to pattern and social deviance.

They found that the link between the two types of reaction was consistent and robust – and that results in one area – say being annoyed by an out-of-place triangle – was a strong predictor of results in another – say, being a critical of a gay person in the immediate vicinity.

Psychologists Anton Gollwitzer , Julia Marshall, Yimeng Wang and John Bargh, all from Yale University, set up eight studies, involving children and adults, to examine the links between a dislike of incomplete patterns and the tendency to stigmatise individuals seen as different.

The test were designed to measure the response to a range of items from irregular shapes to described scenes.

These included tests to analyse the response to black people, the obese, those with a lower or higher than average IQ, and a school where boys wore pink bow ties and did ballet, while girls wore blue baseball caps and play football.

‘The relationship between pattern deviancy and social deviancy aversion emerged across explicit and implicit measures, across cultures (United States and China), and was of a moderately large magnitude,’ they concluded in the journal Nature Human Behaviour in their paper, entitled ‘Relating pattern deviancy aversion to stigma and prejudice’.

‘Although non-social pattern deviancy and social deviancy judgements may seem distinct given their differing domains, people’s aversion towards non-social pattern deviancy and social deviancy consistently overlapped.

The test were designed to measure the response to a range of items from irregular shapes to described scenes.

‘These findings raise the possibility that pattern deviancy aversion plays an important role in stigmatization and prejudice.’

Gollwitzer and colleagues also said that terms such as ‘strange’ and ‘weird’ are used to negatively describe both incomplete visual patterns and unusual individuals.

One of the tests used a series of images including a cake cut at an unusual angle, ruining the circular symmetry of the cake.

The Flurp test for prejudice

One test in the study measured participants’ aversion towards fictional individuals who broke versus followed a social norm.

Participants were told to ‘Imagine a world inhabited by people known as Flurps.

‘As long as anyone can remember, all the Flurps have lived in blue houses.

‘Living in a blue house is an important part of Flurp tradition and culture.’

Participants were then told, ‘Imagine you come across a Flurp living in a green house.

‘Remember, none of the other Flurps live in green houses, they all live in blue houses’

‘Imagine you come across a Flurp living in a blue house. Remember, all the Flurps live in blue houses.’

Participants then reported their aversion towards the Flurp in each of these two scenarios by indicating their agreement to the statements ‘This Flurp makes me feel uncomfortable’, ‘This Flurp makes me feel annoyed’, and  ‘This Flurp makes me anxious’ on a scale from 1 (not at all agree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Participants said it made them feel uncomfortable, annoyed, and anxious – and say they felt the same in response to images of individuals stigmatized in society such as someone with a skin condition or someone cross-dressing.

‘People tend to rationalise such prejudice by claiming that negatively deviant individuals, such as the mentally ill, are dangerous and that positively deviant individuals, such as highly competent people, are cold and untrustworthy,’ the researchers concluded.

‘The research presented here, however, raises the possibility that a simple dislike of pattern deviancy plays a role in such prejudice.’

They team also cited a 2016 study led by Tyler Okimoto of the University of Queensland Business School in Australia that found social attitudes could be predicted by a person’s dislike of imperfect shapes.

In this research, people were asked to look at some geometric figures and indicate to what extent they conformed to ‘perfect’ shapes, such as circles or triangles.

Okimoto and colleagues found that people with conservative ideologies were much more sensitive to the difference between perfect and imperfect than people with more liberal worldviews….

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