What is the role of ecology in automatic cognitive processes and social behavior? Our motivated-preparation account posits that priming a social category readies the individual for adaptive behavioral responses to that category — responses that take into account the physical environment. We present the first evidence showing that the cognitive responses (Study 1) and the behavioral responses (Studies 2a and 2b) automatically elicited by a social-category prime differ depending on a person's physical surroundings. Specifically, after priming with pictures of Black men (a threatening out-group), participants responded with either aggressive behavior (fight) or distancing behavior (flight), depending on what action was allowed by the situation. For example, when participants were seated in an enclosed booth (no distancing behavior possible) during priming, they showed increased accessibility of fight-related action semantics; however, when seated in an open field (distancing behavior possible), they showed increased accessibility of flight-related action semantics. These findings suggest that an understanding of automaticity must consider its situated nature.
21, (September 15, 2010):