Unite Against

How a Common Enemy Reduces Categorisation in Person Perception

Few things unite people like a common enemy. This may be why it is also a frequent rhetorical gimmick in political speeches and campaigns (‘Islamist terrorism is our common enemy,’ Angela Merkel, Nov. 3, 2020, in response to the attack in Vienna).

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Since Muzafer Sherif coined the term ‘common enemy’ in the 1950s, social psychological research has repeatedly addressed this phenomenon. According to this research, an experimentally induced common threat leads to less prejudice between groups (Sherif and Sherif, 1953; Feshbach and Singer, 1957; Adachi et al., 2015).

However, a shared threat not only affects prejudice, it already impacts the early processing stage of social categorisation, reducing the perception of people as belonging to categories such as ‘German’, ‘Turk’, ‘man’, ‘woman’, etc. (Flade et al., 2019).

In this project, I investigate the process underlying this effect: Do people of different category affiliations become less categorised in our perception because they seem much more similar in the face of a common enemy? Or because traditional stereotypes become less important in the face of a common enemy? Or because ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’?