Most previous studies that examined the effect of anxiety on hostility towards a distinct group have focused on cases in which we hate those we are afraid of. The current study, on the other hand, examines the relationship between anxiety in one domain and hostility towards a distinct group that is not the source of that anxiety. We focus here on symptoms of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have become increasingly frequent, and show that the implications of such mental difficulties are far-reaching, posing a threat to relationships between ideological groups. In two studies conducted in both Israel and the United States, we found that high levels of anxiety during the COVID-19 epidemic are associated with higher levels of hatred towards ordinary people from the respective political outgroups, lower levels of willingness to sustain interpersonal relations with these people (i.e., greater social distancing), and greater willingness to socially exclude them. This relationship was mediated by the perception of threat posed by the political outgroup. This study is the first to show that mental difficulty driven by an external threat can be a fundamental factor that explains levels of intergroup hostility.
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© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.