Peer threat evaluations shape one’s own threat perceptions and feelings of distress



We are continuously exposed to what others think and feel about content online. How do others’ evaluations shared in this medium influence our own beliefs and emotional responses? In two pre-registered studies, we investigated the social transmission of threat and safety evaluations in a paradigm that mimicked online social media platforms. In Study 1 (N=103), participants viewed images and indicated how distressed they made them feel. Participants then categorized these images as threatening or safe for others to see, while seeing how “previous participants” ostensibly categorized them (these values were actually manipulated across images). We found that participants incorporated both peers’ categorizations of the images and their own distress ratings when categorizing images as threatening or safe. Study 2 (N=115) replicated these findings and further demonstrated that peers’ categorizations shifted how distressed these images made them feel. Taken together, our results indicate that people integrate their own and others’ experiences when exposed to emotional content and that social information can influence both our perceptions of things as threatening or safe, as well as our own emotional responses to them. Our findings provide replicable experimental evidence that social information is a powerful conduit for the transmission of affective evaluations and experiences.

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