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Published October 2021 | public
Journal Article

Fear in groups: Increasing group size reduces perceptions of danger


When we face danger or stress, the presence of others can provide a powerful signal of safety and support. However, despite a large literature on group living benefits in animals, few studies have been conducted on how group size alters subjective emotional responses and threat perception in humans. We conducted 5 experiments (N = 3,652) to investigate whether the presence of others decreases fear in response to threat under a variety of conditions. In Studies 1, 2 and 3, we experimentally manipulated group size in hypothetical and real-world situations and found that fear responses decreased as group size increased. In Studies 4 and 5 we again used a combination of hypothetical and real-world decisions to test whether increased anxiety in response to a potential threat would lead participants to choose larger groups for themselves. Participants consistently chose larger groups when threat and anxiety were high. Overall, our findings show that group size provides a salient signal of protection and safety in humans.

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© 2021 American Psychological Association.

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August 22, 2023
October 23, 2023