Postdoctoral Award for Florian van Leeuwen

Florian van Leeuwen won the Postdoctoral Award at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference that took place last week.

2017.06.08 | Ingrid Marie Fossum

Postdoc Florian van Leeuwen’s award-winning paper is entitled “The behavioral immune system is designed to avoid infected individuals, not outgroups” and is co-authored with Michael Bang Petersen.

In the paper, Florian van Leeuwen and Michael Bang Petersen wanted to determine whether the behavioural immune system only motivates the avoidance of pathogens or also contains an additional component that triggers motivations to avoid individuals from unfamiliar out-groups, such as people from foreign countries.

Unlike previous studies based only on WEIRD samples (that is, Western, educated, industrial, rich and democratic countries), Florian and Michael’s experiments were conducted in the USA and India. Here, the researchers measured the degree of comfort with physical contact with an individual shown on a photo. The individual was either from an ethnic in-group or out-group and either showed a pathogen cue or not.

The results were inconsistent with the view that the behavioural immune system motivates the avoidance of individuals from unfamiliar out-groups. Instead, the results strongly supported that the system simply motivates the avoidance of infected individuals regardless of their group membership.

“The study addresses a question that researchers have been talking about for over 10 years. It feels great that our research is appreciated,“ says Florian van Leeuwen about winning the award.

Florian van Leeuwen got his award on the basis of both the research paper and his presentation given at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference in Idaho, USA, 31 May-3 June 2017.

“To get this award, it’s not enough to just do good research. You also have to be able to present it in a very clear, engaging way,” says colleague and proud co-author Michael Bang Petersen.