Perceiving refugees as threats may backfire on one’s health: Relations with intercultural antecedents and psychological distress among Germans

Saskia Schubert, Michal Mahat-Shamir, Yaira Hamama-Raz, Tobias Ringeisen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In the recent years, research on the conditions, under which members of the host countries such as Germany perceive refugees as threatening and respond with negative attitudes, has increased. However, little attention has been given to the implications that subjective perceptions of threat among the host community may have for their own psychological health. Using integrated threat theory, the current study examined the relationships between perceived threats, person-centered antecedents in intercultural settings, and psychological distress among Germans, who reflected on incoming refugees. Using a survey company, a sample (N = 1000) was recruited, which matched the German census regarding central demographics. Participants completed a cross-sectional online survey with validated self-report measures. Assessments covered four perceived threat types (intergroup anxiety, symbolic and realistic threat, negative stereotypes), person-related antecedents (social identity as German, quantity and quality of prior intercultural contact), and psychological distress. Applying structural equation modeling, we found that high social identification as German was related to greater perceptions of symbolic/realistic threat, stronger negative stereotypes and to more intergroup anxiety. Vice versa, high quality of prior intercultural contact experiences was associated with a decrease of all threat types. The quantity of prior intercultural contact showed almost no relations to perceived threats. In terms of indirect effects, greater quality of contact predicted less distress, and greater identity as German predicted more distress, both via symbolic/realistic threat and intergroup anxiety. Taken together, perceiving refugees as a threatening outgroup may signify a self-harming risk, while high quality of intercultural relations may indirectly enhance health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29801-29814
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Psychology
Issue number34
StatePublished - 18 May 2022


  • Perceived threat
  • Intergroup
  • Intercultural contact
  • Social identity
  • Refugees
  • Psychological health


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