Public defence in Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering, M.Sc. (Tech.) Annika Kluge

This thesis investigates the brain mechanisms that affect the way people from different social groups experience each other.

Public defence from the Aalto University School of Science, Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering.
Layout of a magnetoencephalography helmet viewed from the top with blue activation area marked in the middle. Continuous rhythmi

Title of the thesis: Neural oscillations underlying the expression and modulation of intergroup bias

Doctoral student: Annika Kluge
Opponent: Associate Professor Jennifer Kubota, University of Delaware, USA
Custos: Professor Iiro Jääskeläinen, Aalto University School of Science, Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering

People tend to sort other people into social groups to better process the complicated world around us. Unfortunately, this brings with it negative stereotypes and prejudices. While questionnaires and tests have revealed much important information about bias between social groups, neuroimaging offers a new avenue of investigation.

This thesis looks at intergroup bias on the level of rhythmic brain activity in contexts with different conflict levels and urgency. In addition, psychological interventions to decrease this bias are tested.

The three contexts that are investigated are the political tension between leftists and rightists in Israel, the attitudes towards Muslim immigrants amidst young Finnish adults, and the perception of vaccine hesitancy in the vaccine-positive population. Altogether, 285 people’s heads are scanned using magnetoencephalography (MEG) while they undergo a psychological test to evaluate their automatic prejudices and biases regarding the relevant social group and/or listen to polarized narratives about these topics.

All studies underlying this thesis reveal new dynamics of intergroup bias. We find that everyone in Israel (including political leftists themselves) have an unconscious bias against leftists. Young Finns apply control mechanisms to not appear biased against immigrants. Negative attitudes towards vaccine hesitancy were underlined by different neural mechanisms at the height of the pandemic and in its aftermath.

Furthermore, this thesis displays a promising method to alleviate intergroup tensions: by presenting over-the-top polarized information to the participants, their conflict-supporting attitudes are indirectly tested, and they start to doubt their group belonging and rethink their negative attitudes. This way, it is possible to moderate their (neural) prejudices.

The findings of this thesis showcase how neuroimaging can be used in social studies. One of the key takeaways from this thesis is the promise behind paradoxical thinking intervention to alleviate intergroup tensions in conflicts across the world. 

Key words: social neuroscience, intergroup bias, magnetoencephalography, neural oscillations, intergroup interventions

Contact information:

Thesis available for public display 10 days prior to the defence at: 

Doctoral theses at the School of Science: 

Zoom Quick Guide:

  • Published:
  • Updated: