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The great replacement theory

How the Great Replacement Theory can lead to violent outcomes

How the Great Replacement Theory can lead to violent outcomes 1507 1262 Culture and Society Research Lab

New research from our lab shows that believing in the Great Replacement theory elicits hostile intergroup attitudes and violent intentions toward minority groups.

By Silvia Allegretta, Jonas R. Kunst, & Milan Obaidi

What is the Great Replacement conspiracy theory?

The Great Replacement is a white nationalist conspiracy theory, which was popularized by the French philosopher Renaud Camus in 2011 in his book “Le Grand Replacement” (the great replacement). This theory is based on the idea that the increased immigration of non-white populations to Europe will eventually result in the extinction of the white race.

The conspiracy theory has clear antisemitic components. The alleged replacement is oftentimes thought to be initiated and controlled by people with a Jewish background such as George Soros. 


Spread of the Great Replacement Theory by terrorists, politicians and media anchors such as Tucker Carlson

The theory was spread especially by the high-profile right-wing extremist Brenton Harrison Tarrant who published a manifesto entitled “Great Replacement” before killing 50 Muslim worshipers in a mosque in New Zealand. Tarrant warned of the Islamisation of Europe and accused liberal politicians of planning a deliberate extinction of the white race through encouraging mass immigration of non-Whites. The following excerpt of his manuscripts sums up his ideas rather well :

“Mass immigration and the higher fertility rates of the immigrants themselves are causing this increase in population. We are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history. Millions of people pouring across our borders, legally. Invited by the state and corporate entities to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce, failed to create the cheap labour, new consumers and tax base that the corporations and states need to thrive. This crisis of mass immigration and sub-replacement fertility is an assault on the European people that, if not combated, will ultimately result in the complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people.”

However, the Great Replacement theory is not confined to the extreme fringes of the political spectrum. It has also become prominent in the mainstream media and politics. In recent years, far-right politicians in Europe (e.g., Pia Kjærsgaard, Viktor Orbán, Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, etc.) have played a central role in propagating the replacement narrative to a broader audience. Also, prominent media anchors such as Fox New’s Tucker Carlson have actively promoted the theory (see video below). As a result, the Great Replacement conspiracy has quickly spread worldwide and is currently used to legitimize terrorist attacks and Islamophobia. 

Brenton Harrison Tarrant’s manifesto inspired other terorists

Many white supremacists and terrorists in the U.S. and Germany have adopted the rhetoric of replacement and claimed that their actions were inspired by Tarrant’s manifesto. Specifically, the Walmart El Paso shooter who killed 20 and wounded 26 others near the Mexican border spoke of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and warned that White people were being replaced by foreigners.

Thus, given its anecdotal potential to elicit extreme forms of violence and its wide spread in societies, understanding whether and how beliefs in the Great Replacement conspiracy theory are propelling violence is of urgent importance.

Belief in the Great Replacement theory incites violence

In a set of two correlational and one experimental studies conducted in Denmark and Norway, we investigated the relationship between the beliefs in the Great Replacement theory and different types of outgroup hostility. The dependent outcomes, we were interested in were islamophobia, the willingness to violently persecute Muslims, and general violent behavioral intentions.

The first study was conducted in Denmark, a country in which the intergroup relations between immigrants and the native population have become increasingly hostile. Indeed, Denmark has been described as having the most restrictive immigration policies in Europe and to be “Europe’s least attractive country for refugees”. Further, Danish right-wing politicians frequently used language that mirrored the rhetoric of replacement. This made Denmark an ideal context to test our hypothesis.  

The results showed that the more white Danes believed in the Great replacement conspiracy theory, the more Islamophobia they expressed and the more willing they were to violently persecute Muslims. To replicate these results, we conducted an additional study with another sample of Danes. The study’s results confirmed the results obtained in the first study.

To obtain evidence of causality, we then conducted an experiment in Norway — the country in which Anders Behring Breivik justified his terrorist attacks based on theories suggesting that the white race of Europe is being replaced. In this experiment, participants were assigned to a control or replacement condition. Those in the control condition watched a neutral video whereas those in the replacement condition watched a video suggesting that the white Norwegian population may become a minority within 50 years because of the increasing immigration influx. Providing causal evidence for our model, the results showed that participants in the replacement condition showed more Islamophobia than those in the control condition.

the great replacement theory can motivate violence

The role of perceived threats

In addition to showing that beliefs in the Great Replacement theory can lead to violent tendencies, we wanted to know why this is the case. We, therefore, measured the degree to which participants perceived immigrants and particularly Muslims as realistic and symbolic threats. Realistic threat involves the perception that the outgroup (e.g., immigrants, Muslims) poses a risk to the ingroup’s physical and material welfare. By contrast, symbolic threat involves the perception that the outgroup poses a risk to the ingroup’s culture, norms, values, religion, and identity.

In the models that we tested in the three studies described above, we found that the reason why the belief in the Great Replacement theory predicted out-group hostility and violence was that it was related to more symbolic rather than realistic threats. Put differently, beliefs in the theory led to more perceived threat, which in turn led to more hostility. Thus, beliefs in the theory seem to have the potential to elicit violence primarily because they make people believe that their culture is being threatened. You can find more research on the role of perceived threats in our publications.

the great replacement theory model

Why does the Great Replacement Theory concern all of us?

The Great Replacement conspiracy theory is spreading very quickly as it is propagated by various right-wing politicians and news anchors such as Tucker Carlson. Anecdotal observation (e.g., the terror attack by Brenton Harrison Tarrant) suggests that it plays a key role in the radicalization of some people and can motivate extremist violence. Our research provides empirical support for this notion. Understanding the implications of this theory and building awareness about the topic may be the first step toward preventing the kind of violent outcomes we witnessed in recent years.

Reference to research study

The present research was published in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. It is openly available through the link provided below.

The Great Replacement Theory ResearchObaidi, M., Kunst, J., Ozer, S., & Kimel, S. Y. (2021). The “Great Replacement” conspiracy: How the perceived ousting of Whites can evoke violent extremism and Islamophobia. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.



Meta-prejudice: How a “stereotypical” appearance can be misinterpreted as bias

Meta-prejudice: How a “stereotypical” appearance can be misinterpreted as bias 1232 588 Culture and Society Research Lab

New research from our lab shows that people who are perceived to look “stereotypical” of their racial group are believed to be more meta-prejudiced. This effect makes others avoid contact with them.

By Jonas R. Kunst

Definition: How is prejudice defined in psychology?

In psychology, prejudice is typically defined as unfounded negative attitudes that people hold toward others based on the groups they seem to belong to. For instance, psychologists often study prejudice in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion, or political orientation. Linguistically, the word “prejudice” is closely related to the word “pre-judgment”, as it involves negative preconceptions that people have about others.

Most people hold some prejudice toward other individuals based on their group memberships, and this can have profound consequences (Professor Keith Maddox provides a good introduction here). One consequence is that prejudice shapes whom people want to interact with and whom they avoid. For instance, prejudiced people often avoid social settings where they may meet people from other racial groups. They are also less likely to have friends from other racial backgrounds than their own. Thus, because it makes people avoid each other, prejudice can lead societies to become socially segregated.

 From prejudice to meta-prejudice

However, beyond the prejudice that individuals may personally hold, there is another layer that influences whether people want contact with each other. Specifically, individuals have an expectation of how prejudiced they believe others to be toward them (so-called meta-prejudice). Unsurprisingly, if individuals believe that people from other groups are prejudiced toward them, they are less likely to want contact with these people.

This has important implications. Even if people themselves are free of personal prejudice, such expectations can continue to negatively influence their contact preferences. For instance, in the context of the U.S., which has a long history of racism and intergroup conflict, people from different racial groups may themselves have overcome their personal prejudices but still expect that others may be prejudiced toward them. Thus, this perception of meta-prejudice can still make people avoid each other.

How people infer meta-prejudice from superficial features (“stereotypical” appearance)

Racial meta-prejudice is perceived based on people's looks (phenotypic prototypicality)

Examples of faces that by a group of raters were evaluated as low or high in prototypicality. Source:

In a series of experiments, we now showed that whether people believe someone is prejudiced in the first place depends on how this person looks and what people associate with their appearance. In the first experiment, participants were presented with several images of people who commonly are assumed to look more or less stereotypical of their group (see image). Two factors underlying this “phenotypic prototypicality” are skin-tone and physiognomy (facial features). Our results showed that the research participants believed that prototypical-looking individuals are more prejudiced than less prototypical-looking individuals. This effect made our research participants less willing to have contact with individuals whose looks were perceived as more prototypical.

Racial prejudice and meta-prejudice in phenotypic prototypicality

Low and high prototypicality versions of the same faces.

To replicate these results, we conducted two additional experiments. In these experiments, we altered the prototypicality of faces by slightly morphing them with a person from another racial group (see image for examples). Participants always saw only one version of the image and were asked questions about the person. Again, we find that the participants who saw the more prototypical versions of the faces thought that these individuals were more prejudiced than those who saw the less prototypical versions of the faces. Once more, this explained why participants were less willing to have contact with them.

Importantly, in each experiment, meta-prejudice (i.e., expectations that others are prejudiced) led participants to become less positive toward contact with them no matter their own prejudice or the frequency and quality of their contact with racial out-group members.

Why is this important?

The processes we observed likely lead to unfair judgments of others based on superficial physical features that tell us little about their actual personal attitudes. Especially individuals who look prototypical of their group may be met with more skepticism and negativity in encounters with members from other racial groups but also with members of their own group. By being aware of this bias, we can try to correct for it and thereby reduce its influence when we form first impressions about other people.

 Reference to the research article

Kunst, Jonas R.; Dovidio, John F.; Bailey, April & Obaidi, Milan (2022). The Way They Look: Phenotypic Prototypicality Shapes the Perceived Intergroup Attitudes of In- and Out-group Members. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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