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Research: Travel and Meaningful Associations Are "Fatal to Prejudice"

In his book Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain suggested that, ‘travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.'”

As with many things, Twain was correct. Research has demonstrated that individuals that travel extensively become more trusting of foreigners. I suspect that many reading this understand the effect immediately. As you travel, apprehension turns to curiosity, turns to appreciation. And, as your fear subsides, waking up each morning in a new city, a new culture, can become exhilarating, even addicting.

Since the 1950s, psychologists have theorized that the effect also reduces our prejudices toward minority groups within our own culture. In 1954 Gordon Allport published The Nature of Prejudice in which he put forward his now famous "contact hypothesis." His theory is that contact between two groups can promote tolerance and acceptance. Other researchers have built upon the theory to determine how deep the contacts have to be before individuals become more accepting of "others" within society. The answer seems to be that any "meaningful" contacts at work, school, or socially that help us better understand other groups can do the trick.

Gov.Scotland: "Prejudice is often a result of false beliefs, misconceptions and stereotypes, so common sense would suggest that discovering that these are incorrect through contact with other groups will result in improved attitudes. Lab-based and field studies have continually confirmed the effectiveness of contact, highlighting its ability to challenge prejudice by reducing intergroup anxiety and increasing empathy for other groups (the two underlying mechanisms). In a meta-analytic test of 'Intergroup Contact Theory', based on 713 independent samples from 515 studies, Pettigrew and Tropp (2006: 922) found that:
"Greater intergroup contact typically corresponds with lower levels of intergroup prejudice, and 94% of the studies reveal an inverse relationship between contact and prejudices of many types".

Building on Allport's work in 2013, a group of psychologists from Europe delivered a paper titled, Prejudice Toward Gay Men and Lesbians in Relation to Crossgroup Friendship and Gender. In their research they found that heterosexual friendships with gay men and women greatly reduced prejudice.

Similar work has been done regarding prejudice based on race, age, and gender and Allport's contact theory, with some caveats, holds up. The more we get to know individuals from other groups in society, the more we seem to like them. Even learning about others in the classroom seems to help.

This line of research is quite relevant today because of the rise of white nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and Europe. This week, two professors from Uppsala University in Sweden published a paper titled Workplace Contact and Support for Anti-Immigration Parties in which they show that contact theory also works to reduce anti-immigrant political beliefs. They studied small business in Sweden with a mix of native-born and immigrant workers and found that native-born Swedes that worked with a lot of immigrants were less likely to support the Sweden Democrats Party which is vocally anti-immigrant.

Cambridge University Press: "We show that the share of non-Europeans in the workplace has a negative effect on support for the Sweden Democrats and that this effect is solely driven by same-skill contact in small workplaces. We interpret these results as supporting the so-called contact hypothesis: that increased interactions with minorities can reduce opposition to immigration among native-born voters, which, in turn, leads to lower support for anti-immigration parties."

The critical aspect of the contact hypothesis that the Swedish study highlights is mutual respect, meaning that as you get to know individuals from another race or culture the stereotypes fall away and you see them for who they are, their character, talents, and work ethic. And, when you talk to people in the construction field in America you often hear the same thing; that the illegal immigrants hired to do the toughest jobs in that industry are decent, hard-working individuals, supporting families in the States or back home.

Racial and cultural stereotypes become meaningless, often laughable, as you take the full measure of an individual.

#research #immigration

By: Don Lam & Curated Content

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