Fearfulness is linked to reduced interaction with novel cultures for both immigrants and non-immigrants

Interesting and relevant study:

People who believe there are more dangers lurking in the social world are less likely to engage with cultures other than their own, according to new research published in Evolutionary Psychological Science. The new study indicates that this is the case for both minority groups and majority ingroup members.

“There was some existing work suggesting that different forms of threat play a role in prejudices towards outgroups, but these studies had often only looked at mainstream populations and their attitudes to stigmatized minorities, and had generally focused on people’s feelings towards individuals,” explained study author Nicholas Kerry, a PhD student at Tulane University.

“We wanted to look at this in a broader way which focused on social interactions and cultural practices. In other words, we were interested in things like how much time people spent with people of other cultures, how likely they would be to date someone of that culture, and how much they reported interacting with cultural practices other than the ones they grew up with.”

“So, for example, how much people enjoy the TV, movies, and jokes of another culture, and how much they believe in its cultural values. We were also especially interested in testing this in an immigrant sample, as well as a mainstream one, to see whether threat-perception was also related to their acculturation, i.e. their interaction with the mainstream culture.”

In the study, 171 immigrant Americans completed a measure of acculturation, which assessed their preference for the culture of their heritage versus mainstream American culture. A separate sample of 964 naturally-born Americans completed a similar measure, which assessed their interest in foreign cultures versus mainstream American culture. Both samples then completed surveys regarding their belief in a dangerous world, perceived vulnerability to disease, and their romantic partners.

The researchers found that belief in a dangerous world was associated with cultural neophobia. In other words, participants who agreed with statements such as “There are many dangerous people in our society who will attack someone out of pure meanness” displayed a stronger preference for their own cultural practices, regardless of whether they were immigrants or not.

Belief in a dangerous world also predicted whether participants had romantic partners of the same ethnicity.

“The central finding of this study is that people who perceive themselves to be at greater risk of physical threats tend to be less likely to interact with other cultures. One possible implication would be that if people wish to encourage integration between cultures, a good starting point might be to ameliorate conditions which make people feel threatened,” Kerry told PsyPost.

Concerns about disease, however, were unrelated to cultural preferences. The finding is somewhat surprising, given that past research has found it is a predictor of xenophobic attitudes. But Kerry and his colleagues noted that the previous studies “examined attitudes towards individuals, not cultural practices.”

“It should be noted that this study is entirely correlational, which means that we do not have direct evidence of the direction of any causal relationship. So future work could address this by looking at changes in individuals across time, to see whether it really is the case that fearfulness leads to less interaction with novel cultures,” Kerry added.

“It could also be interesting for future research to examine whether environmental conditions that serve as cues of threat (such as actual violent crime, or how much it is reported in the media) can influence regional levels of acculturation.”

The study, “Cultures of Fear: Individual Differences in Perception of Physical (but Not Disease) Threats Predict Cultural Neophobia in both Immigrant and Mainstream Americans“, was authored by Nicholas Kerry, Zachary Airington, and Damian R. Murray.

Source: Fearfulness is linked to reduced interaction with novel cultures for both immigrants and non-immigrants

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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