Promoting tolerance towards cultural diversity

05/12/2018

What factors predispose young people to discriminate against others because of their ethnic or cultural origins?

Multiple factors have to be taken into account. For example, one of the recent studies performed in collaboration with Swedish and American researchers found that Swedish youth with negative attitudes toward immigrants were more inclined to engage in ethnic harassment as ethnic diversity of the classroom increased. It is possible that the presence of a higher proportion of students with immigrant background in class may be perceived by prejudiced adolescents as a threat to their dominant status. Thus, they may be more inclined to harass their immigrant peers to maintain their social dominance or reduce the perceived threat. Furthermore, the study showed that Swedish adolescents who befriend peers high in anti-immigrant attitudes were more likely to act aggressively toward their immigrant peers in classrooms with high ethnic diversity. Therefore, even if it provides students greater opportunities for cross-group interactions, creating ethnically heterogeneous classrooms may not on its own be sufficient to promote positive inter-ethnic relationships. In fact, to the contrary, ethnically diverse settings may create an arena for the development of inter-ethnic conflicts among some young people.

Unlike most researchers, you have chosen to focus on positive attitudes between groups rather than negative ones. Why? What new insights do your studies bring?

Traditionally, social science focuses on negative intergroup behavior and prejudice reduction. I have attempted to go beyond this and understand processes that prompt young individuals to have positive outgroup orientations towards members of different ethnic and cultural groups. Recent research has provided some evidence that positive (i.e., allophilia, meaning ‘love or like of the other’) and negative (i.e., prejudice) attitudes towards outgroups are independent and functionally separable constructs. That is, low levels of negative attitudes and prejudicial beliefs may not necessarily equate to corresponding high levels of positive attitudes towards outgroups.

With this in mind, I have conducted research in different countries, including Ukraine, Portugal, and USA, both individually and as a part of a larger research team. These studies have demonstrated that high trait levels of multicultural personality (i.e., broadly conceptualized as an individual’s ability to successfully adapt and interact with culturally diverse others or environments) make people particularly predisposed to hold tolerant and allophilic outgroup orientations. For instance, a study among Portuguese university students showed that individuals, who are more culturally empathetic (i.e., able to empathize with the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of individuals from different cultural groups), open-minded, active in social situations, and flexible, are more inclined to display tolerance to other ethnic and cultural groups. Relatedly, another study in the US revealed that individuals with high levels of multicultural personality dimensions are primarily defined as those who wish to see more equality between groups within society. Further, these individuals may be the individuals most likely to examine their racial and ethnic identity characteristics, have a sense of humor about themselves, feel connected with others, and have high levels of psychological health. Our studies have also shown that intergroup contacts, particularly friendships between members of different cultural and ethnic groups  (as a special form of high-quality intergroup contact), have an important role to play in promoting ethic tolerance and allophilia and mediate the relationship between multicultural personality and positive outgroup orientations. Taken together, this emphasizes the potential beneficial effects of multicultural personality dimensions in fostering positive outgroup attitudes directly and indirectly via close intergroup interactions.

If you had the opportunity to design a program to improve the inter-ethnic climate on university campus, what would you recommend?

A majority of programs in this direction have traditionally focused on reducing prejudice and negative attitudes toward outgroups and have had limited success. Our studies suggest that future interventions could be more effective if they simultaneously integrate components that provide students with multiple opportunities to form cross-group friendships and enhance development of their multicultural personality traits. The combination of these intervention strategies has more powerful potential to promote positive outgroup attitudes among university students. Specifically, in terms of the first component, intervention programs could work toward creating conditions that facilitate cross-group collaboration among students from different ethnic and cultural background. These may include assigning diverse students to work jointly on group activities (e.g., class tasks, university and community projects), putting them together as roommates or co-workers within student organizations, enabling and encouraging them to participate in international exchange programs and youth groups. Furthermore, educators and university professionals could also introduce friendship formation programs, designed to enhance confidence in cross-group interactions, including generating trust, reducing perception of threat and anxiety, fostering more positive attitudes about outgroups. All this might not only help students initiate and maintain cross-group friendships, but also bring their potential benefits for positive inter-ethnic climate on campus. In terms of the second component, future programs could focus on increasing multicultural awareness, promoting positive multicultural attitudes, and improving multicultural competencies among students. Examples of this may include courses on culture diversity, discussions and interactive sessions on diversity issues, and also different extracurricular activities (e.g. celebrating multicultural holidays, attending international clubs, etc.). Along these traditional strategies, practitioners could also integrate elements of intercultural training scenarios that will be beneficial for improving students’ multicultural skills and abilities.

Learning how to embrace cultural differences and develop positive attitudes towards people with different backgrounds is especially important for youth who have to inevitably live in increasingly diverse societies. This is one of the most considerable challenges our future generations have to face and one of the most burning issues the science has yet to address. As the American poet and activist Audre Lorde once said: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

References

Bayram Özdemir, S., Sun, Sh., Korol, L., Özdemir, M., & Stattin, H. (2018). Adolescents’ engagement in ethnic harassment: Prejudiced beliefs in social networks and classroom ethnic composition. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47, 1151–1163. 

Korol, L. (2018). Does multicultural personality moderate the relationship between cross-group friendship and positive outgroup attitudes? Journal of Social Psychology.

Korol, L. D. (2017). Is the association between multicultural personality and ethnic tolerance explained by cross-group friendships? The Journal of General Psychology, 144, 264–282.

Korol, L., Fietzer, A. W., Ponterotto, J. G. (2018). Relationship between multicultural personality, intergroup contact, and positive outgroup attitudes towards Asian Americans. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 9, 200–210. 

Korol, L., Goncalves, G., & Cabral M. (2016). The impact of multicultural personality on tolerance of diversity in a sample of Portuguese university students. Revista Psicologia: Teoria e Prática, 18, 57–74. 

Pittinsky, T. L., Rosenthal, S. A., & Montoya, R. M. (2011a). Liking is not the opposite of disliking: The functional separability of positive and negative attitudes toward minority groups. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 17, 134–143. 

Pittinsky, T. L., Rosenthal, S. A., & Montoya, R. M. (2011b). Measuring positive attitudes toward outgroups: Development and Validation of the Allophilia scale. In L. R. Tropp & R. K. Mallet (Eds.), Moving beyond prejudice reduction: Pathways to positive intergroup relations (pp. 41−60). American Psychological Association. Washington, DC. 

Ponterotto, J. G. (2010). Multicultural personality: An evolving theory of optimal functioning in culturally heterogeneous societies. The Counseling Psychologist, 38, 714 –758. doi:10.1177/0011000009359203

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