Nurturing Prejudice a Matter of Nature

Chee Chee Leung, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 28, 2008

For those with prejudices against migrants, it could be a result of believing in nature rather than nurture.

A Melbourne study has found people who think humans are characterised by their genes—rather than the environment—are less accepting of Asian immigrants. They believe people of Asian backgrounds will “always remain different” from other Australians, and prefer to keep a distance from such immigrants.

“These people believe that human differences are actually to do with biology,” said a University of Melbourne researcher, Brock Bastian. “They tend to think that people can’t change very easily, and that tends to lead to prejudice towards immigrants coming into the country.”

But the reverse also held true. Migrants who believe they are biologically different are less likely to integrate into Australian society. Dr Bastian, a behavioural scientist, said such a view could lead to second-generation migrants finding appeal in extremist groups—if they felt alienated from their ethnic identity as well as the Australian one.

“It leaves them without any strong attachments, so when you have groups that are offering very clear and strong identities … they become quite attractive.”

The study was based on surveys of 137 Australian-born people and 101 migrants.

Dr Bastian, who conducted the research with Associate Professor Nick Haslam, said he hoped understanding of what drove prejudice might help in developing ways to make the migrant experience easier. The research has been accepted for publication in the Asian Journal of Social Psychology.

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