Life Purpose Buffers Bad Moods Triggered by Diversity

Ted Boscia, Medical Xpress, September 4, 2013

Being in the minority in an ethnically diverse crowd is distressing, regardless of your ethnicity, unless you have a sense of purpose in life, reports a Cornell developmental psychologist.

Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology, led the study, which was conducted on Chicago trains. The findings shed light on how people encounter diversity in everyday settings at a time when the United States is more racially mixed than ever, with  pointing to a more multicultural melting pot in decades to come.

In two experiments, college students reported their mood as they rode a train from Chicago’s North Side toward the city center for 14 consecutive stops, while Burrow’s team privately recorded naturally occurring changes to the overall ethnic and gender makeup of the car’s passengers during the trip. For the first study, all 111 participants filled out a short questionnaire to assess their life purpose prior to boarding. In the second study, before riding, half of the 116 participants completed a 10-minute  about life purpose, while the others responded to a question about movies.

Participants’  heightened as the ratio of people from different  aboard the train increased, regardless of their own race and after controlling for various factors, such as an individual’s personality,  with metro trains and perceived safety of the surrounding neighborhoods. In both studies, however, those who had a sense of purpose or had written about their life aims did not experience the worsened mood associated with riding among a diverse crowd.

“This research is among the first to show negative reactivity to diversity occurs dynamically within people, and not just between them,” Burrow said. “That is, it is not simply that people who reside in more ethnically diverse communities experience greater distress than those living in less ethnically , as suggested by past studies. Now we can see that when a person is in a more ethnically diverse setting, they feel more distressed than when they are in less ethnically diverse settings.”

But the negative feelings vanished in purpose-driven individuals. {snip}

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