"Some factors affecting people's attitudes towards Immigrants"

Social psychology typically concerns itself less with the pros and cons of immigration itself; this is more properly the province of economists and demographers. However, it frequently studies the factors that affect people’s attitudes towards immigration and immigrants. This short presentation focuses on two such factors.


The first concerns the link between having a strong sense of national identity and anti-immigrant sentiment. It is often thought that such a link will always be positive. That is, the more strongly someone feels attached to their country, the more negative they will be towards foreigners. In fact, this is not always true. It holds true only when people think of their national identity in biological terms, as constituting some ‘blood link’ towards their ancestors. But if people define their identity in more ‘civic’ terms, as an adherence to certain civic obligations and democratic institutions, then the link disappears. No matter how strongly or weakly a person identifies, there is then no connection to anti-immigrant sentiment. Since having a strong sense of national identity can often be psychologically important, this has important implications for how politicians (and others) should seek to portray that national identity.


The second concerns the link between the numbers (proportions) of ethnic minority people in communities, work-places and schools and inter-group relations. Some people argue that higher proportions are associated with more interethnic tension. The evidence suggests otherwise. In many studies, it is found that areas or organisations with higher ethnic proportions offer more opportunities for inter-group mixing (contact) and this then leads to more favourable inter-group attitudes and other positive outcomes. This has been found in research on primary schools in South East England, where schools with higher proportions of ethnic minority children tended to have better social atmospheres than those with lower proportions. Another cross-national study has shown that, adolescents who have more cross-group friendships early in the school year show lower prejudice later in the school year.  This has important implications for educational policies that advocate single faith schools because such schools would inevitably lead to less inter-group contact than secular or non-denominational schools.


Prof Rupert Brown

Asian British Connection (ABC) Think tank

27th Jan 2010


Rupert Brown is Professor of Social Psychology and Director of Research in the School of Psychology, University of Sussex. He researches prejudice and how to  reduce it, immigration issues and factors affecting social exclusion. He is the author of numerous articles and two books, most recently, Prejudice: its social l psychology, 2nd edition. NY: Wiley (forthcoming, August 2010)


Pehrson, S., Brown, R. & Zagefka, H. (2009) When does national identification lead to the rejection of immigrants? Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence for the role of essentialist ingroup definitions. British Journal of Social  Psychology, 48, 61-76. 

Pehrson, S., Vignoles, V. & Brown, R. (2009) National identification and anti-immigrant sentiment: individual and  contextual effects of national definitions. Social Psychology Quarterly, 72(1), 24-38. 

Binder, J., Zagefka, H., Brown, R., Funke, F., Kessler, T., Mummendey, A., Maquil, A., Demoulin, S., Leyens, J-P. (2009) Does Contact Reduce Prejudice or Does Prejudice Reduce Contact? A Longitudinal Test of the Contact  Hypothesis Amongst Majority and Minority Groups in Three European Countries. Journal of Personality and Social  Psychology, 96, 843-856. 

Brown, R., Rutland, A. & Watters, C. (2007) Identities in transition: a longitudinal study of immigrant children. Final Report to ESRC. (http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/SearchResultsPage)

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