Today it may feel like racism is a bigger issue than ever, and more and more people are suffering from prejudice. But when did racism actually start, and what are its roots? A new study is aiming to answer this question.
The head author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nicholas Sambanis, says “the opposition to immigration may be due to economic reasons caused by competition for jobs or the perception of the cultural threat that immigrants represent for the host country by challenging dominant norms and changing national identity.” The results show that arguments based on a cultural threat actually seem to be more powerful than economic concerns.
“Most of the previous research was limited to presenting attitude measures based on antipathy towards immigrants or refugees and their relationship with the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents or their political beliefs,” Sambanis says. “We wanted to go further and measure real behavior. We wanted to discover which particular aspects of refugees or immigrants generate more hostility.”
Their hypothesis was that if opposition to immigration was mainly due to immigrants not properly respecting the culture of a country and imposing their own culture, then one would expect there would be less opposition to immigration who respect the local culture.
In the study, they conducted an experiment 1,600 times across thirty different cities in Germany. It would work as follows: either a German woman or a Muslim immigrant wearing a hijab would pick up a piece of trash from the floor, and then (accidentally on purpose) drop their wallet. The researchers would then watch to see if anyone would point out that they had accidentally dropped their belongings. Unfortunately, the results were that Muslim women wearing a hijab received help just 60% of the time, while German women received help 84% of the time.
“We discovered that the bias towards Muslims is too pronounced and is not overcome with good citizenship; immigrant women who wore a hijab always received less assistance in relation to German women, even when they followed the rules,” says Sambanis.
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