Attitudes towards immigrants eflect what we feel and how we think
Some people perceive the arrival of immigrants as a threat, while others perceive them as a benefit to the country. Research by the Slovak Academy shows that this negative or positive attitude is related to how people think and what they feel.
The total number of international migrants in the world has increased in recent years, which can also be observed in Slovakia. People from abroad coming to live in Slovakia today make up 5.13% of the population, and their number is slowly increasing1. In December 2022, an increase of 66.3% was recorded compared to the previous year, which is mainly due to the arrival of people from Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine2. Given the increase in international migration, it seems important to understand why people have positive or negative attitudes towards immigrants—persons who have decided to settle in a foreign country. An explanation of why this is so can be given, for example, in terms of cognitive and emotional dispositions, i.e. tendencies of how people usually think and what they usually feel.
"In two studies, our respondents had to answer questions to find out positive attitudes, for example, whether most immigrants try to be honest, whether they make our country a better place to live, or whether they enrich the cultural life of our country. We also asked them questions about negative attitudes, for example, whether we need to be careful when dealing with immigrants, whether immigrants worsen the problems with crime in our country or whether they threaten jobs in our country," explains Martin Sedlár of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of the Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences SAS.
In the first study3, it was shown that actively open-minded thinking is the most important among the investigated cognitive dispositions. People with such a mindset had the most positive attitudes towards immigrants. Actively open-minded people are characterized by not clinging to dogma, considering alternative options, seeking out information that contradicts their views, and being willing to change their views in the face of evidence. "Thus, the result of our study suggests that when people think actively openly, they do not rely on their automatically formed, often preconceived negative ideas about immigrants but consider different perspectives and search for more information about immigrants. Ultimately, this contributes to improving the view of immigrants and to adopting a more positive attitude towards them," says Martin Sedlár.
In the second study4, scientists examined other cognitive dispositions along with one emotional disposition, which was the tendency to feel connectedness to humanity. "It turned out that the feeling of connectedness to humanity was the most important, as it was most strongly related to positive attitudes towards immigrants. For people with this feeling, it is characteristic to feel that they are a part of humanity in the same way that a tree is a part of a forest, that they are members of a global community of people and that this community belongs to them. Our findings thus indicate that people, thanks to a sense of belonging, perceive immigrants the same as other people and also themselves, that is, as part of humanity. This ultimately contributes to a more favourable view and attitude towards immigrants," explains the psychologist.
According to scientists, the research revealed why people have more positive or negative attitudes towards immigrants. Following the results, it has to do with how people think and feel. It turned out that the most important is whether they actively think openly and feel connected to humanity. If they do not think about things with their minds open and do not feel a connection with other people, they tend to have more negative attitudes towards immigrants. However, if they think openly and feel a connection with humanity, they tend to have more positive attitudes towards immigrants.
"Overall, these findings suggest that encouraging people to be actively open-minded and feel connected to humanity can lead to them seeing the brighter side of things and adopting a more tolerant attitude. At the societal level, it would help if opinion-forming media and personalities, including politicians and prominent authorities, express themselves factually about immigration, emphasizing the need to 'think in terms of facts'. They should not frighten society by unilaterally emphasizing the negatives and exaggerating them but should adequately remind the positives associated with the arrival of immigrants. And last but not least, they should not create the impression that we are 'us' and they are 'them' — we, the Slovaks, and they, the immigrants. We are all part of one big 'human family', which includes different people from all over the world. It is therefore, appropriate to draw attention to the feeling of belonging," summarized Martin Sedlár.
More details on the topic can be found HERE.
Source: Martin Sedlár, ÚEP CSPV SAV, v. v. i.
Prepared by: Monika Tináková
Photo: TASR/Jaroslav Novák
1Medzinárodná organizácia pre migráciu (2022, May 18). Migrácia vo svete.
2Medzinárodná organizácia pre migráciu (2023, March 27). Migrácia na Slovensku.
3Sedlár, M. (2023). Thinking dispositions are related to more positive attitudes toward immigrants. Personality and Individual Differences, 205, 112100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2023.112100
4Sedlár, M. (2023). Connectedness to humanity is more important for attitudes toward immigrants than holistic thinking, cognitive flexibility, and attributional complexity [Manuscript submitted for publication]. Institute of Experimental Psychology, CSPS SAS.