Correct misperceptions and increase empathy for migrants



Numerous mainstream depictions of immigration to the southern border of the United States paint a grim picture, prompting images of violent gang members and child trafficking. But how many undocumented immigrants are actually involved in this kind of activity? Many people may be surprised to learn that the answer is much less than they think.

A new study of Peace and Conflict Neuroscience Laboratory (PCNL) at the Annenberg School for Communication found that Americans dramatically overestimate the number of gang-affiliated migrants and trafficked children, and that this overestimation contributes to the dehumanization of migrants, lack of empathy for their suffering and for the opinions of individuals on immigration policy. . In addition, researchers have developed and tested interventions to combat this misinformation and increase empathy towards undocumented migrants.

“We have noticed that false accounts of undocumented immigrants as criminals or with criminal intentions are routinely disseminated to the public,” said Samantha Moore-Berg, PCNL postdoctoral fellow and lead author of the study. “We were curious about the impact of these stories on attitudes toward immigrants and support for immigration policies, and whether by correcting these stories we are able to foster more positive attitudes toward immigrants. “

The study aimed to compile data on Americans’ (bad) perceptions of the motivations of immigrants to cross the southern border, to determine whether these (bad) perceptions affect American political positions, and to develop effective interventions to address the (bad) perceptions and increase empathy.

Study participants estimated, on average, that 15% of migrants on the southern border are affiliated with gangs, and that 25-35% of children on the southern border are used as props by adults who are not their parents at home. for immigration purposes. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security suspects around 1% of immigrants to have gang connections, and less than 0.1% of children are trafficked.

The researchers found that participants’ mistaken beliefs about immigrants affected their perspective on immigration policy and caused them to view immigrants with less empathy and to dehumanize them further. However, after a successful intervention, which included displaying the correct statistics on immigrant behavior and observing a moving video of an immigrant parent and child reunited after the United States separated them at the border, participants’ levels of empathy for immigrants increased, their dehumanization of immigrants decreased, and their support for a less punitive immigration policy increased.

“By both correcting these false narratives about immigrants and unleashing empathy towards them, we have been able to foster more positive attitudes towards immigrants and encourage greater support for more humane immigration policies,” said Moore-Berg said. “It gives us hope that by changing the narratives about immigrants to be both more specific and more empathetic, we can ultimately foster greater acceptance of immigrants.”

“Empathy, dehumanization and misperceptions: media intervention humanizes migrants and increases empathy for their plight, but only if misinformation about migrants is also corrected” was published today in Social psychology and personality sciences. Besides Moore-Berg, the authors include Boaz Hameiri (Tel Aviv University) and the late Emile Bruneau.

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