Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Makes Immigrants Less Productive

One thing that often gets lost in the media’s obsession with whether a political ad or speech might lead to an incremental polling shift is that campaign rhetoric can have a real effect on people’s non-voting behavior. For example, a new study shows that exposing immigrants to anti-immigrant campaign ads reduces their intellectual performance.

In an experiment conducted at Austrian schools, the intelligence test performance of adolescents with an immigration background decreased after they were exposed to radical right election posters whereas ethnic majority adolescents remained unaffected. The results further suggest that individuals with a strong ethnic minority identity are less vulnerable to the detrimental impact of the radical right propaganda.

The findings stem form stereotype and social identity threat — the idea is that the concern your poor performance will confirm a negative stereotype about yourself or your group leads to increased anxiety and decreased performance. In this instance, anxiety that a poor performance will confirm the negative stereotypes in the campaign ads ends up leading to lower test performance.

The study only examined short-term effects, but it seems the long-term effects ought to be worse. Repeated exposure to anti-immigrant propaganda is likely to induce a “fixed” mindset about the inability of immigrants to contribute to society. Research has shown that believing certain characteristics or beliefs are permanent leads to a slew of negative outcomes. For example, believing that racial attitudes are permanent leads to less positive inter-group interactions, and believing that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable leads to less motivation and achievement.

It seems likely that an immigrant’s fixed beliefs about their ability to contribute and integrate themselves into society will also lead to negative outcomes. For example, they may pass up opportunities to contribute because a failure would prove their ethnic group’s immutable inability to help their new country. Similarly, they may decide not to engage in activities with non-immigrants because any kind of negative outcome would prove they are forever an outsider.

The result is that on some level anti-immigrant rhetoric can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you attack a group of people and lambast their ability to improve the country, you stymie their attempts to contribute by instilling the fear that any kind of failure will confirm your rhetoric.

Appel, M. (2012). Anti-Immigrant Propaganda by Radical Right Parties and the Intellectual Performance of Adolescents Political Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00902.x

One Response to Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Makes Immigrants Less Productive

  1. Pingback: Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy - Peer-reviewed by my neurons | Peer-reviewed by my neurons

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