Let's shift some attitudes!

Lab Note #1
Apr 19, 2017

So what kinds of messages might actually shift people's attitudes toward immigrants and immigration?

Back in September 2015, during televised debates for the Republican presidential candidates, the National Immigration Forum Action Fund aired a moving advertisement on CNN. It featured Ronald Reagan describing his vision for the United States as a "shining city on a hill...teeming with people of all kinds, living in harmony and peace."

A few months later in December 2015, President Obama gave a speech at a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives, referring to immigration as "our origin story," the "core of our national character," and "our oldest tradition." (Here's the full transcript.)

Meanwhile, news outlets published interesting and varied messages, from a musical plea for immigration reform, to op-eds that offered a moral argument to resist dehumanizing refugees, like this one by Nicholas Kristof.

We couldn't help but wonder: Do these messages work in shifting attitudes?

And then: What can the research tell us, and where do we go from here?

Thus far, strategies that have gained some empirical support mainly derive theoretical insight from the Common Ingroup Identity Model (CIIM). According to the CIIM, people's bias toward members from another group decreases if they can see themselves as part of a larger, superordinate group that includes members from that other group (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2012).

The messages we are testing are unique in two ways: they derive insight from the CIIM, but they also mirror messages deployed by the media.

One kind of message we test is the historical message, which emphasizes a common national identity including both native-born residents and
foreign-born immigrants. It frames immigration as integral to the history of the US, relevant to the life stories of virtually all Americans and their forefathers/foremothers. This message closely resembles the Reagan ad and Obama's remarks above.

The second kind of message is the humanitarian message, which emphasizes a common humanity across native-born residents and foreign-born immigrants. This message frames the US as a nation that upholds post-Enlightenment humanitarian values, including treating immigrants with compassion and respect as fellow human beings. This message closely resembles the moral argument in Kristof's op-ed above.

Your funding is critical to us being able to test and compare these messages rigorously, in a large, nationally representative sample. We aim to share our findings with other researchers involved in reducing bias and shifting attitudes, and with advocates and organizations involved in immigration reform and transformative messaging. Thank you for your support!

About this image: This is the Flag of Faces, a digital exhibit at the Ellis Island Museum. It features a mosaic of portraits submitted by individuals and families.

  • 1. Gaertner, S. L., & Dovidio, J. F. (2012). Reducing Intergroup Bias: The Common Ingroup Identity Model. New York, NY: Routledge.. Link
Project Timeline

Apr 03, 2017

Project Launched

May 31, 2017

Data collection completed. Amazon Mechanical Turk allow for rapid data collection.

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