The outbreak of COVID-19 which has spread to become a global pandemic is affecting multiple populations and millions of individuals in varying degrees. From those impacted most severely through the devastating loss of life, to others who have faced critical health and economic challenges. Fortunately, many have only experienced a limited impact through basic social inconveniences, but many others that have been unnecessarily forced to face the elevated impact from xenophobia exposure (United Nations, 2020). Xenophobia is defined as fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers (“xenophobia”, n.d.). In the wake of COVID-19, there are an increasing number of incidents of verbal harassment, shunning and physical assault in the United States, especially toward Asian Americans (Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, 2020). These incidents highlight the importance of not only understanding how xenophobia motivates the perspectives that fuel these behaviors, but more importantly what can be done to proactively change these perspectives.
In a study published in the International Journal of Psychology, research was conducted to explore the relationship between xenophobia and how individuals frame their social identity. This multi-level study was based on cross-sectional survey results from 154,760 respondents across 124 national samples and 86 countries. The focus of this particular study was the xenophobic attitudes related specifically toward immigrants. Xenophobia was measured by survey questions that described the personal perspectives people had toward immigrants. The aspect of social identity was measured by questions that described the degree to which individuals identified themselves as global citizens. The study confirmed a negative correlation between global identification and xenophobia (Ariely, 2017). The results showed that individuals who identified themselves from a broader global perspective were less xenophobic. These individuals had a greater tendency to consider people from other countries as part of their in-groups (Ariely, 2017).
If xenophobic attitudes toward immigrants are influenced by an individual’s global identity, can the same correlation apply to individuals who are born and raised in that country with immigrant ancestors? To answer this question, the well-known results of Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory could be referenced which established that social categorization is what leads to an “us” vs. “them” attitude. The personal association to groups that you feel an emotional sense of belonging to creates competition against others that you perceive as different or foreign (McLeod, 2019). The disassociation from others that are considered different was found to encourage a level of hostility with the degree of severity based on the emotional significance that is tied to their in-group identification (McLeod, 2019).
Recognizing the broad reaching application of the social identity theory, the study went further to examine the contextual impact of the overall economic, social and political dimensions of globalization at a country level. The KOF index was the standard measurement used across the multi-level study. The study found that although country-level globalization levels did not have a direct effect on xenophobia, it did impact the degree that individual global identification had on xenophobia (Ariely, 2017). The results confirmed that the higher the globalization of the resident country, the more favorable impact that global identity has on xenophobia (Ariely, 2017).
The study points to the importance of individual self-reflection as it relates to how you define your social identity. It highlights the valuable awareness that can be gained by the recognition that how you define your identity from a global perspective impacts the degree to which xenophobia influences your thoughts and behaviors. In the US, the impact that can be made from this awareness can be significant since our country is ranked in the top quartile of KOF globalization index (KOF Swiss Economic Institute, n.d.). We are currently at a critical point in time to understand the implications of this level of awareness. A time when we are all coping with the fear and life-threatening implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking a moment to recognize and appreciate that this is a global pandemic, and one that is impacting us all, can be an important step to fostering your global identity and helping to defuse xenophobia.
Ariely, G. (2017). Global identification, xenophobia and globalisation: A cross-national exploration. International Journal of Psychology, 52(S1), 87-96. https://doi.org/10.1002/ijop.12364
Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council. (2020, April 3). Stop AAPI hate receives over 1,100 incident reports of verbal harassment, shunning and physical assault. [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.asianpacificpolicyandplanningcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/Press_Release_4_3_20.pdf
KOF Swiss Economic Institute. (n.d.) KOF globalization index. Retrieved from https://kof.ethz.ch/en/forecasts-and-indicators/indicators/kof-globalisation-index.html
McLeod, S. A. (2019). Social identity theory. Simply Psychology. Retreived from https://www.simplypsychology.org/social-identity-theory.html
People, global communication [Online image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/people-global-communication-3438904/
United Nations. COVID-19 stoking xenophobia, hate and exclusion, minority rights expert warns. (2020, March 30). Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1060602
Xenophobia. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/xenophobia
About the Author
CHRISTOPHER C. LINKE, CPCU
Chris Linke serves on the advisory board for Georgia Diversity Council and as the co-chair for the GADC communications committee. He graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University with a BS in Business and completed his Masters in Industrial & Organizational Psychology from the University of Hartford. Chris is an accomplished CPCU business professional who currently leads a regional management team for a Fortune 500 company headquartered in New York City.
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