Determinants of Attitudes toward Immigrants and Refugees – The Role of Identity and Perceived Costs and Benefits


Sahana Mukherjee (Gettysburg College), Ludwin E. Molina (University of Kansas), & Glenn Adams (University of Kansas)

Tough immigration policy: Is it about rule of law or ethnocentric defense of an assimilationist national identity?

Many governments have enacted tough policies that take a restrictive or even punitive approach to immigration. An example in the United States is Arizona Senate Bill (SB) 1070 (2010), which requires law enforcement officers to determine a person’s residence status when “reasonable suspicion exists that the person … is unlawfully present in the United States.” If officers have “probable cause to believe” that a person is an undocumented migrant, then they can (and may have a legal obligation to) arrest the person without a warrant until further investigation can confirm the person’s documentation status.

In multicultural democratic states where explicit discrimination based on racial/ethnic considerations is illegal, the legitimacy of such tough anti-immigration policies depends upon the extent to which people perceive them as race- or identity-neutral (i.e., colour-blind). For example, proponents of AZ 1040 are adamant that law is not motivated by racism, but instead reflects concern about rule of law. In contrast, opponents express doubt that such policies reflect identity-neutral or colour-blind motivations, and they express concern that implementation of such policies—particularly, cues that lead officers to suspect that a person may be an undocumented migrant—will proceed in racialized fashion.

Indeed, our work suggests reasonable grounds for this suspicion that support for such legislation is NOT about enforcement of laws, but instead is very much about racialized exclusion. One study among U.S. students documented patterns of ethnocentric bias in enforcement of immigration laws—specifically, a tendency to support harsh punishment for undocumented migrants but not for the U.S. employers who illegally employ them—that were strongly related to an ethnocentric form of engagement with national identity (nationalism; Mukherjee, Molina, & Adams, 2011). Another series of studies documented that U.S. participants’ support for enactment of policies like SB 1040 was as much or more dependent on national origin (greater for Mexican versus Canadian migrants) than on documentation status of migrants (Mukherjee, Molina, & Adams, 2013). Across all these studies, patterns of ethnocentric bias were particularly pronounced among participants who defined American identity in terms of assimilation to Anglocentric cultural values.

The current project extends our prior work and experimentally manipulates identity fit and national origin. U.S. participants read about an officer who observed a discretionary speeding infraction and made a traffic stop of a car that displayed either a Mexican versus Canadian (Study 1), or Mexican versus Irish (Study 2) flag and carried a driver and 4 passengers who displayed either high or low fit (through cues such as language and music choice) with Anglocentric constructions of U.S. identity. Over the course of the traffic stop, the officer decided that the occupants’ behaviour aroused “reasonable suspicion” about documentation status, so he asked them to produce identification documents and detained them when they failed to do so. Both studies revealed hypothesized main effects of national origin and identity fit on suspicion judgments—participants indicated more doubt about documentation status when occupants were Mexican (versus Canadian or Irish) or displayed low identity fit—and these main effects mediated similar indirect effects on judgments about appropriateness of the officer’s behaviour in enacting tough immigration policies. Post-hoc contrast analyses indicated that participants rated high fit Mexican, Canadian, and Irish targets as equally suspicious, and their treatment as equally appropriate. However, participants considered low Mexican targets as more suspicious, and rated their harsh treatment as more fair compared to low fit Canadian and Irish targets.

Participants (Study 2) also indicated the extent to which occupants were ‘truly’ American. Consistent with hypothesis, participants rated Mexicans (versus Irish) and low fit (versus high fit) targets as less American. Post-hoc contrast analysis indicate that while participants rated low fit Mexicans and low fit Irish targets as equally ‘American’, they considered high fit Mexicans as less American compared to high fit Irish targets. Results suggest that assimilation to dominant cultural values may give overt benefits for Mexican targets (e.g., rated as less suspicious) compared to low fit Mexican targets (or equal benefits compared to Irish or Canadian targets). However, the more covert benefits may not be afforded to the same high fit Mexican targets (e.g., not seen American enough). In general, results again suggest that support for tough immigration policies has more to do with ethnocentric exclusion and defense of cultural identity than it does colour-blind enforcement of laws.


Stefania Paolini (University of Newcastle), & Samineh Sanatkar (University of Newcastle)

Identity complexity and inclusiveness encourage EU citizens’ interests in EU-wide behaviours by reducing concerns over immigration and increasing general life optimism

Europe is experiencing unprecedented threats to its social fabrics and very existence. The recent refugee crisis and large fluxes of economic migrants at the time of sluggish recovery from the economic crisis, continuous terrorism alerts and attacks, and now Britain’s Brexit all fuel anti-immigrant rhetoric, social friction, and ideologies of social exclusion. The media and general public are responding with distrust in Europe’s ability to look after its people and realise its vision for sustainable and inclusive growth and long-term economic, political, social, and cultural development. Recent Eurobarometer data (Standard EB 77, 2012) shows that half of the European youth distrusts the European Union and this percentage has constantly increased in the aftermath of the economic crisis. At these times, it is pressing to understand the social psychological factors that can mitigate these negative pressures and it is critical to identify the social psychological processes that contribute to behaviours supporting social integration in Europe and elsewhere.

Concerns over immigration have dominated the political and media discourse over EU effectiveness. Abundant social psychological research demonstrates that intergroup anxiety, concerns, and threats surrounding relationships with those we perceive as ‘others’ contribute to intergroup bias, anti-immigrant attitudes, and dis-endorsement of multi-culturalism (see Paolini, Harris, & Griffin, 2016; Stephan, 2014 for reviews). Whereas, the lessening of these anxieties and perceived threats brings about pro-social orientations, improved intergroup relations, and increased social capital (Paolini, Hewstone, Cairns, Voci, 2014; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008).

With this research, we investigated dimensions of national and European identity capable of mitigating the salience of intergroup concerns in Europe – including those associated with immigration – and increasing individuals’ general optimism about their future within the EU as psychological propellers of behaviours conducive to European integration.

Over fifteen thousand European adult citizens (N = 15,744; females 54.4%; age M = 50.20, SD = 18.35) residing in one of the 28 EU member states completed the 2014 Eurobarometer survey (Standard EB 81, 2014) and contributed to our key analyses. They indicated the two most important issues facing the EU at that point in time (if any) from a list of 13; an index of ‘intergroup concerns’ was calculated by combining selections of issues with clear intergroup connotations (‘immigration’, ‘terrorism’, ‘crime’, and ‘pensions’; values ranging between 0 and 2). Respondents also indicated their ‘general optimism’ (‘what are your expectations for the next twelve months when it comes to your life in general?’ 1 = worse, 2 = same, 3 = better). Pro-Europe integration orientations were indexed with a measure of ‘interest in EU-wide behaviours’: Respondents indicated their interest (if any) in knowing more about two EU citizens’ rights among eight that we weighted from most accessible/effortless (e.g., buying services/goods in another EU country) to least accessible/effortful (e.g., studying/ working/ living in another EU country; range 0-15). An identity question followed asking: “do you see yourself as ….?” and requiring respondents to choose one flashcard among five options ([nationality] only, [nationality] and European, European and [nationality], European only, none). We computed an index of identity complexity (0 = none, 1 = national or European, 2 = national and European or European and national), as well as an index of identity inclusiveness (0 = none, 1 = national only, 2 = national and European, 3 = European and national, 4 = European only). Various controls and moderators were also considered.

We carried out Hayes’ (2016) bootstrapped mediation tests (Model 4) and moderated mediation tests (Model 7) using the SPSS PROCESS macro (v2.15). We found that identity complexity and identity inclusiveness, while highly correlated (r = .764), each uniquely predicted stronger interest in EU-wide behaviours. These relationships were significantly mediated by reduced intergroup concerns (including immigration) within the EU and increased general optimism.

These mediational patterns held when accounting for past EU behaviour, general attitudes towards the EU, and quality of life in the EU, suggesting that they capture mechanisms of situated behavioural intentions. They were substantially invariant among respondents from the nine core EU member states, the other EU28 member states, single nationals, and dual nationals. However, they did not materialise in a smaller sample of resident migrants (N = 348).

These mediational effects were significantly moderated by respondents’ SES, employment status, and romantic relationship status, so that reduced intergroup concerns and increased optimism were more important mechanisms of the identity-EU behavioural intention links among the financially and relationally insecure than the financially and relationally secure.

We conclude by discussing implications of the results for intergroup psychology and interventions aimed at increasing social integration in complex, and diverse societies experiencing strong migration pressures and political forces against social integration.



Rita Guerra (Instituto Universitario de Lisboa), & Sam Gaertner (University of Delaware

We need Them: A new functional approach to the promotion of common identities among immigrants and host citizens

We are experiencing unprecedented human mobility, with 250 million international and 750 million domestic migrants living in the world today (IOM, 2015). The current refugee crisis awakened unparalleled anti-migrant sentiments in Europe and consequently, placed migration high on world leaders’ political agenda. As international migration grows in scope, host societies and migrants face increased challenges regarding social integration. Despite evidence that immigrants actively contribute to host societies in several domains (e.g., labour market flexibility, social contributions, innovation and economic growth; OECD, 2014), their social integration is often jeopardized by threat and lack of acceptance. However, social psychological research on immigration traditionally did not focus on functional utility where immigrants may be seen, and see themselves, as offering important contributions to the host society. Rather, most research focused either on the perspective of the host society, looking at how prejudice and perceptions of threat impact relations between groups (e.g., Berry, 2001), or on the problems of immigrant groups, for example showing how acculturation orientations relate differently to psychological well-being and sociocultural competence (Celenk & van de Vijver, 2014).

The current research line takes a functional approach to explore the relation between immigrants and the host society, as well as, ethnic majority and minority citizen’s relations. We propose a novel approach through which immigrants, or other ethnic minorities, may be seen (and see themselves) as offering important social and economic contributions, that in turn impact both attitudinal and adaptation outcomes. Specifically, we proposed two dimensions on which groups can claim indispensability: functional indispensability, by which groups are perceived as contributing some benefit to the host society (Guerra, et al., 2015), and identity indispensability, by which groups are perceived as contributing to a host society’s identity (NgTseung-Wong & Verkuyten, 2010).

We will present a summary of several correlational and experimental studies that were part of a funded cross-national project between Portugal & USA. Specifically, we will present findings of the development and validation of a new measure, the Functional and Identity Indispensability Scale with a sample of 606 ethnic majority and minority participants. Results revealed the expected two-factor structure and supported the prediction that identity and functional dimensions are two distinct, but related, forms of indispensability. The scale showed a consistent structure across majority and minority members and the reliability of the two subscales was good. Also, the scale criterion validity was supported by positive associations with minority groups’ perceived competence and warmth, and negative associations with negative emotions and also with social distance.

Additionally, we will present correlational evidence of the importance of considering these two forms of indispensability among ethnic majority and minority groups, and immigrants and host citizens in two national contexts (Portugal & USA). Overall, the survey studies showed that perceiving immigrants (or ethnic minorities) as either offering important social and economic contributions or being important to define the common national group, impacted both attitudes of majority group members and also successful adaptation/acculturation outcomes for minorities (Guerra et al., 2015; Guerra et al., 2016). Results showed that both forms of indispensability were related to positive intergroup outcomes (e.g., reduced social distance, increased warmth and competence) and importantly, these positive effects occurred via increased common identity representations (one-group, dual-identity) depending on the group status and the national context.

Finally we will present experimental evidence from 5 studies of the impact of functional (but not identity) indispensability in the two national contexts (NUSA = 243, NPortugal =160). Overall, inducing majority host citizens to see different immigrant groups as making important social and economic contributions to the host society, triggered less social distance, increased warmth, support for integration and support for less strict immigration rules (Guerra et al., 2016).

Overall, this line of research highlights the importance of using a functional approach to understand the relations between immigrants and host societies, as well as, the relations between majority and minority groups. Furthermore this research also illustrates that different groups can be perceived as indispensable in different domains. Importantly, this research can provide insights with practical implications regarding the intergroup relations of natives in host societies and immigrants and also the relations between majorities and minorities within a given society. Increasing awareness of the indispensability of immigrants can be used as a strategic tool to promote their acceptance, for example in campaigns to reduce common stereotypes of immigrants as a drain or a threat to society. Instead, immigration can be viewed as providing opportunities to be sought and encouraged, so as to gain host country citizens’ respect and willingness to be inclusive.