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Pretoria - It turns out it’s not who you know, but where you live that seems to determine your prejudices in life. This is according to a study done by Dr Hermann Swart from the University of Stellenbosch’s department of psychology.
Swart, along with nine international academics, found that simply living close to people of various races or social groups can increase one’s tolerance towards others.
“We show that diversity can be really good for us. It makes us more tolerant and open to difference,” he said.
The diversity in one’s neighbourhood proves to have more of an impact on one’s attitude towards people from other races, ethnicities or nationalities than one’s face-to-face interactions with people from these social groups.
“It is well established in social psychology literature that positive, face-to-face interactions between people from various social groups (or intergroup contact) are important for promoting tolerance and improving intergroup relations, more so than mere diversity.
“Prejudice is not necessarily reduced by diversity in numbers per se, but rather by the positive intergroup contact that people are having,” said Swart.
People’s prejudices towards each other can be reduced simply by living near people from other groups and backgrounds.
“What makes our recent findings exciting is that they show that one’s prejudice can also be reduced by simply living (or studying, for that matter) in environments where others around you are experiencing positive intergroup contact with people from other social groups and are supportive of diversity, over-and-above your own interactions with people from other social groups.”
Swart collaborated with researchers from Germany, England and the US, where studies were conducted to explore whether one’s neighbourhood had an effect on one’s prejudice towards other social groups, more so than one’s interactions with members of other social groups.
The study conducted in South Africa was the only one that focused on the perspective of previously disadvantaged groups (coloured and black citizens).
Diversity in neighbourhoods was measured by the number of white people living in each respondent’s neighbourhood.
Contact was measured by asking respondents how often they socialised with white people; how many white friends they had and how they had social interactions with their white friends.
Prejudice was measured by asking respondents how much they trusted white people in general.
Swart is also involved in the Super-diversity South African programme, a project of the Max Planck Institute, Germany’s most successful research organisation.
South Africa is known as a “super diverse society” and, according to Swart, research has previously neglected to consider whether the neighbourhood one lives in affects one’s prejudice towards other groups.
“Across all seven of our studies we found that what happens around you in your neighbourhood (in terms of the intergroup contact and social norms of your neighbours; in other words, where you live) has an impact on your own, personal prejudices over-and-above your own interactions with people from other groups (or who you know),” Swart said.
The findings are not simply a result of less-prejudiced people living in diverse neighbourhoods, Swart said.
“We clearly demonstrate that individuals can benefit significantly from greater diversity, for example, through desegregated neighbourhoods and schools, greater diversity at university and more diversity in the workplace.”
These findings, Swart believes, can help decision-makers promote positive intergroup relations and diversity in the country.
“Greater diversity not only offers individuals more opportunities to have positive, face-to-face interactions with members of other groups themselves, but living, studying, or working in contexts characterised by greater diversity and supportive social norms for diversity make people more tolerant and reduce their prejudices irrespective of how much personal interactions they themselves are having with people from other groups.”