Ulterior Motives

How goals, both seen and unseen, drive behavior

Multicultural Experiences Decrease Prejudice

Because prejudice is so pervasive, there has been a lot of interest in understanding factors that might reduce it. A fascinating paper that comes out next month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that having a multicultural experience can decrease prejudice. Read More

Sounds nice, except it's often untrue

It's tempting to believe that prejudices have no basis in fact, and that they'd melt away quickly if only we got to KNOW people of other races, religions and cultures.

In reality, it's not nearly that simple.

Here's a question for you to ponder: who's more likely to hate Koreans? An affluent white woman who's always lived in a lily-white suburb, and has never met any Koreans? Or an urban black woman who shops every day at Korean-owned stores?

The answer is completely counterintuitive! The white woman has grown up being told "Let's all hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' together, because people are all exactly the same. She doesn't know any Koreans, but she assumes they're wonderful people, just like everyone else.

Black people who actually deal with Koreans every day find them rude, cold, hostile and throroughly aggravating. They don't hate Koreans because of ignorance or prejudice- they hate Koreans because of EXPERIENCE with them!

So, what am I saying? That Koreans are evil? No! But Koreans tend to be very reserved, taciturn and brusque with people they don't know well. Anyone of any ethnicity who shops at a Korean minimart learns that Korean proprietors never smile, never make conversation, and act as if they just want you to leave.

By contrast, a Greek or Arab or Mexican shopkeeper who hardly speaks a word of English will smile at customers, will try to make small talk, will make a fuss over them, and warmly address them "my friend" even if he's never seen them before! (Sometimes, it's overwhelming- in fact, sometimes it's quicker and easier to shop at a Korean store!)

White customers eventually figure out, "That's just how Koreans are, it's nothing personal." But black customers tend to interpret standard Korean brusqueness as racism, and resent it immensely.

There's a lesson here: just getting to know people will NOT necessarily make us like them more. It may even make us DISlike people we weren't previously prejudiced against.

There's more to the story of course. As I said, Koreans tend to be icy, cold and brusque with people they don't know well. It can take YEARS to get past that. But if you DO manage to get past the icy exterior, you'll often find that Koreans are VERY funny people. Absolutely hilarious. There's a lot to like about Koreans once you get to know them. But getting to know them takes a HUGE investment of time, not just casual interaction.

Yep, those 9/11 hijackers

Yep, those 9/11 terrorists sure gained cultural sensitivity from their extended time living and working in America before the attacks.

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Art Markman, Ph.D., is a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas whose research spans a range of topics in the way people think.

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