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The Effects of Media News about Immigrants on Majority’s Attitudes and Behaviors towards Immigrants

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - IMMIGRANTS (The Effects of Media News about Immigrants on Majority’s Attitudes and Behaviors towards Immigrants)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2017-01-01 al 2018-12-31

The proportion of immigrants in Western Europe is growing faster than ever before (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2016). Racism, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance complicate integration of immigrants into host societies and threaten security in the increasingly diverse societies. In order to create inclusive and harmonious societies, a goal defined within the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, residents of European countries must come to terms with people from different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. One of the main sources of information about immigrants that can influence residents’ attitudes toward immigrants and immigration is mass media. Despite its omnipresence and outreach, the effects of different aspects of mass media in shaping attitudes are still underresearched.

In this context, the aim of the IMMIGRANTS project was to supply the missing evidence on how different aspects of mass media news about immigrants shape residents’ attitudes and behaviors toward immigrants. The first objective of the project was to determine the effect of different linguistic forms used for labelling immigrants (i.e. nouns vs. adjectives) and valence of media articles about immigrants (i.e. positive, negative and mixed) on attitudes and behaviors toward immigrants. The second goal was to investigate the effect of images of immigrants that accompany articles about migration on attitudes and behaviors. Both goals featured extensive tests of mechanisms underlying the effects (e.g. emotions, prejudice) and of conditions that alter the effects (e.g. past exposure to mass media, intergroup contact with immigrants, political orientation). The original two objectives have been extended to other aspects of mass media, testing the effects of different framing of migration-related issues (i.e. episodic, migrant-centred, framing vs. thematic, generic, framing) and the effect of terms for immigrants’ status (i.e. migrant, asylum seeker, vs. refugee) in different cultural contexts.
The project was launched with Study 1a on German and Study 1b on Italian immigrants in Switzerland. While the results of Study 1a did not yield significant results, Study 1b about Italian immigrants showed that already one exposure to positive and negative reports shaped attitudes toward immigrants in the respective directions (i.e. positive reports resulted in more positive attitudes, negative reports in more negative attitudes), whereas the effect of mixed reports mostly did not differ from positive reports. Labelling nationality with nouns (e.g. an immigrated Italian) resulted in more negative attitudes toward immigrants than adjectives (e.g. an Italian immigrant), independent of report valence.

Study 2 on newly arriving African migrants documented that introducing migration from the perspective of immigrants, an episodic frame largely missing in mass media reporting on the current migration, enhances empathy that leads to more lenient attitudes toward immigration policies. Study 2 also showed that the power of mass media can be overestimated since its effects cannot compete with the effect of direct, first-hand, experiences with immigrants. Only direct, first-hand experiences with African migrants, and not information from the mass media, were associated with residents’ behavioral intentions to support migrants through their attitudes toward migrants. Past positive direct experiences with migrants were associated with more positive attitudes toward immigrants and greater willingness to donate money to a migrant-related cause, while negative experiences were associated with less positive attitudes and less willingness. The link between both positive and negative direct experiences with migrants and their attitudes toward migrants was stronger in people who are sensitive to immigration issues (i.e. those politically right-wing).

For Study 3, the fellow has invited researchers from in nine countries around the globe to test the effect of terms used for immigrant status on residents’ attitudes toward migrants and migration in distinct cultural contexts. The label “migrant” evoked more positive attitudes than both “refugee” and “asylum seeker”, through perception of lower threat and higher benefits from migrants (than refugees and asylum seekers) to host societies. Thus, description of immigrants can shape residents’ attitudes toward immigrants not only with respect to labelling immigrants’ background with nouns versus adjectives but also with respect to distinct terms interchangeably used for people who left their home countries.

Study 4a indicated that articles accompanied by an image of a male asylum seeker evoked greater sadness and perspective taking than articles without images, which in turn positively influenced attitudes toward immigrants. A previously not planned Study 4b employs images of female asylum seekers to validate findings of Study 4a.

The results of the IMMIGRANTS project have been so far published in two internationally recognized journals, Media Psychology and International Journal of Intercultural Relations, documenting their novel contribution to the understanding of the role of mass media in shaping attitudes of its audience. Other two articles resulting from the project are under review and in preparation. The project outcomes have been introduced at five conferences, three invited lectures, two seminars with workshops for professionals, two organized expert meetings, and in more than 50 media coverages. The results of the project and outcomes of related research have been continuously presented at the project webpage, Facebook and Twitter.
The outcomes of the IMMIGRANTS project provide insights that can contribute to challenging majority’s prejudice against immigrants following media exposure. They are of high relevance for journalists, politicians and other professionals communicating about migration who can better understand how different tools for introducing migration-related issues shape responses of their audiences with respect to attitudes and behaviors toward migrants.
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